Interning Abroad from A to Z

by Troy Stiles, ISA Marketing Communication Manager

Internships are filled with questions, opportunities, mystery, excitement, and discovery. With so many moving pieces to occupy your time, we’ve created this “A to Z” list of things to think about before, during, and after your internship to enhance your time abroad and help you get the most out of your internship experience.


A: Application

Ahhh, the start of your internship journey. Your application.  After filling out information about your background and career interests, you’ll talk with an ISA Internships Program Manager to review your application, resume, and cover letter; and most importantly discuss your goals and objectives for your internship. But before being accepted, booking flights, or taking the leap and going overseas, you’ve got to take the first step. Submit your application.

B: Blogging

Creating and maintaining a blog during your internship may seem like a hassle, but it will help your friends and family back home follow along with all your adventures, job-related or not. While this will take a little extra effort, it’ll be worth it. You’ll remember more about specific situations if you write about them right away instead of waiting until you get back to the United States. If you take part in an ISA internship you can apply to become part of ISA’s Featured Student Blog team and share your experiences on one of WordPress.com’s top rated travel blogs, the ISA Study Abroad student blog.

C: Culture Shock

No matter who you are, culture shock is one card that you’ll be dealt. It hits some people harder than others, but understanding it, even a little bit, can help you through some of the challenges.

Culture shock doesn’t only happen after you arrive in your new country. It can also happen when you return home and it’s called reverse culture shock.

So be prepared, here is a good place to start learning more about culture shock.

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D: Destination

Choose wisely… put some thought into this decision because you’ll be spending some time there. Think about what destination will give you the best internship and help you in your future career, what destination will give you the most opportunity to learn and grow, and maybe even what destination might you NOT have the opportunity to go back to later on. Use your internship as an excuse to venture somewhere unexpected and exciting.

E: Expectations

Once you’ve decided on a destination, do some research and become aware of local etiquette, both cultural and professional. Keep in mind that Internship participants will be doing entry level tasks in their field, not running the company (to start). These internships are designed to help you gain necessary skills within your industry so one day YOU can be the one hiring the intern.

F: Finances

Remember, not every country uses American Dollars. In fact, most countries don’t. Hopefully that’s not a surprise. Be aware of the local currency before you go, including exchange rates, and the best way to get cash. You’ll be able to exchange money at specified Money Exchanges, but you’ll likely be charged a higher exchange fee than you would by going directly to a bank or even utilizing an ATM for withdrawals.

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G: Goals

You’ve probably heard it over and over again, but you need to set goals. Sure, doing an internship abroad will be an invaluable experience, but be sure to think about what you really want to get out of your internship. Ultimately, this experience will contribute to helping you get a job, so be sure you’ve set goals to do and learn skills that you’ll be able to take with you into that full-time career.

H: Housing

Internship housing options vary based on location but typically ISA housing options include:  homestays, shared apartments and student residences. Homestays are a classic option and are one of the best ways to learn about local culture, practice language skills and get immersed in the local community. Shared apartment options come fully furnished, have a kitchen and are centrally located or are located close to public transportation routes. And lastly, student residences. These are a cross between dorm-style living and a boarding house.

I: Initiative

Your internship will take you into a totally new environment, so this is the time to show your initiative. Take on new tasks. Ask your boss for new projects. Be the initiator when it comes to starting a project. Everyone likes a hard worker and you never know what opportunities it could open up.

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J: Job Description

Before your internship even begins, you’ll receive a job description. And believe it or not, this is a very important part of the internship experience. Once your internship placement is confirmed, the ISA Internships team will send an Official Offer Letter detailing the company, the type of tasks you will complete and your role within the organization. Don’t be shocked when your title isn’t CEO, but no matter your title, your internship is designed to put you in a position to learn and grow. Be sure to check out the ISA Today Blog for examples of past internships.

K: Key Competencies

Key competencies are exactly what you will acquire during an international internship.  These competencies or “soft skills” can be responsibility, teamwork, communication problem solving and many more. ISA has partnerships with amazing organizations in every country in which we offer internships. Take advantage of your supervisor’s, co-workers’, and fellow interns’ knowledge to grow and expand your competencies.

L: Language

No matter where you travel outside of the United States, language issues will come up. It doesn’t matter whether you’re interning in London where English is spoken or in China. There will be some sort of language barrier. Just be aware and know that you’ll likely learn new words and discover new meanings to old words. If you’re in a country that doesn’t speak English, try to learn at least a few basic, key words before you go. You may feel embarrassed when trying them out for the first few times, but most likely, the local people will be excited you tried and will be more than willing to help you practice and learn.

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M: Marketability

An ISA Internship provides opportunities to participants to develop both personally and professionally through high-quality, customized work experience that will enhance marketability. Nothing makes your résumé stand out from the flood of recent grads more than an international internship!

N: Networking

An international internship is a great place to gain skills, but also a great place to network. Expanding your network with local professionals is a great way to understand how a particular profession works in a different culture. Those same people could be great contacts to have later on if you’re looking to start your career overseas as well.

O: Opportunities

Internships are all about opportunities. Take advantage of them when you have a chance. Volunteer for a new project or, if that’s not possible, at the very least do the best you can do on current projects. Your supervisor will likely recognize your effort, which will open up additional opportunities.

Opportunities don’t just happen on the job either. Take advantage of all the opportunities outside of work that are available to you. Travel your new country if possible, meet new people, get lost in your new city for a bit. You never know what new things you’ll discover, treasure you’ll find, or people you’ll meet. The world is an amazing place. Take advantage.

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P: Passport

This is important! If you’re planning on traveling outside of the country, you’re going to need one. If you have one, great. If you don’t, be sure to apply for one in plenty of time before leaving on your trip. For more information on how to apply or for other passport information check out US Passport office website.

Q: Questions

Undoubtedly during your internship, you’re going to have questions. You’re doing an internship to learn about that particular field/job/organization, you’re going to have questions. When you do, ask them. Ask your supervisor. Ask a team member. Ask. Remember, the only dumb questions are the ones not asked.

R: Roommates

As you’ll find,  if you end up having a roommate(s), they are great resources. The saying that “two heads are better than one” is around for a reason. Take advantage of their knowledge and their experience to learn something new. Make meals together, practice another language, explore your new city/country together. If you are living with roommates, you’ll be in one of two scenarios; 1) they’ll be new to the location as well, or 2) they’re a native of the location. Either way, they’ll be great resources for your, so take advantage.

S: Safety

This is always a concern when traveling abroad. The fact of the matter is that safety is a concern even where you live in the US, but when you travel you feel more vulnerable for various reasons (i.e. unfamiliar surroundings, unfamiliar language, etc.). The key to safety while abroad is understanding your surroundings and being vigilant. Overall, be smart.

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T: Transportation

Transportation can be an interesting thing in a foreign country. Depending on your location, your options will vary. Trains, buses, taxis may all be available for you, so these are things you’ll need to figure out when you arrive. Other issues you may face will be whether or not to negotiate with taxi drivers and what is the bus or train schedule, among others. This can be a frightening aspect of living in another country, but can be very exciting, and once you figure it out, liberating.

U: Understanding

An international internship is an amazing opportunity to gain understanding. You’ll gain understanding of yourself, your skills, your chosen career, your company, but you’ll gain understanding of a new culture, you’ll gain an understanding of different world views, you’ll gain a new understanding of how people perceive Americans and you’ll gain an understanding of your ability to adapt and problem solve. And all of these are great skills to have.

V: Visas

Depending on which country you decide to do an internship in, you may be required to get a visa. No, not a credit card, but an entry visa. Luckily the amazing ISA Internships staff will help you through all the steps and to get you the visa you need.

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W: Withdrawal

It may be somewhat of a surprise to you, but all the products and conveniences that you have in your daily life in the US may not be available in your new overseas home away from home. For example, Cool Ranch Doritos may not be available in Australia or you may not be able to get your coveted Pantene ProV shampoo in Ireland. Don’t worry! It’s not the end of the world. You will survive. Use this opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and try something new and who knows, maybe you’ll like something new.

X: eXplore

Okay, this is a stretch for the letter X, but exploring is a very important part of your internship. Not only exploring the city and country that you’re living in, but also exploring the job field and company that you’re with. We’ve heard many stories about students doing an internship and discovering their future career, but we’ve also heard stories where a student was doing an internship and decided that what they were doing wasn’t for them. Both scenarios are exactly what internships are for, to help give clarity to your future career.

Y: You

Ultimately, this experience is about you. Your growth as a professional. Your growth as a person. Think about that throughout your experience and keep in mind that the most seemingly menial task could have a great learning opportunity weaved throughout. Take what you can and integrate that into your person to become a better YOU.

Z: Zero

This is the number of regrets you should leave your internship and host country with. Challenge yourself. Do unexpected things. Put yourself all out there. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, don’t regret not doing something.


Interested in interning abroad? Find out how!

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