International Internships: Gain Career Experience
By William Nolting
Why? What are your
motives to want an international internship—to
live and work abroad, or to gain specific career-related work
experience? If the former, many other work abroad opportunities
may be easier to get or less expensive. These include short-term
paid work abroad programs, teaching English abroad, or volunteering
Where? Many internships
related to international careers, especially ones with international
organizations, are actually located here in the U.S.—especially
in centers of international activity such as Washington DC
or New York. But it is often possible to combine an international
internship with an overseas location.
study abroad internships sponsored by universities provide
credit towards your degree. Financial aid can usually be used
to help meet expenses. Tuition costs range widely. Unpaid,
non-academic internships account for the majority of internships,
both in the U.S. and abroad. If living costs are high, these
may be as expensive as tuition-charging internships but without
the benefits of credit and financial aid. The main benefit
of such internships will be professionally-related experience
and better prospects for career positions.
Volunteer positions abroad sometimes provide
room and board, which can make them less expensive than unpaid
internships. The Peace Corps pays
over $8,000 pre-tax, although this is a two-year commitment.
Repayment of educational loans can often be deferred during volunteer
work (check with your lender and the volunteer agency). Volunteer
positions may be the best option for those interested in careers
having to do with developing countries.
Paid internships are somewhat rare abroad and are available mainly in applied fields such as business and engineering, or what are now commonly known as STEM.
When to Apply: For
summer internships, it’s best to apply in the fall. Some
programs, such as the U.S. State Department, have deadlines as early as Mid-October. IAESTE and
others have deadlines in early December. Study abroad internships
usually have application deadlines the semester before the
term of the internship.
Types of Internships and International Organizations
1. Study Abroad Internships
Hundreds of overseas internships are
sponsored by universities and for undergraduates are the most
easily available option. Advantages include credit, applicability
of financial aid, and a variety of subjects and locations.
Disadvantages are cost and sometimes unpredictability of placement.
You can find study abroad internships
in the internship
2. Internship Exchange / Work Permit Programs
A few reciprocal exchange programs offer
paying internships in applied fields. If you find your own
internship abroad, these organizations can also assist in obtaining
a work permit. There are websites for finding these programs, including Transitions Abroad's Internships Abroad section.
countries), a student-run international organization with
chapters on many campuses, offers business-related internships
open to all majors. AIESEC members have
preference in getting these internships.
a variety of international programs for up to a year with low fees to au
pair (several countries), teach English (several countries), and work and travel ( Australia and New Zealand). Spanish language learning programs and volunteer programs are also available.
BUNAC provides help to find paid work in Australia (18-30), New Zealand (18-35), Canada, as well as
volunteering opportunities in Cambodia (18+), Peru (18+), and South Africa
(18+). The work and volunteer abroad organization provides a work
permit and job-hunting assistance. U.S. college students and
recent graduates (within 1 semester) eligible for internships
in Britain. BUNAC also has programs for those who live in the UK or
live in neither the UK nor the USA.
Cultural Vistas, with a rich history built on a longstanding relationships with other reputable international organizations, offers internships, fellowships, and work exchanges in Argentina, Chile, Germany, Spain and the right to work independently in Switzerland, often working for companies of all types and with language training provided. Some internships are paid, while others are unpaid but with scholarships available.
(administered by Cultural Vistas
) offers thousands of opportunities in 80 official member countries that collaborate to host and send students abroad for technical (STEM-related) internships each year, usually offering salaries.
3. Internships Directly with International Organizations
Some organizations in international
sectors offer internship programs with a centralized formal
application process. Many do not have formal internships but
often respond positively to applications from individuals who
propose their own “internship.” In general, the larger and better-known the organization, the more competitive the application process for internships will be. Smaller and more locally-based organizations, often overlooked by applicants, may offer some of the best internship experiences.
. The U.S.
State Department and other federal agencies overseas and in
the U.S. offer internships (usually unpaid) for undergraduates
and graduate students. Application is competitive. Apply by
November 1 for summer, March 1 for fall, July 1 for winter.
State and city governments have many internship possibilities,
often overlooked by applicants, in their international trade
offices. Internships with members of Congress who sit on international
committees are also possible. A U.S. State Department
is a great way to see if a career in diplomacy is for you. Most
are unpaid, but free housing may be provided. Eligibility: U.S.
citizens who are undergraduates (junior or senior) or graduate
students who will continue as students. Apply via the State
Department’s website, www.careers.state.gov
may also apply for career
positions with the U.S. State Department
from the same website.
The U.S. Peace Corps is possibly the best (and best-paying) entry-level job for anyone interested in grassroots development work overseas. Unlike in a State Department job, you live and work with ordinary local people. Eligibility: U.S. citizens, generally for those with at least a bachelor’s degree; two-year commitment. The Peace Corps pays all expenses plus over $8,000 (“resettlement allowance”) at the end of service. Full training and support is provided. Educational loans can be deferred and some partially canceled. Some tuition support is available for later graduate study.
The Woodrow Wilson Foundation administers several scholarship/internship programs related to U.S. government agencies, for which women and minorities are especially encouraged to apply. Most of these scholarships fund several years of study and include summer institutes and internships. Applicants must apply as sophomores (for 3-year scholarships) or as seniors (for graduate school scholarships, for a shorter period of time).
For the most up-to-date information and applications, see the Woodrow Wilson website. Other U.S. government departments that offer international internships and career positions include the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID),
and the U.S. Department of Commerce.
b) Public Multinationals (also
known as “international organizations”). Multi-government
giants like the United
Nations, and the World
Bank offer internships. They are often unpaid and highly
competitive (paid positions are usually reserved for graduate
students), and most positions for Americans are in the U.S.
Some are designated as officially recognized international organizations.
Work permits for these employers are easier to get. The U.S.
State Department has links to the job sites of many major
c) Private Enterprise.
Organized international internship programs are sponsored by
Proctor & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and others. These are sometimes
restricted to students in MBA programs. Many undergraduates,
however, have arranged overseas internships with U.S. or host-country
companies, especially by using BUNAC program.
Most internships with private industry pay enough to cover basic
living expenses, though usually not the cost of transatlantic
airfare. There are
websites that require membership and supply information about
internship opportunities, such as GoingGlobal.com, and the
fine myWorldAbroad hosted
by Jean-Marc Hachey.
d) Non-Government Organizations
(NGOs), typically nonprofit, include humanitarian
or human-rights watchdogs like Amnesty
International, health care providers like CARE,
and organizations supporting international educational exchange
such as the Institute
of International Education. NGOs typically welcome interns
in their U.S.-based offices and sometimes by direct application
to overseas offices. Internships with NGOs are
often unpaid. One excellent website for exploring internship
and job opportunities with NGOs is Idealist.org,
which offers links to thousands of organizations
e) Educational Organizations.
Teachers are needed worldwide. Positions fall into two categories: Teaching
English as a foreign language, for which no other credential
than a bachelor’s degree is usually needed, and teaching
K-12 in overseas schools taught in English, for which teaching
certification is usually required. Most teaching positions require
a commitment of at least one academic year. Teaching at the
university level nearly always requires an advanced degree.
See also the websites of Univ.
of Michigan's International Center, and the excellent forums
and job posting sections of Dave's
f) Private Volontary Organizations
(PVOs) offer many overseas placements and are one
of the only possibilities for work in developing countries.
Positions are typically designated as "volunteer" or
service positions, rather than internships. These range from
secular organizations, such as Amigos
de las Americas or WorldTeach,
to religious-sponsored groups. Short-term placements (of less
than one year) will often charge fees, or at best provide room
and board. A few long-term placements provide for all the expenses
of the volunteer, most notably the Peace
Corps (a U.S. government program which funds positions with
host-country voluntary organizations). Again "volunteer" positions
offer the possible benefit of deferring educational loan repayments
during the volunteer assignment. See the volunteer abroad
section of Transitions Abroad.
William Nolting worked for many years at the University of Michigan Overseas Opportunities Office and was the International Educational and former Work Abroad editor for Transitions Abroad Magazine.