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International internships/volunteer/short-term work experiences

Looking for a different abroad experience?  More students are finding that completing an internship abroad is the way to go!  Generally this means you are connecting with an organization for a temporary employment experience in another country in your chosen career field.  This will give you powerful skills for your career, an understanding of the global workplace, and a unique chance to immerse within the country that is hard to mirror elsewhere. 

How to get work experience abroad

There are 3 general ways to go abroad on a work experience:

  • Third party tuition based study abroad internships: Columbia College does not offer any specific intern/volunteer abroad placements, so you will need to go to a third party site.  These organizations will often charge a fee that will typically include placement, room and board.  These are logistically the easiest as they take care of mostly everything, but usually the priciest.  There are many advantages however to working with these agencies.  The reputable ones typically have a number of connections within the country in your industry, they will have staff in the country ready to help you, and the organizations you work with usually have had experience working with American students. 
  • Volunteer positions/unpaid internships: These can be very similar, but not necessarily indistinguishable.  Typically volunteer positions are less in-depth and can be a shorter time than an internship.  These can be set up by a third party provider or sometimes directly with the organization. 
  • Paid short-term work experiences : These are usually no shorter than 3 months and are employment based.  The positions are paid, but there is usually not a dedicated learning experience.  They can be excellent ways to pay for a immersive abroad experience.  You can either go through an organization that helps set these up (for a fee) or try to coordinate something on your own.  However, if you try to coordinate something on your own, then note that you will need an appropriate work visa for your country

Why intern or work abroad?

So why intern/work abroad as supposed to the traditional study abroad model?  There are several advantages:

  • Often a lower cost than a traditional semester based program
  • Fits into your degree program
  • Can happen during the year or during the summer
  • If you are eligible, you may be able to get CC credit for your internship/volunteer position. 
  • Often room and board is provided as well, making for a logistically easy experience.
  • You can immerse yourself into the “real world” of a new country.  Additionally, you can build excellent job skills and networking contacts for the rest of your career. 

However, there are some things to watch out for:

  • Countries will have different work visas and restrictions.  Often the agency you work with will take care of these matters, but it is up to you to ensure you have the appropriate materials and paperwork ready. 
  • Remember, you have limited work rights in a foreign country.  Therefore, it’s imperative you work with a respected organization.  Be very wary about working directly with an employer you’ve never heard of.  If you are considering it, ask the Career Center for assistance.
  • Some of the third-party providers can be very expensive. 
  • Often you will be the only foreigner in the organization – that’s great for some individuals, intimidating for others.
  • Be ready to deal with different work culture norms that may be very different from what you are used to. 

How do I get started?

Want some more information on working abroad? There are some great resources to get started:

  • The University of Michigan’s International Center has a wealth of information surrounding work abroad options.  Its categories are well organized and they have a thorough listing of links to assist in research.
  • Idealist.org has a great “International Volunteerism Resource Center”  that can help you make the decision whether to volunteer abroad.
  • Transitions Abroad is a large site that talks through a number of different abroad options, both during college and afterwards. 
  • Working Abroad Magazine offers articles and insights into working and/or volunteering abroad

Third party links

Third party providers are not associated with Columbia College in any way.  These companies either organize programs themselves or list other programs.  Note that we cannot guarantee the quality or validity of third party providers. 

  • World Endeavors offers a very flexible short and long term volunteer and intern placements in over 20 countries throughout the world. 
  • Go Abroad lists a number of quality providers.
  • Many more organizations listed on the University of Michigan's International Center
  • Michigan State Global Edge lists out a number of International Internship opportunities.

Interest-specific sites

There are a number of specific organizations that you can work with directly.  Though there is likely something for every major, the majority fall in these three categories.  Click on the one that matches your interest to discover specific opportunities for you.

Business

Due to work visa restrictions, connecting directly with a company for an internship abroad is tricky.  Some global companies will be hire an American students to work in their international offices, so checking in with them can open some doors.  Your best bet however when looking for international business internships will be to connect with a provider as listed above.   You can also find a good article on how to get started here.

However, working for an American government trade office means you are working for the US Government (and therefore don’t typically need many special visas) while gaining very valuable international trade experience.  Here are a few examples:

US Commercial Service

This American governmental office promotes American products in nations all throughout the world.  Many of the field offices will take on unpaid interns in their regional offices.  For instance in Germany, the UK, or Seoul, South Korea.  There are more out there for you to explore.

Federal Agriculture Service

Each year this national office hires 15 – 20 paid interns over the summer to promote international, agricultural trade.  http://www.fas.usda.gov/admin/student/program.asp

Chambers of Commerce

Most countries have a joint US Chamber of Commerce that promotes business within the two countries.  These can make wonderful places for internships.  Offices like Spain or Germany are good examples of these opportunities.

Work permit providers

These organizations help non-citizens find temporary work permits in their country.  They will have various levels of cost and intensity of the type of employment. Examples include:

Political/non-profits

Usually whatever your area of passion is, you can typically find and opportunity – whether directly or with a provider.  Most of these experiences will be unpaid, but can provide unique, challenging opportunities throughout the world. 

Remember, only work for a respected agency.   Though it can often be difficult to know what is legit and what isn’t, the Columbia College Career Center and Study Abroad Office are here to help.

These links below will lead you a number of different sites and programs. 

Science

Students majoring in a science or technology field have a wide number of opportunities available to them.  Below are a number of links that will open the door to a wide variety of possibilities in many different disciplines:

  • RIT’s Pre-Med International Listings contains a very large number of research experiences (primarily for biology or chemistry majors, though there are others for Environmental Science students) taking place all over the world.  The majorities of these internships are paid and provide room and board, but not all. 
  • Research Experiences for Undergraduates are funded through the National Science Foundation and offer fully supported research internships for students in many different disciplines in the sciences.  Most positions are in the US, but you can find international experiences (must be a US citizen to apply). 
  • The Pasteur Foundation in Paris offers undergraduate internships to US citizens in their laboratories.  Deadlines are early.  Students get a living stipend and must arrange their own housing. 
  • The DAAD Rise program in Germany offers multiple research internships to American students.  Students receive a stipend and housing assistance. 
  • Interested in organic farming?  Then explore World Wide Organization of Organic Farmers (WWOOF).  They link volunteers with farms around the world.  Note that you will be connected directly with the Farm, so be wary of working conditions.
  • The Organization of Biological Field Stations offers positions and different field research labs through the world.
  • If you are interested in wildlife sanctuaries, you can usually find volunteer opportunities throughout the world.  Such as this Chimp Sanctuary in Uganda, the Belize Zoo, or in Roo Gully, Australia.  Note that many of these will ask you to pay for your stay and accommodations.

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