Making the most of your Year Abroad Internship

by Juliana Coutinho

This article was written by Inspiring Intern, published on 8th July 2011 and has been read 5964 times.

University leavers are increasingly finding that they need some professional experience to complement their academic credentials in order to land their first job. Your year abroad is the perfect time to stand out from the crowd as you gain important work experience while you can still access financial support from student loans, travel bursaries and Erasmus grants from the European Union.
You can use your internship experience to help you make decisions regarding which future career path to take, make key contacts within your chosen industry and possibly work towards securing a graduate job once you have finished your studies. It should be noted, however, that internships can vary in scope and quality. It is therefore incredibly important that you get as much information about a placement as possible before committing to it.

Here is a quick outline of the questions you should be asking employers before starting an internship abroad:

What sort of tasks will I learn about?

Before an internship starts you should have a good idea of what you will be doing and what you will be learning. It shows the host company has put some serious thought into the placement and is committed to giving you a beneficial experience. If the company is very vague in their description of your day-to-day activities you should push them for a better description.

What expectations will you have of me?

You should ask what level of linguistic ability the company are expecting. Brush up on industry-specific vocabulary and make sure you understand all of their website. Check if there is anyone on the office who might be able to help in English if you are struggling.

Who will be my mentor/supervisor?

Although you may work under several different managers during your placement there should be one member of staff who has direct responsibility for you for the duration of the internship. This ensures you always have a point of contact and can receive regular, constructive feedback.

How will I receive feedback?

The employer should have a system in place to provide their intern with regular feedback. This may be a formal weekly meeting, it may be a monthly chat over coffee. Whatever format it takes, an intern should get regular updates on how they are doing and where they can improve.  

Our Top Internship Advice

Once you have started an internship there are a number of things you can do to ensure the experience benefits you and helps to optimise your internship experience. There are also a number of warning signs which should alert you if the internship is not quite what it seemed to be.
Be keen! Once you have secured an internship do not rest on your laurels and simply try to pass the time until you can leave and get a reference. Show enthusiasm for what you are doing, volunteer to help on projects, generally do what you can to demonstrate your interest in the work and your ability. Ask for advice and feedback. Don't be afraid to ask colleagues for help or even general advice on their industry, role or local area. You are there to learn, they should be happy to help you gain a better understanding of your chosen sector. If you want some informal suggestions on how you can improve your output also ask those you are working with. They should be happy to offer ‘local’ tips on the city in which you are staying.  Admit to language problems. If you find you are struggling to understand most of what is going on then say so. There is no point pretending you understand everything while not knowing what to do. Language skills can be improved and will improve; you do not want to give the impression of general incompetency!  Network. Take every chance you get during your internship to get to know new people and build relationships. Even if you are not a social butterfly try to attend social events (e.g. after-work drinks on a Friday). Making contacts is a key component to a successful and enjoyable year abroad and internship – building a strong network will benefit you in both the short- and the long-term.  Set limits. It is fine to offer to stay late a few times during your placement if you wish to show your enthusiasm. However if you find you are regularly staying beyond normal office hours then you should raise the issue with your supervisor. It is not an intern’s role to work overtime. If you follow these basic guidelines you should be on the right path to completing an internship that is going to make a real difference to your year abroad and ultimately your future career. Inspiring Interns help UK students and grads find internships at home and abroad.  Keep an eye out for our postings on the soon-to-launch Third Year Abroad job board! For more advice and information please see InspiringInterns.com

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