Looking to grow personally and professionally with a global experience? Does your college or university offer credit for internships spent abroad?
Many higher education institutions have entire departments dedicated to expanding internship, research, and international travel opportunities for their students. Called “enhanced academic experiences,” most colleges encourage students to create unique educational portfolios with internships and study abroad trips.
But what can you do if your college doesn’t have one?
How can you start to research internships or global education experiences without professional help? Can you persuade your institution to accept your internship once you’ve found one that excites you? There are many hurdles in your path overseas, not the least of which could be your GPA, as Josh C., a liberal arts student studying at a small college in the Mid-Atlantic discovered.
Josh said his interest in internships was kindled, “… because I want to broaden my understanding of my place in the world. Sure, I can do that and have done that at my home university, but that will only ever get me so far. I wanted to have the network and connections from both universities. I began looking in an area that I wanted to travel to – Australia – and found a school with a structure very similar to that of my home university.”
With a grade point average, well, below average, Josh worried that his application to study abroad would not be taken seriously. He was slow to decide upon a major and hadn’t focused on maintaining excellent grades during his first two years at school. “My primary concern was that I was going to be immediately overlooked due to my GPA not being at the ‘recommended level.’ My GPA has definitely created obstacles. I was seen as not ready and not suitable enough to be able to take the challenge of studying abroad.”
Josh’s story is not unique. Many students at liberal arts schools are encouraged to explore the academic catalog and take classes that will broaden their education through experiential learning, and in the process, they don’t focus on maintaining a high GPA. He discovered that he enjoyed learning “soft skills,” including decision-making, leadership, creativity, and innovative thinking. He said he hopes that by studying abroad he will be able to, “… broaden my network and connections outside of that of my own university, and to experience learning in a different environment.”
TYPES OF STUDY ABROAD PROGRAMS
If you’re considering a program away from your home university, start by reviewing the “Study Abroad” section of your college catalog or website. Often you’ll see headings such as:
- Semester Programs
- Language Immersion
- Summer Programs
- Faculty-Led Travel Courses
With the exception of faculty-led courses, you’ll be on your own, which means you’ll need a certain level of maturity and discipline to be successful while abroad.
Semester programs are popular because tuition grants and scholarships can often be used as direct tuition exchanges. That means if you’re enrolled full-time at a college, then all federal grants and loans you’re eligible for while studying there could be used for the study abroad experience during a semester program. Check with your college to see if it offers direct tuition exchange programs.
Summer programs are most often affiliated, which means some grants and scholarships are off the table. You should check with your college because sometimes funding can be used as long as it does not exceed the cost of attendance at the exchange institution or program. That doesn’t make them less desirable – in fact, summer internships abroad can be life-changing experiences that help you position yourself for a future career.
Language immersion programs allow you to embed yourself in a new culture, often living with a host family and speaking a foreign language all day. The concept is that you’ll learn faster by living and working in a locale where the language is spoken.
Faculty-led courses are often tied to a class at your college and the whim of the adventuring professor. On the upside, it gives you extensive experience in the field. Popular summer programs can be found in the Anthropology or Biology departments and can have you digging ancient sites with an archaeology crew in the Old World, or trekking through jungles of the New World as you research amphibian populations.
FINDING THE FUNDS TO INTERN ABROAD
Finding funding to travel abroad can be daunting, but there are options. Your own college or university may offer scholarships for travel. The key is to start researching financial aid, scholarships, grants, and donations early. Start your search here on Volunteer Forever with fundraising and scholarships for intern programs abroad.
Also, look at all types of scholarships – not just study abroad funding. You may be eligible for special funding, including fellowships or scholarships offered by your school or a club to which you belong.
Other funding resources include StudyAbroad.com Scholarships, the Institute of International Education Study Abroad Funding, and the Fund for Education Abroad.
Alternative funding ideas include:
- Stretch your dollar by studying abroad in a country with a good exchange rate.
- Get “off the beaten path” and be willing to travel where you’re needed.
- Commit to longer stays. Grants and scholarships may be available for year-long internships and volunteer opportunities instead of a few weeks.
- Check out the travel agencies and deals offered by partner organizations. Many programs offer discounted rates, and some airlines offer student rates.
- Stay with a host family instead of in a hostel or dorm. You’ll have the added benefit of immersing yourself within the culture and it will help you learn a new language.
- Check with private and community organizations, including alumni, chambers of commerce, service organizations, and heritage organizations for a scholarship or grant.
- Ask local businesses about sponsoring your travel.
- Contact your friends and family who may be willing to help fund your experience.