We talked to a few second year IDS students about their experiences last summer, how they found their internships, and tips they would offer those looking for summer opportunities. Here’s what they said:
- Start early and plan ahead. Now is the perfect time to start reaching out! Many organizations have formal internship processes, so make sure you research and make all deadlines. However, Morgan Blackburn, who interned at Karen’s Women Organization in Thailand added, “don’t be discouraged if something comes together at the last minute. Most organizations are so busy they can’t even bother to think about summer plans in the winter.”
- Determine what you want to gain from your internship experience. Of course, traveling abroad for a summer with an organization sounds fun and exciting! But you also want to make the most of your experience in order to leverage it for future career opportunities. As Jason James, who interned with Sustainable Bolivia in Cochabamba, Bolivia last summer advises, “Make sure you have an idea of the type of work you want to do and the experience you want to gain and make sure the internship will give you that.”
- Don’t forget about small organizations! Yes, many people choose to intern with big name organizations, but you often have more room to explore your interests and learn a variety of things at smaller organizations. Anne Sprinkel, who interned with Mercy Corps in Nigeria, suggests reaching out to small organizations working in your area of interest and pitching what you can offer them. She explains, “it takes more work to contact them, sell them on what you can provide for a few months, and probably find your own housing, but in the end I think they’re a great opportunity for good experience.”
- Use your network. Talk to professors and other students about potential organizations to reach out to. Sometimes, professors have contacts at organizations that can find you an internship even if it’s not officially posted. Kevin Robbins, who interned with iDE Bangladesh explains, “The important step was finding a contact in the country I wanted to visit. Then he introduced me to someone else, and she introduced me to someone else, and that person had a position for me. I had more luck using the relationships of others abroad than internet searches, in large part because so many of the opportunities there never make it online.”
- Be persistent! Reach out first by email to let your contact know who you are and what you are looking for. As people and organizations are often extremely busy, it is important to write a couple of follow-up emails and be prepared to call them directly at some point. Simon Boehler, who interned with the German development agency GIZ in Kosovo advises, “Don’t take it personally if people do not respond immediately!”
Special thanks to Anne Sprinkel, Alejandro Guzman, Jason James, Katya Verkhovsky, Simon Boehler, Kevin Robbins and Morgan Blackburn for their input!