5 Things You Should Know Before You Intern Abroad

During college, I decided on a whim that during my exchange semester in Madrid, I would intern. At this point, my work experience was only in retail, my Spanish was at a 300-level but I wasn’t the best speaker, and my resume was okay at best. Six months later, I left Spain was an amazing and diverse resume as a fluent Spanish speaker and the confidence to match. I’ve recommended interning abroad ever since. However, before you start, there are five important things you should know…


  1. Work culture differs from country to country.

This ma2 seem like an incredibly obvious piece of advice, but you’ll be surprised. For some background, I was brought up with a Midwestern work ethic, which means that I will work for as long as I can and as hard as I can until the job is done. I quickly learned the same is not true in Spain (and much of Europe in general). Lunches were taken with the entire office and could last 1.5 hours. Coffee and smoke breaks were often. No one checked their email outside of work.

While I had a tough few weeks adjusting at first, I soon jumped into the rhythm of Spanish working life. Before you start interning, I would recommend learning more about the work culture so you won’t be caught unaware. Here’s an interesting Forbes article outlining different factors based on region and/or country.

2. You might not be 100% happy with your placement.

With every job, there are going to be some days that you are unhappy and abroad internships are no different. Before I left the US, I had a sunny picture of what my international life would be: easy work, no studying, traveling all the time, and great parties. While some of these were true sometimes, other times, I was overwhelmed and frustrated. Some people ended up in internships that weren’t their first choice. Yet, that’s just life and life doesn’t change just because you are somewhere else.

3. Finding a work-life balance is key.

As related to point number 2, while you might have times where you work harder than you expected, you are still there to experience the culture. I’ll use my boyfriend as an example. One summer, he had a banking internship in London with an institution that will remain unnamed. During the three months he worked with them, he consistently had long hours and very rarely got to go out in the city because he was always exhausted after work. After his time there, he did have amazing work experience – but he couldn’t safely say that he had fully experienced London. Making time to get immersed – in my opinion- should be one of your main goals while you are there.

4. Don’t oversell any of your abilities, especially foreign language.

This is an awkward one when it happens but its a life lesson. During my semester, I saw students who said they could “speak conversationally” in Spanish absolutely fail at carrying on a basic conversation with a native speaker. Even though I put down I was “proficient” in Microsoft Office, I needed a tutorial from my manager in excel. Don’t make a fool out of yourself.

5. Even though you might have doubts, this is a great decision on your part.

Confession: no one came into the Office of Overseas Study during my year as a study abroad advisor and said they regretted going abroad.I probably advised over a hundred students and met a hundred more who had studied abroad (my major required it) and not one soul said “yeah, it was okay but I wish I would have been on campus instead”. I still keep in contact with my friends and reference my experience in Madrid in job interviews all the time. I’m so proud of you for taking this step 🙂

Have you interned abroad? How was your experience? Do you want to? Let me know in the comments below!

*Note: I did an un-paid IES internship through my university, which placed me with a company. Here’s a link the 10 paid internships courtesy of Go Overseas




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