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A Complete Guide to Interning Abroad

Written by: Rebecca Root

I’ll never forget the day I accidentally announced I was pregnant to an office full of strangers. I was in Spain and had just begun an editorial internship. Speaking a conversational level of Spanish, I had foreseen that there may be a few communication issues during my time there, but declaring myself as an expectant mother had not crossed my mind.

After making a mistake I had tried to say that I was embarrassed. Unfortunately for me, the word ‘embarrassed’ in Spanish sounds very similar to ‘pregnant’, and it’s scarily easy to get the two mixed up, as I discovered.
Although the tapas had been expanding my waistline I certainly was not putting it down to a baby bulge. Befuddled by the strange looks I was receiving, it was a few hours before I realised my error and could set the record straight.

Pregnant pause

A language barrier is just one of several potential intern abroad problems, however, dealing with such issues all makes for character building. At least that’s what I told myself.
At university we have it drummed  into us that a degree alone is no longer enough. In order to get a job come graduation, the degree has to come accompanied with buckets of workplace experience. Which is fine, but I figure you might as well team that with a bit of sunshine in a more exotic location and make it a working holiday.

Ultimately, it’s dealing with such cross-cultural dilemmas like language barriers that make your CV stand out. In the words of Rihanna, an internship abroad will shine bright like a diamond on your CV. It will show that you have the research skills and initiative to find yourself an internship relevant to your job field in another country. It also shows that you’re willing to be flexible and can adapt to different environments while demonstrating your open-mindedness and, in my case, ability to deal with mortal embarrassment.
Sure, it can require a bit of extra organising and can come at a cost (in my case my dignity), but interning abroad can offer you experience you wouldn’t otherwise get while offering up another opportunity to travel.

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Companies like gapyear.com offer programmes to help you get that international work experience. From America to Australia, they see you find a placement related to your degree in a cool country, sort out your visa and help you find accommodation. Sometimes there is even a wee bit of a wage.
If you decide to organise a placement alone instead of through an organisation, it’s advised you choose a country where a visa is not needed. Some places like America tend to be harder to get into without the backing of a legitimate company.

Jet set lifestyle

Once you’ve decided where you want to go, you should research companies you’d like to work for and reach out to the right people. If you have a distant cousin in Paris or an old school bud in Sweden get in touch to see if they can help you out and perhaps you’ll find yourself writing for an international magazine by day and enjoying NYC networking events by night.
For those without the vital contacts, this is where LinkedIn comes in – the site that makes stalking acceptable. Trawl through to find the contact you need and basically hound them until they say you can grace their hallways for a few weeks. Be a polite hound and they’ll applaud your tenacity.
Once you have your internship, start planning the details and get excited but… do not get any extreme illusions of getting your dream job because you have ‘that accent’ or getting to chill in the sun most days. While the sunshine, impressive experience and idea of being in another country is thrilling, interning abroad means much the same as it does at home. You may have thought that interning in America would be all Lauren and Whitney on the Hills and you’d be voguing away with Prada freebies in Paris but, while there are a lucky few, internships remain relatively the same.

You can be cleaning out cupboards, running mundane filing tasks or, in my case, sitting on the floor because ‘there are no spare chairs’. Oh and guess what? You may be on the other side of the world but every office still needs a coffee poodle.

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A great excuse to travel

Despite the lack of excitement in some internships, much of the time there’s no other way you could have got that visa or justified this extravagant ‘educational’ trip to your parents and, whether it hits all the bonus spots or not, your CV will look a whole lot jazzier while you’ve gotten to spend a few months with some bronzed and brooding co-workers.

A word of advice on this point though: while your new Italian or French co-workers are giving off that whole mysterious attraction vibe and you’re feeling the intense passion that ignites from the whole ‘I might never see you again thing,’ avoid it!
You cannot go near said office hottie because, well, you’re in the office. If you do, it could get awkward, and then you’ve jeopardised that wealth of experience you were supposed to be getting because, instead of paying attention to the computer screen, you’re hiding behind it wondering how you’ll make it through the next few weeks without seeing Mr Italy again.
Language barriers, extra costs, and forbidden foreign fruit are inconsequential compared to the experience you will get. Each year hundreds of wannabe success stories put themselves through the gruelling intern process and pray that it pays off. Imagine making that cut in New York, Paris or Dubai and, in years to come, being able to say ‘this one time when I was interning abroad…’

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