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Study Abroad or Intern Abroad: Your Guide to Deciding

by AIFS Abroad
Woman trying to decide between study abroad or intern abroad programs.

Last Updated on September 20, 2022 by AIFS Abroad

An international experience is a unique way to shape your future. The options seem endless. You can study abroad for a summer, spend a semester studying a language abroad, or intern abroad with an international company in your career field.  

So… how do you choose between a study abroad or intern abroad program? 

Let’s take a closer look at study abroad and intern abroad options – and help you decide which one is right for you: 

 1. Your Overall Travel Experience 

📚Study Abroad:  

You’re traveling and earning academic credit. Sweet deal, right? Depending on your course choices, you can earn elective or major credit. You can explore a variety of special topics that take on new meaning in your program location. 

So… why not complete your core science requirement by taking an Environmental Science course in the Galápagos Islands over winter break, for example?  

Plus, most AIFS Abroad programs offer excursions to further explore your destination and its culture or history. Let’s say you’re studying abroad in Barcelona. On the weekends you might visit Montserrat and Sitges, or travel up to the Salvador Dalí museum in Figueres.  

💼Internship Abroad:  

When you intern abroad, you have the option to earn credit or intern for the experience only. With an international internship, you can immerse yourself in the country’s culture in a different way.   

Take the travel concept and apply it to the professional world: What does business look like in Germany? How does fashion work in Milan?  

By interning alongside locals in another country, you can pick up on the nuances of the people and culture. And you’ll still have time to travel independently! 

2. Your Personal Growth 

📚Study Abroad:  

American novelist James Baldwin wrote, “I met a lot of people in Europe. I even encountered myself.”  

That’s what it means to travel. You’ll see yourself and your own way of life in a new light.  

For most students, studying abroad will be the furthest away they have ever lived from home. Being so far away can present new challenges. Through overcoming these obstacles, you’ll develop a clearer understanding of who you are and your capacity for growth. Your experience abroad can also ignite new passions or open your eyes to other fields of study and career paths. In fact, it’s not uncommon for students to pursue a new minor or major when they return to their home university after studying abroad. 

💼Internship Abroad:  

Gain an authentic understanding of your professional abilities through an international internship in your career field. You’ll work with people from a range of backgrounds.  

You might have a supervisor from one country, two colleagues from another country, and clients from even more countries.  

Learning how to present knowledge in a way that a variety of people can understand will help you take a more holistic approach to your chosen profession. 

3. Your Language and Communication Skills 

📚Study Abroad:  

Don’t panic! Many AIFS study abroad programs don’t require you to take a language course abroad or know a language besides English. But, if you’re working on a French minor or you want to honor your Italian heritage, there are ways to incorporate language learning into your experience.  

When you study abroad, you can usually incorporate language acquisition into your coursework. You might take an intensive language course before your semester begins in Spain, or you might fine-tune your advanced abilities in a Spanish for Medical Professionals course in Costa Rica.  

But remember – you can practice your language skills outside of the classroom, too!  

Try shopping or ordering coffee in the local language. You can even choose to live with a local host family for a powerfully immersive experience.  

💼Internship Abroad:  

Specific businesses or industries may prefer you to have intermediate to advanced language skills. However, there’s no need to be fluent in a foreign language to intern abroad. We offer English-friendly internship options in locations across the world.  

That being said, you’ll be interacting with locals during your internship abroad, so having some level of proficiency can be helpful. We may even be able to give your language learning a boost by enrolling you in a language course. 

Even if you intern abroad in a predominately English-speaking country, you’ll gain a practical understanding of cross-cultural communication by working side-by-side with locals. You’ll expand your horizons and make your resume stand out by developing these vital communication skills. 

AIFS Students at the YSL Museum in Paris as they study fashion abroad | AIFS Study Abroad

4. Your Connections 

📚Study Abroad:  

The friendships formed while abroad are something special. The shared experience makes for powerful memories in a short period of time.  

Whether your study abroad experience is three weeks or three months, you can meet people on your program and potentially create some local friendships, too. AIFS Abroad program includes a range of local social events, plus opportunities for you to bond with fellow international students.  

Worried about studying abroad without your friends? When you go abroad with a study abroad provider like AIFS, most of the other people on your program likely feel the same way. You’ll be coming from colleges and universities across the United States. Most of you have probably never met anyone else in your program, and now you’re living and learning together outside of your comfort zones.  

The bottom line? Making friends while studying abroad is a total walk in the park. (Speaking of which, checking out the local park in your host city is a simple way to connect with other students on your program!) 

Bonus Tip: Traveling together on weekends is also a great way to forge friendships and stay safe while abroad. 

💼Internship Abroad:  

As an intern abroad your network grows to include other interns on the same program and colleagues at your new office.  

Your new colleagues can offer insight into the local culture, the business, and their own backgrounds. Many of your fellow interns will be having their first professional experience in their career field and will be just as motivated as you.  

Bonus Tip: Commiserate over a tough week at a local pub or café, share the similarities and differences in your internships, and plan a weekend away together to take a break. 

5. Your Perspective 

📚Study Abroad:  

Your coursework abroad may challenge your perspective. For example:  

Imagine a history course, taught in Rome, by an Italian professor. You’ll boost your understanding of Roman history by taking this class in the city itself.  

You’ve probably taken a history class that covered Roman History in high school, or at your home university. How was the teaching style different? Did you develop a better grasp of the context of historical events after visiting ancient Roman ruins with the guidance of local experts? 

This is one small way your perspective will start to grow. The people you meet and the experiences you have while abroad will open your eyes to cultural nuances and further your perspective as a global citizen. 

 💼Internship Abroad:  

With an international internship, you can strengthen your global perspective in a professional setting. As you learn about your host company’s culture and products, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of day-to-day life in your program location. 

One way to consider the potential impact on your perspective? Focus on your industry.  

Let’s say at home you’ve been fortunate to have an internship in the very same field. Now you’re interning abroad, and in a position to compare and contrast the two experiences. What’s different? What is the same? Taking the time to make these observations is one way to expand your global perspective in an internship setting. 

Study Abroad Reflections: What I Learned from an Internship in Italy | AIFS Study Abroad | AIFS Intern Abroad | AIFS in Florence, Italy

6. Your Independence 

📚Study Abroad:  

Traveling presents new challenges. Supercharge your independence through experiences like navigating transportation in a new city and possibly navigating a new grading system or teaching style. Whether you choose a short or long-term study abroad program, your confidence in yourself (and your abilities!) will soar. You’ll be in a better position to succeed when you return home knowing that you can find the perfect study spot in your host city on your own. 

💼Internship Abroad:  

Interning abroad will challenge you to be more independent personally and professionally. Not only are you traveling and living overseas, but you’re also gaining real-world experience and responsibilities within your career field.  

7. Your Future Interviews? Piece of Cake! 

📚Study Abroad:  

You may have noticed that all of these topics we’ve been talking about would sound great in an interview. It’s true! These are the sorts of things an employer or a graduate school admissions counselor would love to hear. 

Navigating a new country (and possibly language), experiencing a different culture, and meeting people from all over the world can contribute to your open-mindedness, and overall understanding of the world around you.  

During your study abroad experience you are likely developing what we call “soft skills,” which are different from “hard” or technical skills. Soft skills that skyrocket during an international experience can include communication, critical thinking, time management, empathy, problem-solving, and emotional intelligence.  

After studying abroad, you can really illustrate these soft skills during an interview. You’ll be able to describe a specific time where you exhibited these skills while traveling, in a class abroad, or while living in your accommodations. 

💼Internship Abroad:  

The valuable hands-on experience you gain through an international internship can help pave the way for your dream career. As an intern, you’re picking up soft skills like thinking critically and communicating effectively as well as hard, technical skills within your career field. 

In a competitive job market, practical experience is an essential addition to classroom learning. We customize your internship on your strengths and goals so you can get the most out of your experience abroad. 

You’ll also benefit from our personalized career development resources, including access to the StrengthsFinder® assessment, resume and interview preparation. 

And before your program is over, you’ll receive coaching on crafting the perfect way to add your internship to your resume. 

Still having trouble deciding? 

If you’re craving the best of both worlds, AIFS Abroad offers Study Abroad + Internship Programs in a variety of career fields in exciting locations around the world. Take courses, earn academic credit and get one step closer to your dream career through a part-time international internship. 

The good news is, whether you choose to study abroad or intern abroad, you’re making an important step for your future.  

Living overseas will challenge you in a variety of ways. The experience will introduce you to new people and perspectives and the ability to see yourself as a global citizen.

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