How to make the most of your time in a foreign country as an international intern
Many of us are lucky enough to have travelled beyond the borders of our home country. Some of us maybe only briefly and to neighbouring countries, whereas others have made their way across the planet and spent many months away from friends, family and home comforts. Those that have embarked upon such adventures will be able to attest to the fact that travelling abroad allows us to experience entirely new foods, customs and landscapes that broaden our knowledge of foreign culture. For those of you about to embark upon, or considering applying for an internship abroad it is important to remember that your placement may last considerably longer than the average mini-break and so there are some things to consider in order to ensure that you get the most out of your experience.
I have lived, worked and studied in different countries across Europe and Asia, including India and England. I have also been lucky enough to travel to many fantastic places around the world whilst on holiday with friends and family and have even travelled independently in order to volunteer. I would like to give just a few tips about living abroad, and how to make the most of your time in a new country whilst juggling the responsibility of work.
Right from the Off
After disembarking from the plane, getting through airport security and making your way to your accommodation, you are likely only to have a few hours before you start work. Of course the most important thing is for you to be well rested for the week ahead so make sure you get unpacked, clothes ready for work in the morning and get plenty of sleep. When you arrive at your chosen city, our team on the ground make sure that you are settled and show you around the local area. For the first couple of days you will be walked to and from work so don’t worry about getting lost and being late on your first day on the job.
Once you start work, things can become all a bit hectic. Aside from getting used to the climate and possibly jet lag, you can expect to be thrown into your work right from the off on Monday morning. First impressions are key so make sure you are on form.
When the day ends your colleagues may offer to take you for a drink after work, this is a good opportunity to get to know them and if you have any questions about the work you are doing or have any problems then this can be a good time to ask for advice in a slightly less formal environment. An important point to remember is that even out of the office these people are work colleagues and anything you say or do with them out of work will be remembered and brought up in the office the next day so this is not the time to regale them with the story of the time you took a tequila shot to the eye. When you get back to your accommodation again ensure that you are ready for another day of work and get some shut eye.
Find your Routine
Often whilst on holiday people can become incredibly messy and disorganised, after all you are there to relax and unwind. If you are interning in a foreign country there can be a temptation to slip into bad habits. It is important to remember that even though you are abroad your first and foremost priority is the internship and to ensure that you do a good job.
Try and get into a routine as quickly as possible. The routine will of course be your own but it might be something as simple as going for a 20 minute run before work in the morning, having a cup of a tea at your favourite spot every evening so that you can reflect on the day or maybe just ensuring you are in bed at a certain time. We make sure that you have everything you need and the support on the ground so that you can find your routine right away.
Some form of routine is important, not only because it will help structure your week but it will also help with homesickness. When you first arrive in a new country you can feel a sense of being lost. You no longer have your favourite coffee shop, they don’t know your name at the gym and you can’t just meet up with your friends. Once you get into a routine you will feel much more comfortable and being organised will ensure that you are on top of your work and will have more time to explore your new city.
Make the transition from tourist to local
Of course when you arrive in a new country or city it is important to see and experience its famous landmarks and attractions, but now that you are living there you should make the effort to experience it through the eyes of a local. A good way to get know your new colleagues in your internship is to ask them if they have any recommendations about local places to try for food, drink or just to explore. Not only will this show that you are enthusiastic and keen to get the most out of your experience but you will move away from the touristy establishments and discover some of the hidden local gems. At Capital Placement we have all either lived or regularly in the cities you will be interning in and can guarantee that each location has no shortage of treasures to discover.
Embrace the local custom
One of the reasons why employers find applicants who have completed an international internship so appealing is that they have experience of working abroad and understand the differences in not only everyday interaction but more importantly the way that business is conducted there. Knowing how to conduct business abroad is hugely important for any international business and this can make you an extremely valuable asset.
This of course means paying attention to way that your colleagues and bosses address and interact with one another whilst at work and being aware of any differences from your home country so that you can incorporate the differences into how you behave.
It is important to be aware and respectful of cultural differences, both at work and during the time you spend outside of the internship. Having lived in the south of France for a year I quickly learnt that my French friends, of both sexes, would become quite upset if I did not give them a kiss on both cheeks when I met them. A habit that surprised some of my male English friends when I returned to the UK.
Use the weekends
Whether you are there four weeks or four months you should use your time abroad as an opportunity to explore and learn more about not only the city you are working in but the wider country as well. After a hard week of work reward yourself with a trip into the country or maybe another city. As part of all our programmes we arrange social events every other weekend which is included in the fee. As well as the ones we put on for you, we have an inexhaustible list of other recommendations, so you will never be bored. Not only will this allow you to relax and switch of from business but also experience the country you are working in and gather many amazing memories and photos to take home with you. Additionally it is yet another talking point for you to use with your colleagues at work. Aside from the skills and knowledge that you will gain from an internship abroad, one of the key advantages is the relationships that you can build with your colleagues and superiors. Many of our interns are offered full-time positions in the companies that they intern for so it is a good idea to immerse yourself as fully as possible not only the city and country but in the company you are working for so that you can have an idea as to whether it is somewhere that you could live and work in more permanently, should the opportunity arise.
It’s not a stretch to say internships have become indispensable. The competition for jobs has never been stiffer. When making hiring decisions, Capital Placement notes, employers will lean heavily towards students who have at least some internship experience under their belts.
So, what does an intern do exactly?
Contrary to popular belief, completing an internship isn’t easy. If you think internships are about fetching coffee for everyone and generally riding on the team’s coattails, toss your expectations out the window. Modern intern roles – even the support kind – are as taxing and responsibility-ridden as full-time jobs!
It’s important you enter your internship with the right mindset. If you don’t know what to expect from your internship role, you’ll be better prepared and know what you need to do to succeed. Also, carrying out your intern responsibilities successfully will assist you in building up a potent skillset.
What is an intern?
An intern is a trainee who has signed on with an organization for a brief period. An intern’s goal is to gain work experience, occasionally some university credit, and always an overall feel for the industry they’re interning in.
Internships may be paid, partially paid, or unpaid. The engagement period may range from a handful of weeks up to 2 years. With longer-term internships, you’ll almost always be compensated in some way. The compensation may include a monthly wage, accommodation, travel expenses, and a food allowance.
Many companies require you to complete an internship with them before they even consider you for a full-time role.
What does an intern do?
So what does an intern do exactly? That depends on the industry in question and the kind of internship you’ve signed up for. Research internships come with a different set of roles and responsibilities than, say, an internship geared toward easing you into a full-time role.
An intern is primarily a support role – at least in the beginning. When you join up, your main job will be to assist, learn, and grow. After you’ve settled in, you’ll be expected to pull your own weight.
Here’s a general overview of the work you can expect to do as an intern:
1. Assist in day-to-day tasks
As an intern, don’t expect to spearhead a critical project anytime soon. But that’s by no means a bad thing. You’ll be groomed to spearhead projects in the future. Your boss will give you general errands to educate you on to the ins-and-outs of the organisation, to gauge your general skill set, and also to bring your skills up to par.
Here are some day-to-day intern roles and their responsibilities:
- Performing clerical duties: It’s almost a guarantee you’ll be taking memos, maintaining files, organising, sorting, creating PowerPoint presentations, drafting reports, and the like.
- Managing social media and emails: You may be asked to handle the company’s social media accounts, write emails to customers, talk to clients on the phone, and similar duties.
- Event handling: Interns are often asked to oversee the scheduling of appointments, organising conference rooms, and taking care of the food and drink.
- Research: Interns fresh from a university education have a great deal of up-to-date knowledge. Your organisation may put this knowledge to good use by placing you in a research role. You may be asked to assist in streamlining an organisation’s work process in some way.
2. Learn and gain experience
You’ll be expected to learn as much as you possibly can while you work, regardless of the kind of internship you’ve signed up for. What kind of learning will you be doing? It can be broken down into two main areas:
- Picking up hard skills: Hard skills are the technical skills you need to carry out your intern responsibilities, and eventually job duties, successfully. Examples include learning how to operate a computer program, drafting a company report, handling the company inventory, and maintaining the company database.
- Brushing up on your soft skills: Soft skills are as important as hard skills. Soft skills are all about your ability to relate to people and building mutually-beneficial relationships. Examples are talking, listening, conflict handling, time management, and development of empathy. You need soft skills to manage clients, not to mention get along with your bosses and colleagues.
3. Job shadow
Job shadowing has become the norm recently. As the name suggests, the practice involves “shadowing” someone as they perform their daily duties, observing their activities, and learning what the role entails via indirect experience. This is an especially popular practice in hands-on fields like engineering and healthcare.
How does this work exactly? When you join the organisation, you may be assigned a mentor. The first few weeks, you may be tasked with following them around. They’ll show you the ropes while they work. You may be asked to assist with light tasks here and there. You’ll be encouraged to ask questions. Eventually, you’ll be trained to take over the position and of intern roles.
4. Take on an increasing amount of responsibility
As time goes by, expect to shoulder an increasing amount of responsibility. Initially, they’ll gauge your current skill set and reliability with “grunt” work. As you prove yourself to your colleagues and bosses, you’ll be entrusted with more crucial tasks. The better you perform, the more the responsibilities you’ll be given.
When you join as an intern, it’s always smart to give it your all. The work may feel uninspiring initially. That’s understandable. But if you can demonstrate enthusiasm and perform without complaining, you’ll slowly but surely work your way to the good stuff.
Interns who really impress their bosses can expect glowing recommendations, if not an offer for full-time work.
While networking isn’t an official requirement as such, it might as well be. Networking involves building relationships with your bosses, colleagues, and customers and clients. You’ll need the backing and support of people in places to build a successful career. Also, building good relationships with customers is always good for the organisation.
Here are some examples of the kind of networking interns do:
- Finding a mentor: Mentors act as anchor roles for interns. If you find a good one, you can follow in their footsteps and build a successful career just like your mentor.
- Forming a peer support group: Interning is hard. Finding a peer support group who is going through all the ups and downs with you will make it much more enjoyable for everyone involved.
- Getting in with bosses and coworkers: Interns who can build strong individual bonds with their coworkers and bosses become a part of the “family”. You’re much more likely to be offered a full-time role at the company down the road.
6. Make a career call
Finally, usually at the tail-end of your internship, you have to make a career-defining decision: continue in the field you interned in or try your hand at something else entirely.
You got a taste of what working in your industry full-time would be like. Did you love the experience and can’t wait to dive back in again? Or do you feel you’d be happier doing something else?
Internships are usually short-term. They’re smaller investments in time and energy than full-time jobs. Consequently, they’re perfect opportunities to explore your options. You deserve work that’s fulfilling. If necessary, you can sign up for a different but related internship role elsewhere to see if you’re happier there.
Your internship is going to shape the course of your career. It’ll assist you in acquiring the skills you need to perform up-to-par when you’re hired full-time. It’s essential you use your internship as the training opportunity it represents.
You’re sure to have a bright future if you work hard, build positive relationships, and remain grateful for the internship opportunity. Capital Placement can assist you in securing a life-changing internship opportunity abroad, in line with your talents, skill-set, and career goals. Reach out to us now!
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