International internships open doors for students

By Mary Zemaitis

Monica Wedgewood found herself unable to understand the term “card catalogue” during her spring ’05 internship. This was because the phrase was in Italian, and Monica was in Rome. She supplemented her year-long study abroad with an internship at the Center of American studies, where she assisted with events, proofreading documents and maintaining the English section of the Web site.

Wedgewood, a junior in LAS, is part of a growing trend of University students participating in international internships and work programs. Internships vary including structured research at a partner university or working on a farm. Some students opt to look for regular jobs like waiting tables or caring for children. The Study Abroad Office also sponsors a competitive Parliament internship, where twelve students work for two months in the summer.

These internships have become more popular “because of the influence of the global economy,” said Brandon Bute, the assistant director of the Career Center. “International internships give you practical, real-world experience.”

Besides looking great on a resume, global internships allow a student to interact with a foreign culture. “(A person who works abroad wants) to know how the work environment is, what are the important aspects of the work culture that you don’t get as a student, and you especially don’t get as a tourist,” said Erika Ryser, Associate Director of the Study Abroad Office.

Working abroad is a way for Americans to see how different countries operate.

“I think the Italians have a lot more relaxed attitude. They’re not any less productive, but if you don’t have anything to do, you don’t have to give the appearance of being busy, whereas in our culture, you have to look busy,” Wedgewood said. “I think the productivity is valued more than the actual work you’re doing (in the US).”

International internships do have a financial impact on students. Most programs will provide a stipend, an amount of money to live on, according to Bute. However, Andrea Bohn, dean of ACES, warns, “You never get rich doing an internship.” Depending on the job, employers may provide room and board or the student may have full financial responsibility. Interns will usually have to pay for their airfare. According to Ryser, the University’s financial aid is applicable to established programs.

Ryser said, “Some of the colleges on campus don’t offer academic credit for internships or field work…there are a couple of colleges that highly encourage it. For example, ACES registers their students for international internships.” ACES may award a scholarship, along with academic credit, if the interns focus on a project while interning.

“Most students have the perception that study abroad is going to be very costly, and so they don’t even consider it beyond that,” said Dean Bohn. “Many see (internships) as an alternative to taking course work abroad.”

Students have a variety of options in searching for work. “Come and talk with us at the Career Center,” Bute said. If a student is interested in work in conjunction with a study abroad program, or the Parliament internship, advisors at the study abroad office can work with them.

The Web is a considerable resource in locating work. The Career Center site (www.careercenter.uiuc.edu) is a bountiful resource. BUNAC (www.bunac.org) is particularly useful in finding short-term work such as waiting tables. It is also helpful in obtaining a Visa, which can be difficult. The University also has local chapters of internationally run organizations that help students find internships, which include the Association Internationale des Etudiants en Sciences Economiques et Commerciales (www.cba.uiuc.edu/aiesec) and the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience (www.uiuc.edu/ro/IAESTE).

Wedgewood completed her experiences abroad with International Education of Students Abroad (www.iesabroad.org), since the University does not offer a program in Rome.

Students considering international internships should keep a few things in mind. “You have to be ready to be flexible,” Ryser said.

Bohn also stressed, “They require a lot of initiative on the part of the student.”

Although working abroad is not without its challenges, Wedgewood recommended the experience.

“Keep an open mind … it won’t be what you expect,” Wedgewood said.