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 in your field for temporary employment in another country. You will develop skills for your career and an understanding of the global workplace. It also provides a unique opportunity to immerse within the country that is hard to mirror elsewhere.
How to get work experience abroad
There are three general ways to go abroad on a work experience:
- Third-party, tuition-based education abroad internships: Columbia College does not offer any specific intern/volunteer abroad placements. 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. Going through an organization is logistically the easiest process, as they take care of everything, but is also typically more expensive. However, there are many advantages of working with an agency. Reputable organizations typically have staff and connections in your industry located in the country. They also usually have had experience working with U.S. students.
- Volunteer positions/unpaid internships: Volunteer positions are typically shorter and less in-depth than an internship. They can be set up by a third-party provider or sometimes directly with the organization.
- Paid short-term work experiences: Work experiences are employment based and are usually at least three months long. The positions are paid, but there is usually not a dedicated learning experience. They can be excellent ways to pay for an 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. If you coordinate a work experience on your own, you will need an appropriate work visa for the country.
Why intern or work abroad?
There are several advantages of choosing an internship or employment abroad instead of a traditional education abroad experience.
Intern/work abroad can:
- Cost less than a traditional semester-based program
- Fit into your degree program
- Occur during the academic year or summer
- Provide CC credit if eligible
- Include room and board
- Allow you to immerse yourself into a new country
- Build excellent job skills and networking contacts you can use the rest of your career
Here are some other considerations.
- Countries will have different work visas and restrictions. Often the agency you work with will take care of these matters. However, 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 expensive.
- You may be the only foreigner in the organization.
- Be prepared for work culture norms that may differ from your past experiences.
How do I get started?
Here are some resources to get started.
- The University of Michigan's International Center provides a thorough listing to assist in research.
- Idealist.org provides an International Volunteerism Resource Center that can help you determine whether to volunteer abroad.
- Transitions Abroad provides information about a number of different abroad option.
- Working Abroad Magazine offers articles and insights into working and/or volunteering abroad
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 flexible short- and long-term volunteer and internship placements in more than 20 countries.
- Go Abroad lists a number of quality providers.
- Michigan State Global Edge lists out a number of international internship opportunities.
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. Choose the one that matches your interest to discover specific opportunities for you.
Because of work visa restrictions, be careful connecting directly with a company for an internship. While some global companies hire U.S. students, the best option is to work with a provider when looking for international business internships.
If you work for an American government trade office, you are working for the U.S. government and typically won't need a special visa. These opportunities provide valuable international trade experience. A few examples include:
U.S. Commercial Service
U.S. Commercial Service promotes American products in other nations. Many of the field offices will take unpaid interns in regional offices such as in Germany, the UK, or Seoul, South Korea.
Federal Agriculture Service
Every year, the Federal Agriculture Service office hires 15 – 20 paid interns over the summer to promote international, agricultural trade.
Chambers of Commerce
Most countries have a joint U.S. Chamber of Commerce that promotes business within the two countries. Offices in Spain or Germany, for instance, provide internship 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:
Usually whatever your area of passion is, you can typically find an 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. The Career Center and Education Abroad Office can help determine whether an agency is legitimate.
These links below will lead you a number of different sites and programs.
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 large number of research experiences. These are primarily for biology or chemistry majors, though there are others for environmental science students. These experiences take place all over the world. The majorities of these internships are paid and provide room and board.
- Research Experiences for Undergraduates are funded through the National Science Foundation. They offer fully supported research internships for students in different disciplines in the sciences. Most positions are in the U.S., but you can find international experiences (must be a U.S. citizen to apply).
- The DAAD Rise program in Germany offers multiple research internships to American students. Students receive a stipend and housing assistance.
- Students interested in organic farming can explore the World Wide Organization of Organic Farmers. This organization links volunteers with farms around the world. Remember, you will be connected directly with a farm, so consider 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 the Belize Zoo, or in Roo Gully, Australia. Note that many of these will ask you to pay for your stay and accommodations.