I was fortunate enough to spend 4 amazing weeks interning abroad in Madrid, Spain. There was A LOT I had to figure out on my own and a lot I wish someone had told me before I went. I have compiled a list of tips and tricks for anyone interested in interning abroad (some of this probably applies to domestic internships as well) that I encourage you to read and consider:
1. If you’re thinking of interning abroad, but you’re nervous: DO IT! As long as you have financial capability, I highly encourage everyone to take the chance while they are in college because it’s an amazing experience and one that you will probably never get again.
2. Four weeks is not long enough to truly get into the job experience because it takes two weeks to actually get into the workflow and then you’re getting ready to leave by the time you get adjusted. My internship was 4 weeks and while I had plenty of time for travelling and seeing the city, I felt I needed at least another month to get the best internship experience I could have had.
3. Interns do much of the same work no matter where you are and what the industry is. Be prepared for data entry in Microsoft Excel and a lot of research.
4. Look for internship programs that have partial board available so you don’t have to spend all your money on food. You want to be able to eat a few meals out, but not every meal of every day because that will take away from the amount you can spend on things that will last longer than food like souvenirs and shopping.
5. Reach out to people that have done specific programs or companies you’re looking at to make sure the picture perfect image you’re seeing online is true and accurate. There might be something about the program that people are hesitant to post online, but would happily tell you by phone or email. However, some programs can be good even if there’s not a lot of information about them on the web.
6. Go and do the internship even if you don’t know anybody. I went without anybody from my school or even my state, but I made friends quickly in my program because we were all thrown into the same situation.
7. Take advantage of your time because it truly flies by in an instant. Trust me. The first week may seem really slow while you’re adjusting to the new culture and surroundings, but the second, third, and consecutive weeks go by so quickly you’re left dumbfounded at how it happened so quickly.
8. Try to budget, but don’t worry if you spend a little more than planned. You can always work more when you get home to make up the money, but you probably won’t get the chance to buy a souvenir or some pants from (insert country name here) again.
9. Make friends in your program and locally! There will be a lot of free time and you’ll want people to meet for lunch or with whom you just want to chat. Perks of local friends are an inside look at the city and sometimes cheaper ways to have fun.
10. Make friends with your coworkers. Even if you don’t speak their language, try to interact with them because it will make your work experience better (and a good way to network). Talk to them if you can even using gestures or…gasp…Google Translate. This includes your boss if he or she is not too busy.
11. If you have something listed on the resume you sent your boss, brush up on those skills! I had Photoshop on my resume because I took a college course on it, but it had been a while since I used it. My boss asked me during the first week to use photoshop to create some images for him and I had to search some Youtube tutorials because I forgot how to do certain shortcuts!
12. Ask for more work, but only if you’ve finished your other work to a good standard. Don’t think the little tasks or data entry is pointless. Do your work well and ask for more because you’re ultimately there to help the company with whatever they need you to do. You never know if that task you’re working on might be displayed on the company’s website which is a fantastic thing to show future employers.
13. Don’t turn down a coffee or lunch break with your boss or coworkers. It’s another way to show them you’re serious about your job and another way to connect with them.
14. Go meet other interns in your program for lunch! It’s fun to see the work place and surrounding environment of other people in your program!
15. Bring your own laptop (if you can). This makes it possible to work in a familiar space and not have to mess with foreign keyboards. Even if your work says they can provide you one, bring your own.
16. Always dress well and professional even if your colleagues don’t. You aren’t just representing yourself, but your country, school, program, and the company’s decision to possibly host more interns in the future.
17. Pack enough outfits to change out of your work clothes, but not too many that you won’t have room to bring any new stuff back. If your residence doesn’t have a washer and dryer, you can buy detergent at the store and wash clothes in your bathroom sink or shower.
18. DON’T worry about your diet (too much), but DO find time to walk around the city or workout. Get that extra scoop of gelato. Eat that plate of patatas fritas. Do what the locals do because you only have a limited amount of time. You don’t want to regret not trying something because you might have gained one pound in a day. You might not get the chance again because you probably don’t have this kind of food at home.
19. Be aware that your routine won’t be the same. It doesn’t mean you can’t try, but just know that it will change. I’m an athlete and had set workouts during my time abroad, but I had to switch the order of some of them due to my schedule. Know that you’ll have an amazing opportunity to live and work in another country, but find time to continue to do what makes you happy for your daily routine.
20. Don’t spend too much time napping in your room. It’s okay to do it a few times, but go out and see the world! Even if you’re tired or by yourself, you went abroad to push your limits of comfort and explore a different place. Find your own way. Ask locals for help-they won’t mind. You’ll regret it if you don’t. You can sleep when you get home.
21. Use your free time wisely. It’s worth the investment to intern abroad if you’re program guarantees some free time outside of work to travel and see parts of your program destination because the last thing you’d want is to spend so much time in a cool place and not have been able to do anything other than work.
22. Adapters for outlets and a portable charger are a must! You can find cheap ones on Amazon.
23. Consider getting a local sim card for your phone when you’re there because it’s usually cheaper than extending your service plan from your home country. You can’t call anyone from home, but you can still Facetime or use any messaging over Wifi free of charge.
24. Bring snacks from home and don’t eat them all in the first week! You’ll want them especially towards the end of your program!
25. Just like at college, don’t forget to keep talking to your friends and family and ask for pictures of your dogs. Even if you’re having a great time, they will miss you and you, them. A short facetime can bring you a lot of comfort when you’re by yourself thousands of miles away.
26. Be thankful for your opportunity and absorb all you can for your experience
Good luck and congrats on deciding to intern abroad! You will do great!
-Haley Ziomek, Internship in Spain, Summer 2019