I know, I know – interning or volunteering are the last things you want to hear when planning for or embarking on your study abroad adventure, but please give this guy the benefit of the doubt and hear me out!
At home you may be taking 5 courses right now, have a part-time job and/or volunteering for an organization on the side. You actually don’t realize how much time you would have on your hands when all of this is gone, and you are taking 3 courses in a foreign country. You’ll have plenty of time to spare! So now you may think – that’s great, more time to travel and explore. Which is true, but you may only get to travel on the weekends, during breaks, or do a grand bender before or after your study abroad experience. For me, it was a combination of all of those and each time you travel, you spend. So after a while you start being mindful of your wallet and spend more time enjoying and exploring the place you are studying at. Internships and volunteer opportunities will show you a completely new side of your foreign home and here are few reasons why they are more beneficial than you may think!
1) Validate or discover your passion: Yes it is possible! And yes, you can actually intern for something you are passionate or curious about in a foreign country! My roommate in Botswana – Hannes, was studying biology in Puerto Rico and he scored an internship opportunity at a game reserve in the Kalahari Desert with wildlife experts and tracked lions for the summer! How cool is that? Plus, what better way to spend time in a foreign country than doing something you love and learning from the experts in your field?
And when I was visiting India between my study abroad semesters, I acquired an internship opportunity as a “Marketing Intern” at the Punjab Heritage and Tourism Promotion Board (a Destination Marketing Organization responsible for promoting the province of “Punjab” to the tourist market) after speaking with the Executive Director of the organization. This opportunity proved invaluable as I got the taste of the career I may have and got to employ my classroom learning in real life through working with various stakeholders, industry leaders and even United Nations tourism consultants. It definitely reignited my passion for tourism industry and tourism marketing.
2) It helps you develop personally & professionally: When I studied abroad at the University of Botswana, I had an amazing opportunity to volunteer with the business club and headed the “Oodi Weavers” program with a team of local students where we devised strategies and implemented them to revive the local artisan cooperative in Oodi, Botswana. Of course, I realized later that I was naïve to think that all entities relatively operate in the same manner (as the theories say in our books)but being out in the field in a foreign country, in the real world, puts things into perspective and allows you to gain understanding of the different forces affecting the day-to-day operations of a business. That is when I started to become more humble, stopped doing and started observing, utilized and honed inter-cultural skills and truly started to understand the culture to comprehend “why and how they do it in this country”. That definitely aided in my personal and professional development.
3) You actually get to “do” what the locals “do”, and “see” what the locals “see”: This by far is the most rewarding part of interning or volunteering whilst abroad. Studying for two semesters abroad, I came to realize that although we are in a foreign country, most of us tend to stick amongst our kind – “the other study abroad students”. You definitely do not want to go back home thinking, “Whoa, I hardly have any local friends from there”. Interning or volunteering whilst abroad takes you out of your comfort zone as you get to mingle and work with the locals. Making local friends is truly the best thing ever – or how else would I know about “beef phaphata”, or which combi (inter-city public transportation vans) connections to take to get from point “A” to point “B”, or if I’m getting ripped off by a vendor in the market, or the best place to see the sun go down. Having local friends truly pays off. My favorite experience was when I visited my friend Obed’s village – Ramonaka for the weekend, met his family and cousins, and next day we killed a live chicken together with a knife for dinner. Moreover, to understand a culture is to see it from their eyes. So my best advice would be, “Take a step back, and observe and listen as much as you can. You’ll definitely soak in more”. Lastly, if you go back to the country where you studied, you’ll always have a place to stay if you have some local friends.
4) You expand your personal and professional network:Believe it or not, the connections you make while interning, volunteering and travelling abroad can prove severely beneficial. I met Craig – “a Cabin Crew Manager for Australian Defense Force” at the time, in Perth, Australia. We quickly got acquainted and now we are close friends and I’ve had the opportunity to utilize his network in Australia to form a consulting panel for a project I did recently for a client here in Kamloops, British Columbia. Cool huh? More so, when you travel, you meet several interesting people. I now have friends and acquaintances in aviation industry, diamond industry, financial industry, entertainment industry, and tourism industry just to name a few. So keep an open mind when you travel, mingle with locals and travellers alike, and voila, you’ll start expanding your network.
5) Your resume looks pretty impressive afterwards: The experience that you gain from volunteering or interning abroad is truly transformative and makes an impressive addition to your resume and compliments your study abroad experience. And if you wish to pursue higher studies, it looks great on your postgraduate and scholarship applications too.
So there you go, those are 5 reasons for why an internship or volunteer opportunity abroad can help you have a richer, more cultural and an amazing study abroad experience. Make the best of your education, travels, and time by taking advantage of all the opportunities that you are presented with 🙂
Quick tips on how to find internship or volunteer opportunities whilst abroad: a) Ask your professors at the host university. They can certainly point you in the right direction. b) Ask fellow local students. c) Research online for companies or organizations where you may be able to intern or would like to intern, and simply contact them via e-mail, phone or in person with interest.
Written By: Sarbjit Gill (Tourism Management Student at TRU & Study Abroad Ambassador 2013-2014). Countries lived in: Australia, Botswana, Canada, and India. Other countries travelled to: France, Indonesia, Mozambique, Namibia, Thailand, South Africa, UK, and USA.