Internship Abroad: 10 Tips to Maximize Your Experience

Big group of friends or big family run at sunset beach

Interning abroad can be a powerful and unique experience, offering incredible opportunities to explore and grow. This article provides 10 tips to help you make the most of your time abroad and maximize your experience. Let’s dive in!

If you have an internship abroad, congrats! You’re about to spend some of the best weeks of your life with a lot of time for both work and play. 

Similar to you, at only 18, I was fortunate enough to spend six weeks working for a software startup in the heart of London’s bustling CBD. 

During this brief period, I was able to create and present a successful product pitch to an international company, explore five new countries, rub shoulders with famous startup owners at two prominent conferences (free of charge), and maintain a consistent workout routine of at least three times per week. To top it off, my employer praised my work as “the most perfect internship  he’s ever seen.” 

However, I also encountered several pitfalls along the way that could have been avoided with proper planning and execution. To help you make the most out of your internship experience abroad, consider these tips to maximize your success and avoid my missteps! 

Table of Contents – Maximizing your internship experience abroad

  1. Reaching Out Beforehand: Building Relationships Early
  2. Visa Planning: Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late 
  3. Clear Communication: Set Yourself Up for Success 
  4. Cultural Appreciation: Embrace Diversity in the Workplace 
  5. Time Management: Make the Most of Your Weekends 
  6. Health-Focused: Taking Care of Your Mind and Body 
  7. Networking: Expand Your Professional Circle 
  8. Leadership: Stand Out Among Your Peers 
  9. Recommendations and Follow-Up: Solidify Your Connections 
  10. Brag About It: Leveraging Your Experience

1. Reaching Out Beforehand: Building Relationships Early

One, simple action that will separate you the most from your peers is reaching out to your employers and coworkers before the internship begins. Not only does that show enough maturity to initiate the conversation, but you may get access to opportunities even before your internship begins. 

I took the initiative to reach out to my employers two months before my internship started in  May. 

After just one email exchange, they gave me a project to work on that I made significant progress on even before I stepped foot in the UK. 

So, when I actually got to London, they already trusted me and my work and gave me significant personal and creative responsibility for the project. This allowed me to pitch the project! 

All it takes is an email or a phone call. And don’t just reach out to your employer — reach out to your potential coworkers as well! Utilize LinkedIn connections, be creative, and you will begin relationships that might last for a lot longer than just your internship.

2. Visa Planning: Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late 

In almost every case, you will need to get a work visa before you can do an internship abroad. Even if you are receiving assistance from your employer, it’s still important to do your own research to ensure that you have the correct visa by going to the official government website of the country you are going to. 

Once you have determined what type of visa you need, revisit the official government website of the country to find out how to apply. The application process can involve filling out multiple forms, securing signatures from your employer, and submitting your passport for stamping. 

It’s important to follow the instructions exactly and submit your application as soon as possible.  Don’t wait until the last minute, as some visas may take longer to process than others. 

Be sure to check that your visa covers the correct dates of your internship. There is no guarantee that they will grant you a visa for your requested dates. Keep in mind that visa requirements and processing times can change, so it’s important to stay up to date with any changes or updates.

3. Clear Communication: Set Yourself Up for Success 

A group of young people sitting in Baleal beach

The idea that interns are stuck doing low-level work for little reward is a false stereotype. A good company values its interns and wants to give them opportunities to take on real responsibilities. As an intelligent and hardworking person, you’ll be able to handle significant responsibility from the beginning. 

To make this happen, you need to be upfront with your employer about what you want to learn and what skills you want to develop. If you have specific projects in mind, mention them.

If you are not happy with the tasks you’re given, it’s okay to ask for a quick meeting with your employer to discuss. 

You’ll do your best work if you’re engaged and interested in what you are doing.

4. Cultural Appreciation: Embrace Diversity in the Workplace 

Working abroad provides an excellent opportunity to connect with people who come from different backgrounds and experiences. 

Don’t be intimidated if you feel like an outsider in the workplace because this can be a chance for you to learn about the lives of those around you.  Their stories will most likely be far different than yours, and that’s something to embrace. 

During my internship in London, I became close friends with one of my colleagues who hailed from the Baltic region. He had a fantastic sense of humor and always kept the workplace lively.  

My employers were also great storytellers and shared their experiences from their university years, providing me with insights into a part of the world I hadn’t previously known. 

Take the initiative to engage with your colleagues and ask them deep questions. You might discover a unique and fascinating story that you can learn from. So don’t hesitate to strike up a  conversation with the person sitting next to you.

5. Exploring the World: Make the Most of Your Weekends

Work hard, play harder. For every week I spent dedicating entire weekdays to doing the best work I could, I dedicated my weekends to exploring Europe as much as I could. Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Brussels — that’s where I spent my free time, both solo and with friends. It was the perfect balance, and I highly recommend you do the same. 

While planning your weekend getaways, make sure to communicate your travel plans with your employer. Not only does this show that you are responsible and proactive, but it’s also crucial in case of unforeseen circumstances such as flight delays or illnesses that could prevent you from returning to work on time. 

Additionally, depending on how flexible and understanding your employer is, they may even let you take a Friday off or work remotely here and there. 

Remember that interning abroad is not just about work but also about experiencing a new culture and exploring new places. 

So, work hard during the weekdays and enjoy your time off to the fullest on the weekends. 

Just be sure to keep communication open with your employer and be responsible in planning your travels.

6. Health Focused: Taking Care of Your Mind and Body 

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle while working and traveling can be a daunting task, but it’s vital to prioritize your physical and mental well-being from the outset. 

If you’re based in a city for work, it’s worth researching nearby gyms to incorporate exercise into your daily routine.  Whether it’s before or after work, a quick gym session can help energize you for the day ahead or provide some much-needed stress relief after a long day at work. 

When traveling, seek out opportunities to experience the great outdoors by hiking, running, or cycling in scenic locations. I once spent a weekend hiking the breathtaking Alps in Switzerland and it was both a mentally and physically rejuvenating experience. 

Don’t underestimate the impact of spending time in nature, it can do wonders for your mood and overall well-being. 

Taking short breaks throughout your weekdays and weekends is crucial for maintaining your mental health. Instead of trying to take a whole day off, consider taking 30 minutes a day to simply relax and do nothing. For me, my lunch break during work and travel was a perfect time to recharge. 

Also, try to stay connected with your loved ones back home as it’s easy to feel homesick, especially at the beginning.

7. International Networking: Expand Your Professional Circle

As an intern or a student, you have the unique advantage of being able to reach out and connect with people in your field of interest. Don’t be afraid to send an email or ask someone if you can talk to them about their work and experiences. Most people enjoy sharing their knowledge and you never know who you might meet. 

A good way to start is by asking your coworkers if they know anyone in the area who you could talk to about something that interests you. Even if your work is not directly related to your interests, you may be surprised to find that your coworkers have connections to people who can teach you something new. 

For example, I asked my coworkers to introduce me to startup founders still in the seed stage and it opened up a world of learning opportunities for me. 

Building connections with professionals in your field can pay off in the long run. These relationships can lead to new job opportunities or collaborations on projects down the line. 

So take advantage of this unique position and reach out to as many people as you can. 

You never know who might become a valuable connection in the future.

8. Leadership: Stand Out Among Your Peers 

Working as an intern, you’ll have the opportunity to meet other young people from different parts of the world who share your interests. It’s essential to make connections with them as they can be a great resource during your time abroad.

Not only will you be able to learn from their experiences, but you can also initiate cool projects and activities to work on together. 

Collaborating on group activities will not only help you gain leadership experience but also help you build strong relationships with your colleagues. 

Whether it’s all going out to a local club or working on each other’s projects, working in a team can be a great way to bond and learn from each other. All it really takes is to take a moment to sit down with each of your fellow interns and get to know them a little bit. 

By doing so, you can build trust with your colleagues, get everyone involved, and create an amazing experience for all. 

It’s also a good idea to keep your employer informed about any activities you’re planning with your fellow interns, as they may have suggestions or even support your initiative. 

So don’t hesitate to collaborate, make connections, and make the most of your time building your network!

9. Recommendations and Follow-Up: Solidify Your Connections

Like all good things, your internship must eventually come to an end. However, that doesn’t mean the work you did should be all but forgotten. As you approach the end of your internship, you need to get written or LinkedIn recommendations from your employers and coworkers. 

The best way to do this is to write out all your achievements or successes during your time there.  Then, ask your employers to take those achievements that they can write personally about and put them into your written recommendation. The more personal, the better! 

And of course, be sure to gather everyone’s number, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, email, and anything else you can think of. You’ll want to keep in touch at least every 6 months just to check in and see how life’s going. 

You may eventually need to utilize these connections and keeping familiar is the easy way to do that.

10. Brag About It: Leveraging Your Experience 

You are one of the lucky few who get to experience an internship, especially one abroad!

It’s essential to make the most out of your experience and show it off to the world. It can make a  difference in your future interviews for internships or jobs. 

When expressing your experiences, make sure to highlight both your accomplishments inside and outside of work. Discuss how you were able to complete a project while exploring multiple countries, or how you demonstrated leadership among your fellow interns. 

These accomplishments will make your experience stand out and show potential employers that you are capable of multitasking and achieving goals. 

It’s important to remember that you can also use your experience to secure future opportunities.  For instance, I was able to land a great paying internship in my field within just three months after returning from my internship abroad, all because I highlighted my experiences and accomplishments.

So don’t be afraid to share your stories and make the most out of your experience. Who knows, your next big opportunity could be just around the corner!

Conclusion: How to make the most out of an internship experience abroad

In conclusion, doing an international internship can be a life-changing experience that offers many benefits, both personally and professionally. 

To make the most of your time abroad, it is important to prioritize your mental and physical health, network with professionals in your field, collaborate with fellow interns and secure written recommendations and valuable connections for future opportunities. 

By doing so, you can set yourself apart from the competition and open doors to a successful career, all while making memories that you will never forget.

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Akku Kumar runs The Packed Traveller