In the past week, the New York Times published two articles on international internships. One about the rise of unpaid internships overseas that can cost students several thousand dollars and that seem to be very attractive to students who can afford them. And a second about a young woman who took an internship in La Paz and who writes, "Opportunities can turn into opportunities for disaster when students blindly leap into situations in foreign countries." She goes on to describe a position that has more in common with a full moon party on Koh Panghan than a journalism job in Bolivia.
These pieces, along with the fact that although it's still winter in the U.S., tis the season for summer internship interviewing, have led me to throw in my two pence on the subject. Which perhaps might prove helpful for those considering an overseas sojourn to gain job experience to use as a springboard to securing full-time employment.
And so, as the story goes, once upon a time I worked in the mountains of Italy as the co-manager of a bed and breakfast. The job was located in the Dolomites region of Italy, which is to say a ski area. The job could be said to have fallen under the sector of hospitality; at some point during my rather jagged career path, I thought I'd open and run a restaurant, or perhaps work as a chef.
In any case, through a series of events, and through a tour company based in the U.K., I ended up in Italy with a job running a 21-person bed and breakfast at the foot of a mountain in a place called La Villa (which means, quite literally, the town, or the city).
Although my co-manager (a friend of mine) knew what she was doing, I did not. At least, not at first. But I quickly learned.
I learned, above all, how difficult it is to work on your feet all day. My days in La Villa began at 7 a.m. with cooking breakfast, followed by baking a cake for “afternoon tea” (most of our guests were British), followed by dinner preparation, followed by cleaning 10 rooms, followed by four hours of snowboarding (my break during the day and a great perk of the job), followed by more dinner preparation, then cooking dinner, serving dinner, cleaning up after dinner, and then entertaining guests at the local bar (which might sound like a perk but was actually pretty exhausting; caffeine was always part of my cocktail). This took me to midnight and to sleep. In fact, I’ve never slept more soundly than I did during those four months in Italy.
I also learned an appreciation for physically demanding work, as well as the joy of working and connecting with others with whom you can barely communicate through language. I learned the beauty of working in a small town where you get to know others in the same industry. For example, the Brazilian guy who managed the bar/restaurant at the top of the mountain taught me some capoeira in exchange for English language lessons.
I also learned how to speak another language (or, at least, how to place meat and vegetable orders in Italian). I learned how to make the perfect soft-boiled egg. I learned how to bake a cake, make a three-course meal, dice vegetables quickly for nearly two dozen people. And I learned how to manage several things at once—cleaning, cooking, dealing with guests' problems, trying to get all my dinner prep done in order to have more time on the mountain.
Although, in the end, I didn't go into the hospitality business, this job did appear on my resume when I interviewed with an adventure travel magazine, which would be my first job in publishing. And though I didn’t earn a vast amount of money in Italy during the ski season, I did earn enough to backpack through India and Nepal for eight months.
The point is, there are a lot of ways to get international experience without having to pay for it, or having to risk working for a dodgy company. For example, as more than one commenter pointed out in response to the Times articles, you can teach English in a vast number of countries around the world. And get paid pretty well to do it.
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