International Internships vs. Study Abroad: What Makes Students More Employable?

By Lexie Kadlec posted 05-08-2018 09:47


Study abroad programs have historically led the way in terms of providing students an authentic and immersive international education. They allow students to gain a nuanced perspective of another culture, with language and other university courses adding value to their experience. However, labor markets are changing and students are being forced to adapt. Internships are required for most jobs, in addition to a four-year degree. Considering these changes, many students are looking for more out of their international experiences. 

International internships cannot replace study abroad programs, but they can offer more when it comes to preparing students for the real world. To put it plainly, they check off two big boxes students are wanting to cross off: international travel and professional experience. Instead of immersing themselves in a foreign university, students are spending their days in an international office, with people already working in their field. International internships fulfill that pragmatic need for real-world professional experience. With both study abroad and international internship programs priced similarly, a student on a budget might see more value in the opportunity that is more likely to help them reach their professional goals. 

That isn’t to say internships abroad don’t also provide a lot of similar social opportunities seen in study abroad programs. Many internship programs recognize that students often feel isolated when they go abroad, which is why they plan many social activities and ways for interns to have a community. This way interns are not just making friends with their co-workers, who are likely locals. They’ll establish relationships with interns from all over the world—anybody who is part of the program. They also won’t be limited to just their peers from their university. 

Although universities have always provided quality education for language learners, the best way to become bilingual is through immersion. Immersion learning is about hearing the language spoken by native speakers in real-world context and having to communicate. Speaking and listening to a foreign language at the workplace is an especially effective way for interns to work on becoming a polyglot. They’ll see the utility of bilingualism firsthand. Their success will depend partially on their willingness to pick up new vocabulary, ask questions, and make mistakes. 

International internships also give students a competitive edge on paper. Study abroad experience generally doesn’t last much time listed on a resume, but an international internship does. If students are looking for something to add to their resume and catch the eyes of potential employers, an international internship does the trick. 

Many college and university study abroad programs do help students make professional connections in their field. Each program offers something different and students are right to want to build these relationships. With international internships, the networking opportunities are undeniable. Students are working alongside professionals in their field, creating connections and relationships with colleagues from the other side of the planet. These contacts will offer interns leverage in the future, as they help widen the scope of their company’s network of contacts. Beyond that, many international interns have actually been asked to stay on at their companies after their internships, essentially launching their careers abroad. In these cases, it’s especially hard to argue that study abroad offers the same opportunities for employment as international internships.