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Offering an edge: the rise of internships abroad

While increased maturity and self-growth have long been championed as two potential side effects of a meaningful work placement, increasingly a stint overseas is becoming the ‘must have’ when it comes to getting a head start in more competitive professions.

Location can hold as much – if not more – sway than the experience on offer. Photo: Pexels

"Universities... are putting their money where their mouth is and investing in mobility experiences”

So with much at stake in the race to get a firm foothold on the global career ladder, students – and employers – are no longer content to accept subpar work placements. So what benefits can an international internship bring that a domestic one cannot?

“Students often cite internships as a defining experience on a personal and professional level”

“An internship abroad gives students an opportunity to experience business practices in another culture, learn a new language and expand their professional network in a supportive environment,” industry relations director at Sommet Education in Switzerland, Claire Lecoq tells The PIE News.

At two of the hospitality education group’s institutions, Glion Institute of Higher Education and Les Roches Global Hospitality Education, Lecoq explains that all undergraduate students are required to complete two internship semesters as part of their degree. 

Even though 95% of students come from an international background, Lecoq continues, the majority still choose to complete their internships in yet another country to further increase their global exposure.

“Students often cite internships as a defining experience on a personal and professional level,” she says. “Between study abroad options and mandatory internship semesters, undergraduate students can live, study and work in up to five countries by the time they graduate.”

In the client-facing world of hospitality, Lecoq points out, the importance of understanding different cultural nuances and developing people skills on an international scale is massively important.

“Young people have become less accustomed to face-to-face interactions, meaning that candidates who perform well in such situations have a competitive edge in the job market.”

But hospitality and healthcare are not the only areas turning to international internships to give students that boost towards their ambitions.

Edward Holroyd Pearce, co-founder of CRCC Asia which offers internships in China, Japan, Vietnam and the UK, explains that historically, the most popular sectors were, naturally, those where employability sees the highest levels of competition.

“In the UK, it tends to be those roles in finance, law or marketing, while in the US there are a lot more engineers,” he says, adding that his business is seeing a growing demand for global internships year on year.

“Global internships will become an important aspect of the way people design degrees”

“A nice trend that is really taking off is universities recognising the value of these opportunities; they are putting their money where their mouth is and investing in mobility experiences.”

Valuable partnerships

The link between global work placements and university programs is more prominent than ever before, and higher education institutions are increasingly partnering with internship providers to source the best opportunities for their students.

One US provider based in Maryland, Global Experiences, now has more than 50 academic partners worldwide and 7,000 alumni. But CEO and co-founder Emily Merson says the road to success wasn’t always easy.

“When we started in 2001 we wanted to give access to opportunities that students, mainly in America, wouldn’t otherwise have through their own or a parent’s connections,” she recalls.

Photo: Unsplash

“We wanted students to see the world in a different way. But it took a long time before we were embraced by the university community,” she reveals.

 

And with the rise in demand for top-class internships, companies such as university partnership business Shorelight Education are offering tailored Career Acceleration Programs to help international students develop the skills they need to succeed in the internship space itself.

Breaking the stigma

Boston-based director of the program, James Morrison, says CAP is already established in many of Shorelight’s partner universities such as the University of South Carolina, Adelphi University in New York and Florida International University.

“It can take a long time for students to feel comfortable with the idea of self-promotion,” Morrison explains. “Our program helps them to understand that it’s okay to advocate for yourself.”

And self-belief is particularly vital when competing with many thousands of other international students applying to intern at those US companies topping the H-1B visa sponsor list. But, as Morrison explains, working for a big name like Google or Facebook, at the exclusion of smaller companies, isn’t the best option for everyone.

“I feel positive about the options out there for students”

“I suggest an internship at a start-up company because then they would probably be sitting at the table with the founders, and instead of having one specific function, they get a much broader experience of the entire business.”

Such ‘value added’ opportunities are not only US-based: in the UK, private business QA Higher Education has partnered with several universities to help students climb the pedestal to highly coveted placements in companies including Christian Dior.

For Thailand-based co-founder of Asia Internship Program, Simon Osborne, the developments are a sign that universities are realising they need to assist students more in building the right skill sets to be employment ready.

But, he adds, a gap still exists between “what the universities think that they should be teaching versus what the companies really need”.

“You might have a student from a top university with a great IQ, but when it comes to the practical application they are not always ready,” he explains.

Of course, the upsurge in expectations is not just coming from the side of the host company. As Lecoq at Sommet Education notes, young learners have a wealth of information at their fingertips, so they expect HE to deliver the skills and experiences that “cannot be gained just by reading books”.

“We’re trying to move away from the old stigma of what an internship is,” explains AIP’s Osborne.

“Students now are insisting on a relevant and challenging experience pertaining to what they’re studying.”

All work & no play 

Aside from the opportunity to test-drive future careers, internships appeal to those who like to think outside the box when it comes to developing their skills.

Mo Nguyen, director of Student Exchange Vietnam, recalls one intern who purposely chose a culinary arts placement to advance his medical-engineering career.

“As part of his degree he designs medical equipment for patients,” Nguyen tells The PIE. “Yet he applied for a culinary internship, explaining that first he loves cooking, secondly his job is patient facing so he wanted to understand different types of people and thirdly, learning a new art would help him think creatively and design better equipment.” 

Of course, the location of an internship can hold as much – if not more – sway than the experience on offer. “If an international student is planning on going back home after graduation, having work experience in the US gives them incredible bragging rights,” says Morrison at Shorelight.

But it’s not all work and no play. Sailing in superyachts, attending world famous concerts and meeting celebrities are just some of the opportunities Internships Down Under has sourced across Australia. 

Director Robbie Sekel says he has noticed a change in attitude over the years; interns now expect a structured program, specific to their training requirements.

Photo:Global Experiences

But, he adds, Australia’s reputation of sun, beaches, unique wildlife and sense of adventure from being so far away from home is unquestionably a pull factor.

And with interns flocking in their thousands to the US, Europe and Australia, business, trade and finance placement opportunities in emerging countries are gaining serious momentum too.

AIP is experiencing healthy demand for internships in Asia, which co-founder Osbourne suggests may be a knock-on effect of the oversaturated intern market in western countries.

“Last year we had around 3,000 applicants,” he explains. “Geographically, Thailand is the centre of the ASEAN community, and of course the cost of living is very low.”

But while providers such as AIP can count world leading employers such as Disney and Google Thailand as clients, prior to matching host companies with interns, a consultation process on how to engage international talent must take place to ensure both parties are getting the best experience, he counsels.

“The host needs to have five or more staff, a safe, secure office with internet and be in operation for at least a year,” Osborne explains.

Future-facing

So with such rapid growth in the global internship space, how do providers see it adjusting to meet the needs of an ever-demanding client base that has evolving expectations as regards a bespoke productive placement? 

“At the moment, companies do not have to pay us for hosting an intern, but in the future, it might change so that the company is more serious when accepting the intern, and works on how to make the program much more productive,” hints Nguyen.

“We’re trying to move away from the old stigma of what an internship is”

“I think moving forward, global internships will become an important aspect of the way people design degrees and there will be an emphasis of connecting those four years of study to work,” Merson at Global Experiences adds.

And in Australia, Sekel at IDU says there are already tech companies relying on algorithms to match hosts with interns, rather than using a tailored approach. 

But one constant across the globe is the importance of internships doesn’t appear to be diminishing.

“The value for a company is bringing a fresh cultural perspective and a dynamic that they don’t typically have,” says Morrison. “And the experience for the intern is tremendously valuable, whether international or domestic.

“I look at the future with confidence and I feel positive about the options out there for students.”

This is an abridged version of an article that originally appeared in The PIE Review, our quarterly print publication.

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