You’ve scored your first international internship – congratulations! You’re in for one of the most exciting, challenging, and perspective-changing periods of your life, and there’s a lot to look forward to. International internships are a great way to boost your resume, help you develop cultural competency and transferable skills, and make connections with people who can guide you towards the next phase of your life.
There are certain steps you should take early on in your international internship program in order to make a meaningful impact on yourself, the organization, and the community. In fact, the first three weeks are the best time to lay a foundation on which you can build your future internship success. Here are some tasks to keep in mind early in your internship to ensure that it will be as meaningful and effective an experience as possible.
Learn, Learn, Learn
Oftentimes, the first thing someone wants to do during an internship abroad is present some groundbreaking new idea to help the organization and community. This makes sense – you’re intelligent, driven, and want to do what you can to help out. However, you need to become well-versed in the community and organizational needs and processes before you can truly help.
During the first three weeks of your international internship program, do everything you can to learn about two things: the ins and outs of your job and organization, and the social nuances of the community you’re working in. Take the time to observe the office culture, listen before you speak, and try not to voice opinions before you know what you’re talking about. Prove to your coworkers and superiors that you fully understand and are competent in your assigned work during the first few weeks – this way, it’s more likely that they’ll support your ideas later and you’ll have a better understanding of what ideas will work and how to implement them.
Further, take time when you aren’t working to explore the community. Learn at least the basics of the local language, venture outside of tourist areas, and do what you can to learn about the culture. You’ll develop a better understanding of the people you’re working with during these crucial first weeks, which will allow you to make a more meaningful impact later on.
If you don’t sit back and learn at the beginning, your great new idea has only been formed based on your experiences in and knowledge of your home country. It’s important to remember that in order to make a meaningful impact, you must understand what specific community and organizational needs there are, and how to put your plans into action. Otherwise, you can waste your brainpower on trying to implement a new idea that isn’t necessary or wouldn’t work. And with the travel industry being projected to create 73 million jobs in the next 10 years and the resultant career potential that’s present there, you’ll want to make a good impression and have some solid idea implementation on your resume to take advantage of these opportunities.
Along with gathering information about the organization and community, building connections with community members, coworkers, and superiors during your first three weeks will go far in helping you make an impact during your internship abroad.
For one, going out of your way to talk to people in your organization will help you understand different projects that are going on, which will allow you to get involved in more than what’s assigned to you. For instance, if you learn through a coworker that a department is developing a program for community members on a topic that you’re passionate about, there’s a good chance that you’ll be allowed to work on that program along with your assigned work. This makes for an altogether more enriching experience for both you and those you’re helping – since you’re getting involved in tasks that you’re passionate about and seek out yourself, you’re likely to put more heart into your work. This, in turn, will lead to more meaningful and effective results.
Taking the time during the first three weeks to seek out a mentor will also have a significant impact on your international internship experience. A superior can help you master your role to better help the organization, as well as provide you with professional guidance that will help you learn more from the internship than just your tasks. A strong mentor can introduce you to others in the industry, guide you on how to take your next career step, and be an all-around source of support as you navigate your way through this time in your life.
In essence, networking – especially early on – is a powerful tool to making your international internship experience more impactful for you, the organization, and the community. And with 85% of all jobs being filled via networking, you’ll set yourself up for later success by putting the time in early.
Reflect on Your Skills and Goals
This one might sound a little selfish, but it’s important that your internship abroad has a meaningful impact on you and your future career – not just your organization. As a result, reflecting and planning heavily during your first three weeks will set up a strong foundation on which you can build your future professional plans.
Academic and professional pathways begin to weave themselves together and become further clarified through the opportunities you pursue. In some cases these stories are linear, and, in other cases, these stories may develop organically. There is more than one pathway to a particular opportunity or career, so it’s important to take some time to reflect on how your international internship experience might lead you to your next opportunity.
When you begin your internship, ask yourself the following questions:
- Why are you doing this?
- What are your goals?
- What are your options to pursue those goals?
By sitting down and figuring this out, you’ll begin to work out what you need to do to reach your objectives – or, at least, in what areas you should do more professional research. For example, if you begin an internship at a medical clinic and decide that you want to eventually run your own clinic, you’ll be more focused on exploring opportunities that will get you there; this will make a more meaningful impact on your career in the long run. Instead of scattering your energy in areas that won’t help you take the next professional step, you’ll be able to focus your resources and be more effective overall.
You should also take stock of your transferable skills, as well as the ones you plan to gain, during the first three weeks of the internship. As a newly-minted intern who was chosen for your strong professional and academic background, you have developed a wide range of skills that prepare you for multiple opportunities as you enter the workforce. In other words, you have several experiences – possibly including academic coursework, a study abroad experience, domestic internships, and working with nonprofit organizations – that have brought you to this point. Don’t just limit your skills reflection to one area of your experience; reflect on the ways you may have developed applicable skills through all areas.
By taking stock of your skills early on, you’ll be able to identify where you can use those skills most effectively to have a meaningful impact on your work, as well as areas in which you need to build up your skills in order to reach your professional goals. 39% of employers say entry-level jobs go unfilled because young people don’t have the required job skills, so being able to fill those gaps will give you a distinct advantage over other job seekers later.
The first three weeks of your international internship are critical to set yourself up for success. By paying attention to absorbing as much information as you can, networking, and reflecting, you’ll be in a great position to make a meaningful impact in the community and for yourself.
In what other ways have you been able to make internships abroad more meaningful?