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International Internships

Mar 26, 2003
Exploring International Internships

By Michele Scheib, National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange Manager

Imagine...a ten-story building surrounded by the flags of foreign embassies. Inside is housed the English-language newspaper of Bolivia. An elevator provides access to the small newsroom, where a young student with a disability researches background information on his first story. For a journalism student, this is an opportunity to not only get published but to learn how to capture a story from all angles. Events are happening all around him – news on the struggle of coffee farmers, feature stories on street musicians -- things that he would never have an opportunity to cover first-hand at home. This experience both prepares and motivates him for pursuing his dream of one day being an international correspondent.

International Exchange as a Resume Booster

Students who have had internships abroad can draw from their experiences and bring fresh ideas and different ways of approaching questions that can make a positive impression in an interview or work setting. By interning overseas, graduates can gain an extra edge to make their resume more appealing.

“International exchange is a huge confidence booster in terms of realizing what the possibilities are, of what one can do.“ explained one young woman, a wheelchair user who spent time in Western Europe and Russia as part of her college experience. “I think you’re more employable if you’ve had experience abroad, and probably if you’re a person with a disability, prospective employers are even more impressed because maybe their expectations are a bit lower. Having international experiences on my resume was definitely an asset in my job search. Now I work for an organization with bases all over the world, so they do look for people who have that international experience.”

Even for those that will not work in multi-national or international organizations, workplaces in the United States are increasingly diverse. The cross-cultural or language skills gained by interning abroad can help students be better prepared for a professional position.

“I put my Mexico and Russia experiences on my resume and then got a job at an independent living center where I work with Deaf people from different countries who are living in the US,” noted a recent graduate from Rochester Institute of Technology/ National Technical Institute for the Deaf. “I actually have Russian and Mexican Deaf clients and because of my first hand experience those cultures and sign languages, I am able to communicate and help them figure things out.”

Beyond the Perceived Barriers

While considering an international internship, students may need to confront some of the potential barriers. The information below touches on two of the most common perceived barriers, discusses some creative solutions and points to resources to make interning abroad a viable option for any student with a disability.

Accessibility: While there are increasingly more efforts in many countries to improve accessibility and services for citizens with disabilities, students may encounter some situations where creativity is needed. When a young woman who uses a scooter worked for a marketing firm in Australia, they set up a workspace for her in an office they had on the first floor. When another student with a mobility disability did an internship at an exchange organization in Japan, she found that the commuter trains were so packed during rush hour that she had to stand for the two hour-long ride. Since her disability made it difficult to stand for long periods, she asked for an adjustment to her work schedule in order to avoid the peak times. In this way, she was able to find a seat on the train.

Finances: International internships and exchange programs can be expensive, Here are just a few options for working through the money barrier: First, some students may be able to find paid internships to offset their living expenses while abroad. Second, if going to a country where there is a good exchange rate, it actually costs less to live there than in the United States. Third, scholarships are often available through the university or outside organizations for travel grants and other expenses. Fourth, if students are receiving credit they can often use their financial aid towards the overseas internship experience. Finally, students with disabilities who receive Social Security Income and vocational rehabilitation funds can continue to receive their funding for up to one year while studying outside of the country if they meet certain criteria (see www.miusa.org/participant/ssa.html for more information).

Free Information and Resources

For other questions about how to make internships abroad a reality, people with disabilities can contact the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange (NCDE), managed by Mobility International USA (MIUSA) and sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State. NCDE provides free information and referral services as well as tips and resources useful for planning an overseas experience. In addition, NCDE advises the organizations that offer international exchange programs on ways to make their programs more inclusive.

To explore potential internship programs, students may be interested in NCDE’s online searchable database (www.miusa.org under the “Students, Volunteers, and Individuals” section). Over 100 exchange organizations that offer education, homestay, internship, language study, research, short-term work, teaching and volunteer programs to over 70 countries are listed.

NCDE also has an online database of over 300 disability organizations worldwide that can be searched by country, region and disability type. Disability organizations abroad may be able to assist with accommodation arrangements; provide referral to local disability-related resources; locate personal assistants, sign interpreters and guides; and advise program interns on accessibility in the host country. In addition, NCDE has a network of over 100 people with all types of disabilities who have been on international exchange programs abroad and are willing to talk with others who are considering going abroad.

An international internship may increase students’ abilities to obtain the job or career that their heart is set on or it may open their minds to new possibilities they hadn’t considered before. This is something worth exploring!


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RESOURCES

For Free Information and Referral:

National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange (NCDE)
PO Box 10767
Eugene, OR 97440
Tel: (541) 343-1284 (voice/TTY)
Fax: (541) 343-6812
E-mail: clearinghouse@miusa.org
Web: www.miusa.org

Websites to Search for Internship Programs:

www.istc.umn.edu
www.internabroad.com
www.planetedu.com

Useful Publications:

InterAction publishes Global Work, a directory of international internship and volunteer opportunities in the development field.

Publications Department
1717 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Suite 801
Washington, DC 20036 USA
Tel: (202) 667-8227
Fax: (202) 667-8236
E-mail: publications@interaction.org
Web: www.interaction.org

Directory of International Internships is produced by Michigan State University and lists more than 200 international internship programs at government agencies, private organizations and educational institutions.

Michigan State University Career Services and Placement
113 Student Services Building
East Lansing, MI 48824 USAA
Attn: Directory of International Internships
Tel: (517) 355-9510 ext. 371
Fax: (517) 353-2957
E-mail: gliozzo@pilot.msu.edu
Web: www.isp.msu.edu/InternationalInternships/

Transitions Abroad: The Guide to Learning, Living and Working Overseas is a bi-monthly magazine, which lists volunteer, intern, teaching and work opportunities around the world. They also publish a book titled Work Abroad.

PO Box 1300
Amherst, MA 01004 USA
Tel: (413) 256-3414
Fax: (413) 256-0373
E-mail: info@transitionsabroad.com
Web: www.transitionsabroad.com

Scholarship Search Engines:

Fastweb.com (www.fastweb.com) — provides a personalized search that will match your interests and abilities to their database of scholarships.

International Education Financial Aid (www.iefa.org) — has an on-line searchable database of scholarships for international education.

International Service and Travel Center (http://www.istc.umn.edu/html/misc_schol.html)-- a program of the University of Minnesota, operates an online searchable database for students both in and outside of the UofM system.