There comes a time in everyone’s life when they have to address the age-old question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?
About the Author
Being an undergraduate student myself, I will need to make a career decision of my own
Being an undergraduate student himself at Lehigh University, U.S, Brett Ley not only provides personal insight but also the perspective of prospective employers and other international interns.
very soon. In order to become a marketable candidate and rise above the competition, I decided to attend an international internship in Kyiv, Ukraine. Below, I discuss my personal experience, an employer’s perspective, and the experience of fellow interns to address the relevancy of international internships to a company’s success.
When college graduates apply for jobs, John Houston, the Senior Vice-President of MTG Consulting, states that he looks for “generalists” that have a broad background in many different fields. He expresses that an excellent way for students to show their versatility is to have international experience. Mr. Houston assumes that if a person has been abroad, they have “cultural sensitivity built in” and could potentially help the company succeed in a different country.
As American companies invest in Asia and Europe, universities have taken note that many business leaders hold a similar view to Mr. Houston’s. Therefore, it is not uncommon to find study abroad programs at the university level. On top of that, American universities often require their students to take part in an internship because it provides valuable work experience. In recent years, prestigious universities have combined these two ideas to form international internships.
In “The Last Lecture” the late Dr. Randy Pausch, professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, describes the head fake as a secret message or purpose behind the most obvious one. Using football as an example, he explains that the hidden goal of the game is to teach children teamwork, sportsmanship, and perseverance, not just the rules of the sport. Like football, international internships are filled with many head fakes, skills learned indirectly, that not only demonstrate a graduate’s familiarity with cultural sensitivity but also impress employers. International interns obviously learn concrete knowledge from their internship; however, hidden skills include innovative problem solving, resilience, and the ability to adapt.
Unlike a local internship where an intern faces obstacles from nine to five at the work place, an international internship is a 24 hour job with constant barriers. In a country where the language and currency may be foreign to a student from the United States, such as Ukraine, even going to the grocery store could be a daunting task.
Making a new form of sign language or relying on Google Translate to complete a thought may seem goofy at first, but there is something to be said about innovatively overcoming difficulties. Above all, students on international internships need to adapt to a brand new culture, which requires good listening.
The misconception about good listening is that it only involves hearing sounds. Good listening though is about paying attention, taking things in, and understanding them. When it comes to international internships, students learn good listening just by living in a foreign country. They do as the Romans do and adapt to fit cultural norms. American companies need this kind of experience because it directly parallels what they do when entering a foreign market. When McDonalds entered India’s market, they had trouble making a return on their investment. However, after listening to customer needs, the company was able to adapt their menu to fit the country’s largely vegetarian palate. While students on local internships only learn how to do tasks on the job, an international intern’s listening skills make them better suited to work for a global company. From living in a different country, international interns recognize the existence of cultural barriers and the importance of adapting to fit in. This may seem like a fairly easy skill to learn, but in the business world where time is money, international interns are ultimately more efficient because they can more readily accept change.
“So India! What was that like?”
In 2012, Joe Dinardo, a 2013 graduate of Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, interned for the Indian based company, Apollo Tyres. He expressed that, when attending job interviews, a hiring manager would often get very excited about what Joe gained from his international internship asking, “So India! What was that like?” After his time in India, Joe not only felt like he had a better understanding of people but was also able to discuss the Forecasting Accurate report he made to improve Apollo Tyres’ efficiency. Joe’s internship made him a more marketable person and he felt prepared to work both with a diverse team or setting in the future.
Thousands of students graduate from American universities each year with the same degree and similar knowledge in their heads. Of course GPA, a numerical measure of a student’s performance in school, says something about a person’s work ethic, but it has nothing to do with creative potential. Mr. Houston states that universities “would be would be missing out by not seeing the business trend of globalization and need to offer more international internships as a way to address it.” While most Americans tend to hold an ethnocentric view, operating in the global market needs students who are familiar with businesses around the world. Unfortunately, local internships cannot teach this vital knowledge.
However, by allowing students to dive in and be immersed in a foreign business, international internships can. An international internship is a win-win because not only do students flourish from actively working in a different country but, when they return to America, businesses can also capitalize on what the student has learned.
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