Only a very small percentage of US students intern abroad. The experience alone can make you stand out from your peers in a pile of resumes once you graduate and will no doubt be a conversation starter in an interview. If you put the effort in and set goals for yourself before you begin, it can be even more than a conversation starter. You will have opportunities to learn some truly important life and career skills that you might not gain in a domestic internship.
Here are just 5 skills (out of many) you can gain from interning abroad.
1. Learn How to Network Cross-Culturally
While abroad, try your hand at networking with others, including people at your internship site.
Business today is becoming increasingly global, but the rules for networking, and even working together as colleagues, across cultures can be drastically different and sometimes confusing.
For example, an introduction of yourself to a stranger at an event that would be appropriate in the United States may seem too direct or even impolite (or the opposite) in another country. This cultural differences come through in everyday situations too, including in the workplace.
While interning abroad, you’re likely to find yourself given many more opportunities to interact with people of a different cultural background in a professional setting than you would at home. This is especially true with CAPA interns because all of our programs take place in diverse global cities.
You’ll be able to observe other people in action communicating, understand their approach, and practice navigating the different cultural sensitivities you encounter firsthand. You’ll likely be able to come home with a number of new professional contacts and greater confidence in an international business setting too.
2. Understand the International Intricacies of Your Field
Find out what your field is like abroad and invest your time learning about it.
It’s incredibly valuable to study and understand the way your field functions abroad versus how it operates in the US—not only because you may find yourself dealing with people from other cultures in your day-to-day work once you begin your career, but also for the insight that the different perspectives can give.
Marketing, for example, can be approached very differently in individual countries, differently between two countries, and differently still as a global concept. One solid example is Nike. They have a presence almost everywhere, but connect themselves to local passion points through activities such as sponsoring UK soccer team Manchester United and providing direct engagement with their target market in that country. They also developed their NikeID co-creation platform, a personalization tool that widens the appeal of their products to just about any country since cultural styles and preferences can be added as customization options.
CEA CAPA’s academic courses will cover this topic as well, but experiencing it on the ground at an internship is an unbeatable way to truly understand how the intricacies of your field work internationally. That there are differences is true in almost every industry, from human resources to finance and beyond, not just marketing!
3. Learn to Be Adaptable in Another Country's Working Culture
One of the most important soft skills valued by today’s employers is adaptability. There’s not much that forces you to adapt quicker than living and interning in another country!
Office culture (or wherever it is that you consider your working environment, if not in an office) is different wherever you go. Being able to complete an internship abroad successfully most likely means you’ve had to be flexible and willing to learn and tweak your mindset along the way.
Take UK working culture, for example. One might easily assume that because there are a lot of similarities in the US and UK generally as compared to other countries, the workplace would be pretty much the same. In some ways, they are comparable, but certainly not in every aspect. One of the more obvious differences are that Americans tend to be more openly confident and talk about their accomplishments with pride while Brits tend to be more self-deprecating or apologetic; yet, both may have the exact same level of knowledge or the same skillset.
You’ll probably also find working culture more relaxed in most other countries. Americans have a reputation for being workaholics, eating lunch “al desko”, and taking fewer vacation days while many other cultures tend to place more value on downtime and work-life balance. While this might sound instantly appealing, many interns find it is actually a big adjustment to change that mindset.
4. Learn Money Management Through Independence
When you study abroad, you'll most likely be budgeting for several months overseas for items such as lunches, coffees, and groceries.
Whether you’re pursuing a career in finance or something seemingly unrelated—perhaps a role with a study abroad organization, for example—you’ll benefit from learning strong money management skills—even if they’re just coming into play when you’re putting together future expense reports.
CEA CAPA places many students in finance-related internships, but an internship abroad in any field will teach you a think or two about budgeting. With your newfound independence and the world at your fingertips (as the saying goes), a whole lot of self-sufficiency is going to come into play, and that includes the way you manage your bank account.
You’ll be planning out a whole semester or summer, likely with a set amount of saved money to carry you through from big travel adventures to everyday internship lunches, coffees, and stocking your kitchen with groceries.
That is a useful career skill and a necessary life skill rolled into one.
5. Develop a Working Knowledge of a Foreign Language
Be attentive to a new language and practice it while you can when you study abroad.
You'll at least return home with a working knowledge of a new language!
An internship (or even volunteering) abroad in a country where English is not the primary language is an excellent way to show that you can take initiative and learn how to communicate despite the obvious barriers.
It might be difficult to develop full proficiency in your host country’s language in one semester with no previous background knowledge, but you can certainly work hard to go back home with working knowledge.
Speak as much as you can, as confidently as you can, with locals at your internship. Listen to their conversations to tune your ears to the local dialect and nuances that you might catch by paying closer attention. Take on board any feedback and don’t take their corrections of your attempts negatively. In fact, ask your internship colleagues to correct you as much as possible.
Besides listening and speaking, an internship can be a perfect place to practice reading and writing in another language too. Take advantage of every opportunity that immersion presents and you’ll increase your value to a future employer as well as give yourself the chance to build more meaningful connections while you’re abroad.
If you're ready to consider an internship abroad, take a look at the cities you can hone your professional skills in!