Volunteering or Interning and Your Career


An international internship or volunteer project is a great first step in developing an exciting career in any field. While an internship abroad may not automatically land you a job, it can make your resume stick out and get your foot in the door. Completing an internship in another country is a unique way of gaining experience related to your career goals. You will have the opportunity to work with professionals in your field, meet some incredible people while learning about another country and culture. By participating in an international internship, you are already setting yourself apart from the crowd of job applicants by demonstrating you are serious about about pursuing an international career and willing to make the time investment and commitment to gain experience working in another country. Use the international internship as a springboard to your international career by performing well within your internship placement, networking while outside work, and taking the opportunity to apply for permanent employment within the country you are working in.

An internship is a valuable opportunity to learn firsthand about the day to day work within a field and cultivate potentially valuable connections with people within the organization. Beginning the internship is just the first step of the process. While working with the organization, take on the responsibility and initiative to perform to the best of your abilities. Be careful and conscientious when completing tasks. Downtime does happen. Look at the downtime as an opportunity to ask for more responsibilities, keeping in mind that it may take a while for for the permanent staff to find a project they feel is appropriate for you. If you do not have an immediate task, take it upon yourself to learn as much background information on the organization as possible. Learn about local political and economic issues that have a direct effect on the organization. Keep up to date on the local news. Also, don't hesitate to fill any gaps you may see. Perhaps the secretary is running behind on the filing or maybe a mailing needs to be assembled and sent out. By taking initiative on small tasks, you prove that you will be able to handle larger responsibilities. Also, you will free up the permanent staff to work on projects more pressing to the organization. Finally, be realistic about what an organization will assign a temporary intern to do, especially within the first few weeks. Remember, as an intern, you are at the bottom of the ladder. Don't take it personally if you aren't invited to executive meetings or granted any sort of decision making power. Everyone has to start somewhere and pay their dues before earning a seat and a voice in the important meetings. An internship is a learning experience and a great way to start out. The rewards of creating good working relationships with the people around you will pay off both personally and professionally.

While abroad, take the opportunity to network. You may find opportunities that you would never have the slightest chance of finding from home, and you never know who you will run into while you are abroad. Before you leave for your placement, print business cards with your name and contact information, update your resume, and bring a small notebook to specifically devote to keeping track of the people you meet. Printing personal business cards simplifies trading contact information and will make you look very organized and prepared at the end of a conversation. It is much more graceful to hand someone your card than it is to fumble for a pen and paper napkin at the end of a conversation. In your notebook, keep a record of who you speak with, their position, and your conversation. This will be a useful reference later. Stay in contact with the people in your notebook and do not make empty promises. If you tell someone you will call them, make sure you follow through with the phone call.

In addition to networking, you may also run into the opportunity to apply and interview for jobs available in your host country. Keep your feelers out through people you work with at your internship, any new friends, and by checking local classified ads. Most major cities have English language publications targeting ex-pats. You have an advantage over other international applicants by being able to interview in person. Before you leave home, update your resume, so it is easy to customize and send out to local employers.

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