The Highs and Lows of Interning Abroad

My year abroad has finally come to an end and, to be honest, I’m ready. 15 months, two countries and three official jobs down the line and I’m exhausted. Starting in Berlin working for an NGO, later relocating to France to undertake an assistant position at a school only to return to Germany to intern for UNESCO, I can say with some conviction that I’ve made the most of my year abroad.

Let’s go back to the very start. The whole adventure began in November of my second year when I was informed my application for interning in Berlin had been successful. Beginner’s luck some might say. I think this was the first opportunity I had applied for and it was as simple as a few clicks on the St Andrews Careers website and a well-drafted email. When I actually got to Berlin, the feat seemed less impressive as 80 others had also been successful and the entire operation was verging on illegal due to mistreatment of interns. Awkward to say the least, but more about that later.

The language assistantship in France was secured through St Andrews as part of my year abroad, but yet again, I discovered once I began that the scheme is open to graduates interested in living in a foreign country and learning the language. It’s as simple as going to the British Council or Comenius website and applying.

However, my real advice comes from my experience finding my latest internship at UNESCO in Bonn, from the site What’s great is that you can specify country, industry, duration and type of contract to find something really suited to your needs and interests. I must have sent 50 applications for summer internships over the course of the year. UNESCO was the only reply I received. But I made mistakes. I applied to anything and everything. Anything that seemed vaguely relevant to my skills and interests, and boom, application sent faster than you can say “Curriculum Vitae”. I’ve learnt it’s best to be selective and spend more time on fewer applications. Only apply if you are genuinely interested and think you would be regarded as a competent candidate. Anything else is a waste of your time and energy. CVs and cover letters need to be tailor made and can take hours to perfect.

Now while my experiences may sound adventurous and exciting, the truth is, office jobs are monotonous and teaching isn’t my cup of tea. But I have learnt that internships don’t always have to be about work experience, they also offer invaluable life experience (as well as some bulk on your CV).

Referring back to my rather questionable work experience in Berlin, my work was limited to answering the phone diplomatically and filling in databases yet my life experiences ranged from learning enough German to get by, to learning how to party like a Berliner. But sometimes enduring the internship is just not worth it. While many others and I stuck out the gruelling ordeal that unfolded in those NGO offices in Berlin, many gave up and left. It’s a question of balancing the pros and cons. A bit like paying to go to the cinema only to hate the film. Is it more worthwhile to stay and get your money’s worth, or is the film so bad it would be more valuable to leave then and there? Make your choice, but choose wisely.

Ultimately, working abroad is so much more than another listing on your CV or some experience in the real world of work. It opens doors to learning languages, making new friends and discovering new countries and cities. You may think that backpacking is the only solution to 'finding yourself' and seeing the world, but working abroad provides you with an opportunity to see the real world and how you can fit into it. 


Images sourced from: FangTing ZhengJordynMollyMansi Travedi and Clotilde Finning.