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by Vault Education Editors | March 23, 2010


As a sophomore comparative literature major at Princeton, I was torn when it came time to decide what to do over the summer. On the one hand, I wanted to spend the summer improving my French skills so that I could start studying Spanish in the fall. On the other, I had never had an internship before, and I had hoped to try my hand in the corporate world. Luckily, I found Princeton in France, an international internship program offered by the university.

It's not unusual for a college or university to provide international internship opportunities. James Madison University, Yale University and Michigan state University are just a few examples. What's more, a lot of programs, even though they're based at a particular college or university, will accept students from other undergraduate programs.

An Intern in ParisThe premise is simple: To give undergraduates the opportunity to work on their language skills, experience a new culture, and gain valuable work experience all at once. Of course, the logistics of going abroad can quickly become much more complicated. When it comes to finding the right internship, the key is to be flexible. When you first apply to an international internship program, you will be asked to describe your academic interests, (tentative) career goals and reasons for interning abroad. The program will then suggest some internships and companies/organizations that they feel would fit best. Not all majors lead directly to a career path--for example, as a comparative literature major interested in writing, I was matched with an internship archiving a French poet's work in the South of France and a marketing and advertising company. Talk to your professors and program coordinators about what your academic--and personal--interests are and you will be able to translate those interests to a professional environment.

It is also important to take financial concerns and constraints into account. I was able to break even financially, though just barely, thanks to some lucky housing coincidences and a no-interest loan (merci mom and dad!) that I paid back at the end of the summer. There are, however, definitely some tricks to living abroad on a budget.

  • Ask for a travel stipend from your college/university's career center or your employer's HR department. Sometimes the most expensive part of studying or working abroad can be getting there in the first place. These resources will point you in the right direction and (hopefully) take a load off your budget.
  • Pick one thing to spend your money on. If you're a foodie, spend your money on really good food. If you love fashion, shop. Just remember that you may not be able to do both.
  • Befriend your food providers. The best produce and freshest baked goods suddenly become available when you're buds with the neighborhood grocer or baker. Plus, you'll get to master your shopping language skills.
  • Look into long-stay hostels. Though some programs will set you up with a place to stay, most of the time you will be on your own when it comes to looking for housing. Because subletting an apartment often isn't the most cost-effective way to live abroad, you may want to look into hostels instead. I paid about half the cost and was able to live in the center of Paris by choosing an all-girl's hostel. There are draw-backs though, like limitations on visitors and curfews.

Which brings me to my next point: Economic constraints are not the only reason you might shy away from pursuing an internship abroad. Loneliness can be a big concern, as is having to work with people who speak a different language. Here's some advice:

  • Don't be scared to approach potential friends. It can be intimidating to try to make friends in a new city, but there are always ways to meet people. Living in a hostel is one way to get to know people your own age who speak the language but aren't necessarily locals. You could even join a sports league for the summer and hang out with your team. The point is, don't be afraid to put yourself out there.
  • You should either be proficient in the language or willing to learn it. Don't worry if you're not fluent; you'll be dreaming in the language in a few weeks anyways. Just make sure that you can communicate or can get to that point relatively quickly.
  • Always be flexible. This would apply to any internship, but is especially true of interning abroad. Have a sense of humor and be ready to adapt. You'll enjoy your internship more and you'll learn more from it.

--Posted by Madison Priest


Filed Under: Education|Grad School