We’ve gone over adjusting to a different culture, but now let’s get down to business: what is an internship abroad like? As I’ve mentioned in my first post, I’ve now had two internships abroad: one in London and one in Tokyo.
Generally, an office is an office no matter what side of the ocean it’s on. You come in, work, eat lunch, do more work, and leave.There may be office hangouts or bar hopping Fridays, but those things generally depend on the office culture, not the country culture. Especially as an intern, you won’t be expected to know everything and be put in business-critical situations that could make or break the company, such as conducting meetings.
The look of confusion is a universal one, and people in any culture will be nice enough to help you through whatever you’re confused about. Don’t be self conscious about minor mistakes; just take a mental note for next time and move on.
So, what happens after you decide to work abroad? First thing first is:
This will be, minimum, 2-3 months before your projected start date. Make sure to start applying early! You don’t want to start late and realize you missed the chance. That includes trying to figure out how you are finding your internships. There are a couple ways to find internships abroad: directly applying to companies, applying to a non-university placement program, and going through a university program. I was semi-successful directly applying to a company last summer, but found a placement program that worked better with my schedule and needs. University programs tend to be the easiest and least risky route since you’ll be applying and working with staff within the States. As a rule of thumb, you should settle in on a program choice at the beginning of the semester before you fly out. For summer internships, that means you need to have a plan by January-Early February.
Any program will give you a list of possible placements and tell you to pick your top few choices to help you apply. If you’re not applying directly, staff will be there to help you craft a culture-appropriate resume and cover letter/ CV. If you are applying by yourself, make sure to research what is appropriate for the country you are trying to work in, and make sure to heavily research any visa requirements and such. It’s relatively easy to find information nowadays online. Once you send off a resume and cover letter, it’s just a waiting game to hear back about interview.
Time differences! Know the time difference between your city and the city you are planning to work in by heart! The UK is only 5 hours ahead of Philly, so that wasn’t bad. Tokyo, though, is a full 13 hours ahead. That was a nightmare to try and set up. I had originally sent my interview times in EST, and had said that in the email, but that got lost in translation. Long story short, I thought we had a definitive time setup, then I woke up in the morning to an email sent at 4 am saying I missed the interview.
That was a mini heart attack. The company was understanding, since they knew I was so far behind Tokyo time, but I made sure to send my availability in Japan time just to make sure. And then my interview ended up being at 1 am. Yes. 1 am. It happens. Don’t be surprised if it happens to you. Otherwise, an interview is an interview. It will most likely be over Skype, and don’t be alarmed if the interview is under 20 minutes. For both internships, my interviews were 12 and 9 minutes respectively. I got accepted at both, so obviously it wasn’t too much of a problem.
So you have the internship, and you’re packing to go. If you walk away from this blog post, let it be this: email your supervisor before you even start packing and ask questions. More specifically, ask about the dress code. I was lucky; when I emailed for this internship, the response I got was “people wear jeans here, so it’s pretty casual!” There are companies, though, that may have strict dress codes and you won’t know until you ask. Even if your company is a casual one, you don’t want to be dressed up in a full suit on your first day surrounded by jeans and sandals. The opposite situation would be even more devastating.
Also, ask if there are any special instructions on arriving to the office. Is there a reception desk where you have to ask for a certain employee before you’re allowed in? Ask, especially, if there is a picture of the building you can have. Especially in Tokyo, this is important. Tokyo is an extremely dense city, often with offices, restaurants and stores all being stacked on top of each other with hard to find markings. My first day of work started with me being 30 minutes late because I found the office building on time, but couldn’t find the elevator that took me to the correct floor. Make. Sure. You. Ask. Don’t be like me.
Once you land, you’ll most likely have at least a day or two where you have free time. Go to your office. Don’t actually go in, but look up directions and familiarize yourself with the area. Make sure you know the building and the floor number. Find the elevator you need to take. Pretend you are actually commuting, and go all the way up until the point you are staring at your office door (or at least as close as you can). Even if it looks easy on Google Maps, it can get hairy when you actually try and find your office, especially during peak/rush hour, when the streets can be bustling and the trains stifling. Once you know your office, you’ll be ready to actually start working. So please mind the gap, and get ready for the commute!