Doing an internship abroad is a great way to experience the culture of a foreign country. I believe that doing an internship lets you experience the culture and the “real” life in a foreign country much better. Let’s be honest, when you go study abroad, most of the time its just a big party and you are probably going to be there with a lot of people from your home country, may be even some of your best friends. But when you do an internship, you also take on responsibility and see how the everyday life in a country. I have done both, internships in China, the US and Germany, and I also studied and now live abroad in the US. When I look back to my experiences, I definitely can say that my internships and work experience in China gave me the best insights into the country I lived in. So here is some advice on how to make the most of your internship abroad:
Don’t start with the internship, do a language course first!
I believe that you can make the most of your internship abroad, when you know the language. If you do your internship abroad in a country where you do not speak the language, you should consider taking a language course first, preferably in the country. This will give you two main advantages: First, the better you speak the language, the easier it will be to connect with locals, who then can help you out when you have questions and also teach you about the culture and traditions of your host country! Second, you will be given more advanced tasks at work, which will not only look good on your resume, but also you will gain more experience in the field you want to work.
Do a good job and show initiative
Whether you do an internship in your home country or an internship abroad: Always give your best and show initiative. First of all, it will show your employer that you are reliable and hard working and you might get to do more meaningful tasks after you have proven yourself and second, the very company that you did your internship with, might offer you a job after you finished your degree. Always keep this door open, even if it does not seem like an option right now.
Learn about the business culture and work habits
Your internship abroad will most likely be an eye catcher on your resume, so some companies might want to utilize your “special knowledge” about a country. Whether you might be the main contact for clients from this country, you are sent there to find new prospects or establish relationships or figure out a campaign to sell your company’s products there, they will expect from you that you know more than the average bear about this country. Do you know the seating order of a formal Chinese dinner party, or how to accept and hand out business cards in China? You have lived there after all, right? So make the most of your internship abroad and learn as much as you can about the way business is done in this country, how to avoid the biggest culture clashes, and how to work with this country’s culture and not against it.
Build a strong network
Use your internship time abroad and build a network of useful contacts in the industry you would like to work in. This can be a huge competitive advantage when you apply for jobs later, whether you want to apply in your home country or in the country you did your internship in. Companies have realized how important the networks of their employees are to them. This could be a big bonus for you, when you mention that in your job interview! However, watch out who you network with! Don’t just focus on other expats, as most likely they will be gone after their assignment ends, but also with locals and long term expats.
Learn about the culture of your host country
While you do your internship abroad, try to soak up as much knowledge about the culture of your host country as possible. The more you know about the culture, the easier it will be to work efficiently with the people and get the results you need. Don’t think that your way is the only right way. You have to understand that you are a guest in their country and they have done pretty well, even before you arrived. Accept their way and different approach and understand that there is no “better” but only a “different” way of doing things. What you need to learn is to work with the people in this culture without offending them and their culture, but also to get the results you need!
As I already said, an internship abroad is a great way to get to know a foreign country from a much deeper perspective. Enjoy your time abroad and make the most of your internship abroad. You will never forget it!