Resources

Internships Overseas

You are already an international student so now what? Or perhaps you aren’t able to study overseas but want to find a way to reap some of the benefits enjoyed by your peers overseas? Students should always be looking beyond their campuses and ahead to their careers in the global marketplace. An international internship will enhance your resume’s foreign credentials.

It is quite simple: all of the top consulting, engineering, automotive, oil and gas, pharmaceutical, biotech, and you-name-it firms in the world are multinational companies. Their goal is to operate seamlessly around the world.  To standout at campus recruiting for these top firms (and, frankly, to be considered a potential future business leader of these firms) the proven ability to hit the ground running with cultural, language, and professional experience is a strong positive message.  These companies all recognize that they compete for top talent from a global pool of candidates and this is the prism through which they recruit.  Top rated employees from across the organization are sent on the most challenging assignments in strategic markets.  For example, being sent to Malaysia to run a new state of the art production process or to Brazil to oversee construction of sporting venues for the 2016 Olympics would not be a good time to discover that you cannot manage effectively in a foreign environment or adapt to local sensitivities.  However, proving in advance that you can adapt and excel in a different culture where you do not have a comfort zone as a safety net will put you ahead of others for future mission-critical assignments.  It is not your specific experience in one country or in one language that is important in the long run. What is important is demonstrating your ability to be flexible and succeed in a variety of situations.   

I am emphasizing this message as I was an intern in Germany during my year abroad.  I killed two birds with one stone as I got academic credit for the internship and, at the same time, launched my professional career.  I knew that I wanted to business career and decided that living overseas would help me both gain valuable experience and boost my career goal.  I was studying Economics and German at the University of St Andrews in Scotland and applied for multiple year-long internships.  I got several offers and accepted a position working at BMW’s headquarters in Munich.

In hindsight, this was the most challenging professional experience of my life but I have benefited from it ever since.  I was involved in dynamic and interesting projects for BMW and was able to demonstrate some of the soft skills that are integral to career success such as teamwork and communication across age and language barriers. I learned to problem solve when faced with new tasks or incomplete information. Time management and working under pressure were also crucial skills I developed at BMW. When I interviewed with Deloitte Consulting during my senior year I was able to provide evidence of the skills I had obtained. Deloitte hired me and I was assigned directly to the San Francisco office with the confidence that I could handle moving 5,000 miles from home and excel in a corporate culture different from both the UK and Germany thanks to my internship.

You can have the same advantages that I got from an international professional experience prior to graduating.  Take some language classes and apply to a top international company in your career field. Some programs, such as the German Academic Exchange Service (known as DAAD in German), will set up internships for you. If your school is reluctant to give you credit for your international internship try asking them for independent study or special credit. Your argument should be that the internship will enhance your skill set and add, not detract, from your education.  You’ll be more marketable at the career fair and your university will get known for producing high-caliber graduates with initiative and international aspirations.

[Top image credit: Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock; Second image credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock]

 © 2012 StudentRoads by Robin Hart. All rights reserved. Do not reprint without permission.

Comments

Jeff C.

I appreciate you sharing your personal experiences abroad and what can be gained by students moving outside their comfort zones and taking on tremendous challenges. I am assuming you were studying German in preparation to work for a German car manufacturer, such as BMW?

I am sorry that I never left the states, but it is not too late for my son who is just starting college. I will definitely have him review your article.

Very insightful.

Robin H.

I studied German (joint major) at university for the sole purpose of having the structured opportunity to study/live abroad. My passion for German stemmed from that one teacher from high school who inspired me. I thought that living in Germany for a year would be an adventure, which it was, I didn’t expect it to launch my career. There are many opportunities for students these days, from study abroard to internships, research or volunteer projects. http://www.studentroads.com has some useful information on the opportunities available.

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