Is it worth it to intern abroad?

But you don’t want to be working 9 to 5 when all your friends are on adventures…


The ages of 18 to 22 offer arguably some of the greatest periods of pressure: set yourself up for your career, make long-lasting friendships, take time to be selfish, be carefree and see the world, but never fall behind in the race toward your future. Suddenly, four years dissolve into a quick gasp and then you are moving on to the next phase. While summer is a unique circumstance offering students a concentrated time frame away from daily responsibilities in order to check off some of those expectations, it can be difficult to determine how best to spend it.

Often, the choice for many college students is between internships and study abroad. One feeds your resume, the other feeds your experiences. But does it always have to be a tradeoff?

Sometimes it helps to split the difference, or find a way to take a bit of both. One option that some don’t consider is to pursue internship opportunities abroad.

Interning abroad provides a taste of the study abroad experience without having to sacrifice a focus on professional growth. Pursue your career goals during the nine to five, while seeing the world on the weekends. But where there is progress there are also challenges, as college student Ben Baranov learned during his internship in Madrid, Spain.

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“I was afraid of moving to a new country for 10 weeks without knowing anyone,” Ben admits. “Sometimes I wished that I had something planned for me for the weekends like study abroad programs or I had an advisor to recommend places to visit.”

Unlike study abroad programs, working abroad for a summer means that you are an adult functioning within that society, not a student bouncing around in a protective bubble. That’s a big fear to overcome. A new city in a new county without direction from someone who knows it can make the world seem quite big and overwhelming.

As he became familiarized with the city, Ben came to appreciate the autonomy that worried him. “The best part was I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted without the forced structure of a study abroad program.” Many programs are rigidly structured day by day to try to fit a semester of adventure into just a few weeks, which is just what some students are looking for. However, for others, a little free time makes the experience feel more authentic.

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Ben found that some of his best memories were the ones where he got to spend time like a local. For example, he says, “sometimes on the weekends I would go to Retiro Park, the main park in Madrid, and go read and relax.” Without the safety net of the support of fellow Americans, it becomes essential to dive into the culture and immerse yourself. Ben got to know his coworkers, venturing out to local restaurants and enjoying authentic Spanish food, and isn’t food the great unifier?

In addition to the fun of experiencing a new culture, interning abroad is a unique qualification in future job-hunts. Independence and self-sufficiency is a difficult quality to come by, and time abroad is a crash course in just that. Pushing limits and facing fears in a totally new environment is important to growing as a person and feeling confident when facing new challenges, in life as in the work place. As Ben put it, “I feel more confident and I know I can do almost anything because I was able to work in a foreign country and have a great time while learning so much.”

Ben’s advice for those interested in trying it out? “Go for it! Try to do everything you can to make it happen. Make sure you research the laws of the country and see if it’s possible, and plan ahead. And most importantly try to make close friends so if you ever try to come back you have a place to stay!”

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