Going on an internship abroad is an incredible opportunity, not only because you get to advance your professional skills, but you also get to experience a new culture. However, there are always unexpected moments, some of which can be avoided if you’re well-prepared.
1) Plan all documentation ahead of time.
This includes ensuring all passports and visas are up to date and relative to your travelling adventures.
“I wish I knew about getting my visas straight before heading to China. Turns out Hong Kong is not part of China,” says Jeremy Chiu, AIESEC intern. “So during my internship in China, I went to Hong Kong. Then I had to get another visa to go back to China, which cost a lot more and took a lot of time to get in such short notice,”
2) Some days will be better than others.
It is natural to have days that you may be homesick or frustrated with something in your internship abroad. To combat being homesick, ensure that you pack something that reminds you of home, like a photograph. If you have access to Skype, it is a great way to stay in touch with those at home. Your days at an internship abroad are not always predictable.
Iris Eom, who also went on an AIESEC internship, shares her experience: “Things never go as you expect. For example, my internship in Malaysia took an unexpected turn when I had to relocate to a small town for a week to help out with the local environmental NGO. Most of work I did there was site cleanup and administrative tasks. I was not expecting that kind of work, but it was still better than not doing anything and I was making a contribution to the organization in some way!”
It is important to keep optimistic at difficult moments, and assess what you can do or who you can ask to improve the situation.
3) Bring souvenirs from your home country to give away.
The souvenirs do not have to be grand, just something small that you can give to others to remember you by and acknowledge your appreciation for meeting them. Chiu remarks, “This is especially true when my colleagues and hosts gave me trinkets representing their hometown and I had nothing to give back to them.” Often people are very grateful for small tokens of thanks.
4) There are wise ways to prevent spending all your money.
In a foreign country it is easy to spend money if you are not careful about it. A benefit of being on an internship is that you are typically there longer than the average tourist, giving you time to find ways to spend money like a local. Examples of doing this are opening a local bank account to avoid pricy oversea fees, or instead of going out to restaurants all the time actually making your own food with other interns.
5) Returning home from your internship may be difficult.
It is not uncommon to experience reverse culture shock upon returning home. After going to a foreign country, where you have adapted to their customs and values, it is possible to feel like a foreigner when you return back to the country you came from. This period of time takes a while to adjust to, especially if you miss the country where you did your internship. Aim to plan to go back again in the future if this is a feasible possibility.
“Keep a journal or a blog. It really helps you remember what happened, what you learned, and how you changed,” says Eom. Internships abroad allow for a multitude of personal growth. Like any travelling opportunity it is important to prepare where you can as much as possible. Seeking advice from those who have engaged in similar experiences is also very beneficial.
Layla Clarkson is a first-year communications student at Simon Fraser University. Her keen interest in journalism and travel is what led her to join AIESEC as a Public Relations Coordinator. She has already been on two exchanges outside of AIESEC, one to Vicente Guerrero in Mexico and one to Nice in France. Layla is eager to pursue a career in the Communications field while still balancing time to advance her practice in ballet and yoga. She also hopes to go on another exchange in the near future!