In August 2013 I left England for my first ever move abroad as part of the Erasmus program. Erasmus, meaning EuRopean Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students. This scheme allows students within Europe to move around the continent and experience a new country either through studying or working.
With around 60% of students opting to study abroad, I decided to go against the grain and do an internship, so I thought I should shed some light on some of the pros and cons of doing an internship abroad for those still yet to make the decision.
Looks good on your CV
Obviously this has to be one of the most beneficial things about being an intern. You get to have valuable work experience, which we all know is like gold dust for us students. In this day and age, just to get your foot in the door requires some previous work experience. Therefore, doing an internship abroad is a sure-fire way to put yourself above the rest. Not only have you achieved professional experience but you can also boast about your wonderful life-changing experiences abroad during your interview ;)
Teaches you life skills
I must admit, it was a little shock for me when I started my internship. Working long hours and sitting at a desk all day was miles away from my free-spirited life as a student in England. Yet it has taught me valuable life skills such as time management, responsibility and most importantly punctuality. Unlike at university, you can’t just skip work if you’ve got a hangover or you want to catch up on the latest episodes of Breaking Bad. You’re in the real world now…
Improves your social skills
One of the most challenging and enriching things I have had to go through during my stay is making friends abroad. Now, don’t get me wrong this is difficult in any situation, regardless of whether you are studying at a university or are working full-time. However, I believe that in a working environment you have to make more of an effort in order to make friends and get to know people. Unlike at university, there are no regular social activities organised for the purposes of meeting new people. If you want to make friends, you have to work damn hard which therefore instills you with greater confidence and better social skills in the long run, trust me.
Helps you to learn a new language- the practical way!
I have heard so many complaints from Erasmus students about how they don’t feel that their language skills have really progressed since moving abroad. One of the main reasons I’ve heard is that Erasmus students tend to only socialize among themselves. What I mean by this is that rather than mingling with the locals, a lot of them end up only socializing with people from their native country and therefore losing out on the opportunity to practice the local language. As an intern you’ll be working with the locals 24/7 and are often required to speak the local language all the time at work. Personally, I feel that my language skills have improved so much since I started working in Paris. Working with the natives is a practical way of learning the new language as you get to embrace the ‘real’ spoken language, as opposed to what you learn in a textbook.
Try before you buy
Deciding what to do with our lives after graduation will be one of the most difficult decisions we will ever have to make. Many of us spend years in higher education but with no real idea or plan about what our next step is. How am I supposed to apply for a job that I have never even tried before? Well, this is exactly what I love about doing an internship. It’s the best way to gain insight into a particular career path without having to apply for a professional job.
The (Lack of) Money
Ok so everyone knows that interns are right at the bottom of the food chain. you have the bosses, the managers, the workers, the assistants, the cleaners and then the interns. Therefore do not be surprised if you are not being paid very well, if at all! With the long working hours and the sometimes heavy workload, this can be a turn off for people interested in doing an internship. Luckily here in France, companies are required by law to pay their interns. However with salaries starting at a measly €435.06 per month, this can sometimes feel like nothing at all! Especially if you are living a ludicrously expensive city like Paris.
Coach Potato Syndrome
Beware of couch potato syndrome! I’m afraid to say that as a full-time intern you will not spend your days attending university social events and crazy ‘Erasmus’ soirées. With your busy working schedule you’ll feel less like a wild student and more like a boring middle-aged adult and may find yourself repeatedly saying to your friends, “sorry I can’t come out tonight, I have work tomorrow”. However, you can learn to adapt to your new lifestyle and socialize in a new and sophisticated way. After work apéro anyone?
It is clear to say that studying will take a back seat while you are on your year abroad work placement. With all your work commitments you will find it really difficult to put time aside to catch up on some revision. Believe me, this really is a huge disadvantage! After all, once your year abroad is over you will have to go back to university to face dissertations, exams and uni stress and may be left really out of practice when you arrive.
Well there you have it, my list of the pros and cons of doing an internship abroad. As you can see the advantages of participating in a scheme like this clearly outweigh the disadvantages. I have had the most amazing time as an intern and would highly recommend it!