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International internships: More than a summer job

Hundreds of University of Iowa students spent their summer completing internships in their chosen fields of interest.

However, a smaller group of nearly 70 took their experiences to the next level by completing internships abroad—allowing them to gain relevant, global experience while strengthening their intercultural communication skills, building confidence and adaptability, and becoming more proficient in a second language.

Internships abroad are coordinated through IES Internships, a unit of the Institute for the International Education of Students (IES Abroad). IES Abroad is the international internship provider for the UI; student participation in the partnership has grown more than 40 percent since summer in 2016.

This past summer, 69 UI students interned in 11 cities around the world through IES Internships.

Relevant, global experience

Employers place a premium on internships and previous work experience when hiring from college campuses. Increasingly, students are seeking internships abroad in an effort to stand out in the global marketplace.

“Global internships provide students with a unique perspective on their intended field of employment,” says Amy Bowes, senior advisor and program coordinator in Study Abroad at the University of Iowa.

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Abbey Schaefer

That was the case for Abbey Schaefer, a therapeutic recreation student from Dixon, Illinois, who interned at a children’s hospital in Barcelona, Spain. After graduation in May 2018, she plans to attend graduate school in health and human physiology so she can learn how to provide psychosocial therapy to kids in a hospital setting.

“My internship prepared me well for my future job,” Schaefer says. “I was able to have direct contact with kids facing a variety of health issues. I visited their hospital rooms and also worked with children in the playroom to keep them involved. I definitely think having this experience will be amazing on my graduate school applications and résumé, showing that I’ve worked with other cultures and worked in a hospital in a different country.”

 

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Taylor Odekirk

A marketing and public relations internship with a small start-up company in Paris, France, translated to work experiences that extend beyond typical “intern” duties for Taylor Odekirk, a marketing and journalism student from Waterloo, Iowa.

Odekirk worked at Archive Valley, an online company that digitally connects people with archive resources from around the world.

“A highlight of my internship was researching for the launch of Archive Valley’s public relations campaign,” says Odekirk. She found journalists, news outlets, magazines, and blogs that reach Archive Valley’s target audience of documentary filmmakers and content creators. She also worked with a freelance public relations professional who helped her create story pitches and a press release to be used in the campaign.

“It was a great learning experience. I feel a lot more confident going into interviewing for positions after college and being able to have some real-world experience to talk about—and not only that, but experience in another country, which I think gives me more of a dimension of adaptability and being able to work with people from other cultures, too,” Odekirk says. “I would 100 percent encourage other UI students to intern abroad. This experience is unmatched when it comes to both personal and professional growth opportunities.”

Intercultural communication skills

As they enter the workforce, UI graduates are likely to interact with colleagues, clients, and vendors in or from different countries and cultures.

“Global internships help UI students gain cross-cultural knowledge and intercultural communication skills that will help them integrate into the globalized workforce,” Bowes says.

Living and working in Paris was an adjustment for Odekirk.

“The culture is quite different in France—different work schedules and just different modes of communication,” she says. “I think this experience has helped me become a more adaptable person in the workplace and learn to work with people who are different from me.”

In fact, Odekirk worked with people from a variety of cultural backgrounds; Archive Valley employs people from France, Belgium, Bulgaria, Chile, India, Mexico, and Nepal.

“I loved working in a multinational company because no two people approached a situation exactly alike. When it came to problem-solving or brainstorming, it was fun to hear my coworkers’ differing perspectives that were a result of our myriad cultural backgrounds. We also discussed topics beyond work such as what it was like to grow up in Bulgaria and how the French education system works—there was never a shortage of interesting conversation,” Odekirk says.

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Fatima Hernandez

Meanwhile, Fatima Hernandez, a business student from West Liberty, Iowa, interned at Divico Consultores, a human resources company in Barcelona.

“By working abroad, I’ve been exposed to cross-cultural differences and diverse communication styles,” she says. “This has helped me grow, learn, and build the confidence to be able to ask questions when things aren’t clear.”

 

Confidence and adaptability

In the increasingly global marketplace, internships abroad help UI students gain a competitive edge and valuable skills.

“To be competitive, our graduates need to have the skills that allow them to approach new situations with confidence, to listen attentively to what is being said and what is not being said, and to understand multiple shades of grey,” says Downing Thomas, associate provost and dean of International Programs. “And an excellent way to gain such skills is to study, intern, or live abroad.”

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Ryan Pawlowski

Ryan Pawlowski’s internship at Idiomplus, a language learning company in Barcelona, offered opportunities to build confidence and navigate ambiguity. Pawlowski quickly assumed responsibility for managing the payroll for more than 20 employees, learned a new software program, and managed student attendance systems.

Additionally, Pawlowski, of Naperville, Illinois, found himself navigating interactions with colleagues, acting as a mediator of sorts.

“English is not the primary language for most people in the company, so I was often asked to translate emails or hop on Facetime and Skype calls to help make sure everyone was on the same page,” he says. “Interning in a foreign environment in which English may not be the main language spoken is intimidating, but it helps you learn more about yourself and how you are able to adapt and thrive in unique situations. Every day at work there were different challenges and obstacles that arose, but this internship taught me that you need to be patient, flexible, and just have an all-around different perspective on the workplace in order to be successful.”

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Hailey Verdick

Hailey Verdick, a speech and hearing science major from Iowa City, Iowa, says she gained confidence and adaptability both personally and professionally as a result of interning abroad.

“I saw interning abroad as a way to not only gain hands-on experience related to the work I hope to do in the future, but also as a way to live like a local in another country,” she says. “I wanted to experience things such as commuting to work every day, building relationships with people, and learning about the culture and community. I learned what it feels like to be completely independent.”

An aspiring speech pathologist who hopes to work with children, Verdick says she saw the opportunity to intern at Dolors Almeda School in Barcelona as a way to work directly with kids in both large- and small-group settings.

“I found I liked the smaller groups much more,” says Verdick. “This reinforced the idea that working as a speech pathologist is the right choice for me.”

Foreign language proficiency

Though not every global internship site requires proficiency in a second language, the skill has its benefits. During internships abroad, students can hone their language skills through real-world situations in ways classroom language classes cannot.

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Evan Hopper

Evan Hopper, a Davenport, Iowa, native majoring in marketing as well as business analytics and information systems, says being able to speak two or more languages is becoming increasingly important because of how globalized culture is becoming.

“Especially in business—you need to be aware of the cultural and language barriers that exist. It’s becoming more and more important to be able to get across those barriers,” Hopper says.

Hopper was a marketing research intern at Mobile Media Content in Barcelona, a global tech company that works with sports stadiums to provide 3-D virtual venues and other technology services. Hopper says his language skills improved immensely over the summer.

“After not practicing Spanish for a few years, and also having to learn some phrases in the Catalan language, it was difficult to have engaging conversations. But, as time went on, I was able to practice speaking their language while I helped them practice their English. By the end, I really felt like a part of the family at Mobile Media Content.”

The workplace is a natural setting for global interns to practice their foreign language skills, but additional opportunities exist. For example, because Verdick lived with a host family, she had the benefit of additionally using her language skills at home with her host mother, who welcomed Verdick and another intern for the summer. Every evening, the three of them ate dinner together outdoors on a balcony.

“This gave us the chance to improve our Spanish skills when talking with her—with the added bonus of enjoying the local Spanish food she cooked,” Verdick says.