Top 10 Tips to Surviving an Internship Abroad

Written by  June 20, 2012

An AIESEC intern in Portugal shares his advice for making the most of working abroad.

What I am about to say may not apply to everyone, nor will everyone find value in what I offer. But in all honesty, there are certain people who simply shouldn’t be interns or travel abroad. It’s sad, a little blunt, yet undoubtedly true because living abroad in a foreign country (where, for the most part, you have absolutely no idea what people are saying) is not for everyone.

So if you are the type of person who has to go home every weekend to see your friends, family or significant other, or need your mommy to make your dinner, you can stop yourself right now as you will simply hate every minute of your trip.

Here are top 10 tips I have in surviving an internship abroad:

1. Come with a clean slate

When going into an internship or traveling abroad it is good to have a little background information on what you are about to experience. But researching and living are two completely different things. Come in wide-eyed and willing to accept everything that comes at you. Take it all in and be willing to embrace the culture. 'Cause if you don’t, the culture will reject you.

2. Avoid sensitive topics of discussion

In your travels, you will come into contact with other interns and people from all over the world. Meaning, they all have their own sets of values and beliefs. So topics such as religion, same-sex marriages and abortion are not good topics of conversation over drinks when you have Muslims, Christians and Atheists all sitting together.

3. Step out of your comfort zone

Be a yes man. Don’t be that person who sits in their room night after night simply watching TV or Skyping your friends back home. Take advantage of everything that is around you and experience it for all it's worth! It won’t be around long and when you move back home with your parents, regret comes and slaps you right in the face.

4. YOU ARE HERE TO WORK!

You have a duty as an employee to uphold your end of the contract. Showing up to work and not being ready to work or doing your job poorly does not reflect well on you, on your organization or your country. Step your game up, get your work done and you will reap the benefits.

5. Learn to budget your money

Things may be cheaper abroad but that doesn’t mean you can go out for dinner every night and buy a new hat that you barely wear— you will be surprised how fast $1000 can be spent when you are abroad.

6. Always have an exit strategy

Knowing how to get home at all times is the best thing for you. Having a friend, taxi number or directions to the bus station are all valuable points of information. You don’t want to find yourself running 8 km down the metro tracks at 5:30am on a Thursday morning because you have no idea where you are and these tracks are your only means of reference.

7. Avoid phrases that start with, “Well, back home. . .”

Nobody cares what things you miss about home and how this country doesn’t have what you want. Complaining about it will not change the fact that this isn’t home. This is a new experience and instead of fighting the process, you should learn to adapt. And if you still don’t like it, then leave.

8. Do not be afraid to ask for help

Some people are very stubborn and like to “experience” the country or city for themselves. But being lost, not knowing what you’re eating and admitting that you need help is not a bad thing!

9. Be ready to be lonely

Yes, you will make friends and meet amazing people while you are abroad. But homesickness is something that is unavoidable and much more painful than one can imagine. Family and lifelong friends are hard to replace and you need to know that there will be times where you want to go home. You are doing the right thing by seeing the world and being lonely and sad is part of the deal.

10. Embrace now, forget tomorrow

Live, love and see the world like there is no tomorrow. Don’t worry about things you have no control over. What you can control is how you spend this time. If it’s someone special you met, go for it. Nothing is worse than going home with a shopping list of what ifs.

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Brad Richards

Brad Richards represents AIESEC Guelph in Ontario, Canada. He is currently completing an internship through AIESEC in Porto, Portugal as Product Manager for AppGeneration. He moved to Portugal at the end of August 2011 and recently extended his contract until December 2012.

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