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‘What it takes to succeed’: Internships abroad throw students out of comfort zone

Internship abroad
A woman takes a picture with her mobile phone of a poster by Italian urban artist Salvatore Benintende aka "TVBOY" depecting Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa wearing a protective facemask and holding a mobile phone reading "Mobile World Virus" in a street of Barcelona on February 18, 2020, a week after the World Mobile Congress was cancelled due to fears stemming from the coronavirus that sparked an exodus of industry heavyweights. PAU BARRENA/AFP

Imagine working in an environment that is culturally different from what you’re used to. Throw a language barrier in the mix and you could be intensely questioning why you decided to go an internship abroad in the first place. 

Ask former interns, however, and they’ll tell you the rewards more than make up for the initial unease.

For university students who are hungry to step out of their comfort zones and eager to learn how to adapt to new situations, an internship abroad can be the apex of one’s personal and professional development.

Anna McLeod was one such student who decided to take the plunge. 

Last year, the 21-year-old went to Shanghai, China via Absolute Internship — a company that matches university students and graduates with work placements in cities around the world.

internship abroad

(Standing, left) Anna McLeod’s international work experience bolstered her confidence. Source: Anna McLeod

Knowing the majority of the staff did not have strong English skills, McLeod was both excited and nervous going into her internship with a Chinese-based law firm.

Her worries, however, were quickly put to rest when the team went all out to welcome her.

China’s appeal as an internship abroad experience for young adults such as McLeod is unsurprising — as the world’s second-largest economy, an understanding of the Chinese market and their way of doing business would be a valuable skill for any young professional.

Given responsibility since day one in the office, McLeod can confidently put this specific skill in her CV today.

“I was given my own research task relating to trust law,” McLeod said to Study International via an email interview, adding that she also helped prepare documents for court as well as drafting contracts.

Internship abroad

International internships allow students to immerse themselves in a new environment that they would otherwise never have experienced. Source: Hector Retamal/AFP

McLeod remembers moments that pushed her out of her comfort zone such as presenting to senior management and staff. She felt like a valued team member and gained a lot of confidence.

“It has shown me I am capable of being a successful lawyer and have what it takes to succeed in the legal field,” she said.

Adapting to a fast-paced work environment

Peter Lincoln is another Absolute Internship graduate with skills to boast from his Hong Kong stint with a private equity firm that specialises in commercial real estate.

The global financial hub brims with possibilities to young people all over the world. The 22-year-old US university student was one of them. He sought, firstly, a completely different culture to that of Chicago, Illinois where he’s from. Secondly, to soak in what it’s like to live and work in a global financial hub.

Internship abroad

Lincoln wanted to immerse himself in a new environment that was different from his hometown in Chicago. Source: Peter Lincoln

He got both from the get-go in Hong Kong.

At the firm, he conducted financial analysis of current assets, did research for prospective deals and sent various financial reports to investors. Tasks were sometimes ambiguous. Help was little. 

“This was the biggest learning curve for me. I was forced to quickly adapt and move out of my comfort zone to complete my duties,” he said.

“When I first got to Hong Kong, I was blown away by the fast-paced work environment and high expectations of all employees.” 

Once he got comfortable with the city and his work environment, however, it became easier to enjoy and embrace his time in Hong Kong. 

Despite the challenges at work, he is grateful for the many lessons it taught him. He can now add problem-solving, confidence in tough situations and cultural know-hows to his résumé.

Fortune favours the bold

Absolute Intenrship programmes take place in cities such as Beijing, London and Madrid. Popular cities this year  are Barcelona, Tokyo, Shanghai and Stockholm.

Students can choose from over 30 industry specialisations. All-time favourites include business, IT and tech, as well as marketing.

Internship abroad

According to Fredrik, Absolute Internship has welcomed over 4,000 students since the inception of their programme in 2009. Source: Absolute Internship

Absolute Internship co-founder Fredrik van Huynh explained that the programme guarantees students their first-choice of internship placement.

All companies are vetted prior to any students interning there, he added. This is to ensure students enjoy the best working experience during their internship abroad.

Students also receive a formal job description, which outlines their mission and objectives at their internship weeks prior to arrival, which allows them to properly prepare for their time overseas, said the Swede. 

University students stand to gain a host of skills via an internship abroad, including developing transferable skills that can be applicable across a range of jobs.

“At the end of the day, many students can say that they did an internship during their studies but how many students and graduates can say they did an international internship?” said Fredrik.

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