As a double major in geography and Portuguese floating among a sea of career-oriented science and economics majors at UC Berkeley, I frequently stressed out about not having enough marketable skills, not knowing which career path would suit me or how I could position myself as a strong candidate for jobs. Career prospects for the hordes of college graduates in Europe and the United States seem to grow slimmer year by year, with more college graduates than ever saturating a shrinking job market.
One antidote to these harsh realities of postgraduation job prospects is interning abroad, preferably somewhere that has a thriving economy such as one of the emerging economies commonly referred to as the BRICS, the countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
My fears about being unemployable were calmed significantly once I studied abroad through UCEAP in Rio de Janeiro, where, thanks to robust economic growth in the city in recent years, I was able to experience first hand the loads of opportunities available for meaningful work experiences.
In deciding which country to study abroad in, Brazil was the obvious choice, because I had already studied in Portugal on a summer program and I hoped to become completely fluent in Portuguese.
Here was an opportunity to expand my professional network, interning in a dynamic economy that was gearing up to host two of the world’s biggest sporting events — the World Cup and the Olympics — not to mention the allure of soaking up the city’s beaches and sun during my downtime in between school and work … How could I resist?
In Brazil, I completed not one but three different internships during the year, ranging from an environmental NGO to a startup accelerator. Across the board, however, I noticed that companies valued fluent English speakers in order to gain and maintain global relevance.
But there are recognizable cultural differences and challenges to interning abroad. Brazil has a relaxed work culture compared to that of most countries — a bit too relaxed when it came to communication. For example, in an interview with one company, the supervisors and I had agreed to a specific starting day, but by that date, they still hadn’t clarified what time I should come in, leading me to move on to another internship.
Moreover, it can be difficult to unlock these opportunities given the various barriers to entry: visas, paperwork, lack of contacts, not to mention the language — the list goes on. Luckily, there are resources and agencies that can help you navigate the foreign work culture and red tape. I ended up finding my three internships through my study abroad advisor, my school’s international student office in Brazil and through a fellow exchange student.
In all cases, studying abroad helped me tap into resources not readily available to others who simply go abroad alone, as doing so gave me opportunities to network in another country, and the loads of paperwork required for my visa were already part of the study abroad application process.
On the other hand, for those unable to study abroad or for those perhaps lacking foreign language skills, various agencies such as CRCC Asia can help U.S. students find internships abroad, eliminating the headache and daunting task of finding one yourself. These programs can provide support and services before and during the internship such as visa processing, accommodations, orientation, language classes and networking events. In many cases, there are plenty of existing opportunities abroad, but it is a matter of finding the right one for you and having access to that particular internship.
Once again, I would recommend interning in one of the BRICS; as a former intern at the BRICS Policy Center in Rio, I know that the amount of cooperation between those countries is growing, creating a powerful economic bloc that counters U.S. and EU dominance in world affairs.
Interning abroad will help your resume stand out in an increasingly globalized world, giving you cultural experiences and language fluency that would be an asset to any company aiming to be globally competitive. As the traditional balance of power and world economy shift in favor of countries outside the United States and Europe, opening yourself to new experiences and realigning your internship and career prospects is also necessary.
It may be difficult at first to adjust to a new country and work culture, but the rewards far outweigh the risks as you will come back with valuable work experience, new friends and perhaps even some new language skills.