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How to Find an Internship Abroad

How to Find an Internship Abroad main image

Our globalized economy has a huge demand for globalized graduates to join the workforce. That is why a semester or year abroad is absolutely critical. I assume you already know this, because you are on this website looking for international universities at which to study abroad for a semester, a year or a full degree. But assuming you ran out of time or money and need something to spice up your résumé fast, an internship abroad might just be for you. It is also useful for you “type A” people, who can’t sit still and need something interesting to do over the summer. There are many ways to go about getting your dream international internship, in your dream country, with varying prices and levels of involvement. Here’s a quick guide…

1. Use an agency to arrange an internship abroad

The easiest but most expensive way to find an internship abroad is to use a for-profit company who will organize an international internship for you, for a fee. I would not recommend this method to most people, because essentially you are paying someone for the privilege of working for free, plus you still need to pay for the travel, accommodation and everything else yourself. Be very careful with these agencies, as many will promise you the world but end up putting you in some small company in the hinterlands of Malaysia (yeah, I almost fell for that one).

2. Join your local AIESEC chapter

By far the best method I could recommend is a non-profit organization called AIESEC. This is a global organization run by and for college students, which organizes international internships for both members and non-members. There could well be an AIESEC chapter at your university which can help you find an internship abroad. I was a member of AIESEC for a year, and can tell you the people you meet are awesome and you make friends all over the world. The organizational costs are very small, and AIESEC will provide you with a mentor in your destination city. The mentor will help you get your visa, pick you up from the airport, take you to your apartment (which they organize for you), bring you to your first day at your internship, and best of all, provide an instant network of friends.

It gets better: almost all international internships arranged via AIESEC are paid (usually dependent on your level of education). Also, many major Fortune 500 companies offer paid international internships through AIESEC, giving you amazing networking opportunities. Many companies are looking for long-term employees, so you may have the chance to apply after your internship is completed.

The only downside is that AIESEC internships tend to be relatively long (4+ months) and only for those who have completed at least a bachelor’s degree. However, there are also unpaid international, social/volunteering internships, which last for about two months. This is the best option for people who have little experience in international travel or just want a little more help.

3. Find an international internship yourself

Finally, there is the best way to find an internship abroad: do it yourself! This is, no question, a lot of work. But when you have accomplished it, it is an amazing feeling. The number one thing you will need is perseverance. To get the internship I have now, I had to email about 40 companies. I only ever heard back from 12, of which 11 said they could not accommodate me for various reasons. But then came the 12th one. The founder of the company happened to be in Frankfurt when I emailed the company, and we met up for a “dinner interview” (the best type of interview, because regardless of what happens you get free food).

As it turned out, the guy offered me an internship on the spot and even offered to pay for the flight, plus an hourly wage when I started working. So yes, finding an international internship is hard work, but is a lot of fun when it works out. My original plan was to get an internship in Asia (but rural Malaysia did not sound so interesting) so I had to settle for New York (I know, a tragedy…).

If you embark on the DIY route, a big question is what companies to email. I can tell you from experience, forget about the big companies; you are just a kid who has done nothing worthy of note. The big-name companies can pick and choose from among the best, and in this job market, that means you will be competing with people who have 10+ years of experience. So forget about it and focus on smaller companies (if you really want to work for a big company, try to find an opportunity through AIESEC).

Think what your hobbies are and find a company that operates in that field. There are lots of small companies who are looking for talented, motivated young people, and often they will tend to be more generous both in terms of payment and in the attention they give you. For example, I work in the office of the CFO and any time I have a question, I just ask him. It’s awesome!

Another big question is what are companies looking for? Virtually every company is looking for young IT graduates who speak English and at least one other language, hopefully two. Any technical fields are obviously also in high demand (math, sciences, engineering and business). If you meet these criteria, then the only thing stopping you from getting a great (paid) summer internship is yourself. Maybe next year you will be sitting in the Mecca of capitalism on an all-expense-paid internship. Get out there and find yours!

Laura Bridgestock's profile image
Written by Felix von Wendorff
Felix von Wendorff studies econometrics as an international student at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. He grew up in California and moved to Germany to take advantage of the great (and free) education system. In his increasingly shrinking free time, he enjoys running, budget traveling and reading. 

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1 Comment

Thanks for sharing your valuable information and experience.