Many students spend their study abroad semesters teetering between attending class, absorbing the foreign ways of life, and traveling around the region. But those who choose to intern during their abroad semesters find themselves having a different perspective of the culture that surrounded them.
For Samantha Gross, Ashley Grund and Maria O’Sullivan, their experiences abroad were enhanced by interning in their respective cities outside of the U.S. — both during their study abroad semesters and during the summer months.
Gross, a rising senior at Boston University, spent her spring semester in London and interned at the London Evening Standard, a daily newspaper widely circulated in the city. While excited to be working at the newspaper, juggling classes and the internship was no cakewalk.
“It was a lot more rigorous than I expected,” Gross says. “I interned Monday through Thursday, working nine-hour days. I was really, really tired and it was hard to stay on top of class at times.”
On top of the workload, Gross was aware that time in the newsroom meant time away from typical abroad activities.
“It definitely was tricky, and I did feel a bit of FOMO at times,” said Gross. “ didn’t travel as much as other students, but we got to know London really well. Working in the newsroom, meeting new people, and getting drinks with coworkers — I appreciated those relationships more than meeting someone at the club.”
Despite the tricky schedule, Gross was able to participate in a touching experience that went viralonline. She was abroad during Passover, and unable to spend Seder with her family back in Indiana. She decided to reach out to a local CNN journalist who offered up his home on Twitter to those celebrating alone.
Later, she posted a tweetstorm about the heartwarming experience she had sharing Passover with the family that inspired a BuzzFeed post. She also got to write about it for the Evening Standard.
On the other side of the globe, Grund — a rising George Washington University senior — was interning at CNN’s Hong Kong bureau during the spring semester. She also says that although work restricted her travel a bit, in her particular office, every day was a global experience.
“One time, I had to interview someone who only spoke Punjabi, so I called a woman in India who was able to translate. In this office, you had every language available,” Grund says. “If I hadn’t interned I could have seen Asia more, but I have international work experience that is unique … I can gain back the six weeks at another point in my life.”
Grund also noted that culture adjustments were required, and an adaptable attitude was key to succeeding in a foreign office.
“The hardest part of the experience was stepping into an office you don’t know,” she says. “In Hong Kong, you’re working with people of all different cultures and countries — not just Asians. Coming from D.C. and Capitol Hill, it’s something that I wasn’t used to.”
And O’Sullivan, a rising George Washington senior, studied and interned in Amman, Jordan, at ARDD-Legal Aid for her fall semester abroad. Like Gross, O’Sullivan appreciated the chance to “know people outside of classroom, instead of knowing just the Americans.”
“Sometimes it was a little frustrating that I couldn’t take take weekend trips because of work,” says O’Sullivan. “There was that aspect but I didn’t feel like it was too bad. It was such a great experience, I wouldn’t trade it.”
During her time in Amman, O’Sullivan was able to see the subject of her studies up-close, and “get a new perspective you can’t get anywhere else.”
“Refugee issues in the United States are approached in a more academic way. In Jordan, actually talking to the refugees is so different,” she says. “It’s really important to me to go to the source of what you’re trying to study and do.”
While a place like Jordan might seem like a vastly different place than the US, O’Sullivan was able to find commonalities beyond borders and cultures.
“I really loved being able to experience different places and people and different people, but I went to metal concert one night — and oh my god, metal fans are the same everywhere!” said O’Sullivan. “It was an interesting experience, all of these people are exactly the same no matter where I go.”
She is also currently interning at the Post-Conflict Research Center in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Her family comes from neighboring Croatia, so being in the region has allowed her to “bridge studies and heritage,” and be appreciative of her opportunities in the U.S.
“I’m so lucky to have jobs in the U.S.,” she says. “Bosnia has the highest youth unemployment rate in Europe. I’m here just doing research, but it’s a privilege for me to be able to do this and something that shouldn’t be taken for granted.”
Nailing down an internship abroad is a fairly streamlined process. The internship programs Gross, Grund and O’Sullivan took part in — at Boston University, Syracuse and The Council on International Educational Exchange, respectively — had accommodations that helped facilitate students to intern abroad. And, like any internship, all required an interview process with the employer.
For her summer internship, O’Sullivan took to a simple online search to find hers once she secured housing in Sarajevo.
Despite being in different countries and interning for different companies, all attested to interning abroad being an experience they’d highly recommend to others.
“I would definitely say go for it if you’re hesitant. Interning only added to my experience, and didn’t really take away from it,” says Grund. Students who interned while studying abroad “did something really different. Rather than just living and travelling, we got to meet people who actually lived there,” she says.
“Interning abroad is a window into another country that you aren’t going to get in a classroom,” said Gross. “You’re able to really involve myself in the community and ingrain yourself with the people that live there. It’s the best way to get that feeling of living and working abroad. You feel more like a citizen of that country than a visitor.”