Learn More About International Internships with Maj Fischer

Maj Fischer

Maj Fischer is the managing director of the International Internships Program (IIP) on campus. She works to connect local Wisconsin businesses and internship program offices with foreign exchange and Madison students. Before leading IIP, Maj traveled the world, served in the Peace Corps in Poland, and worked in Fiji and Denmark.

Are more students demonstrating an interest for international internships?

We do not have extensive data about demand trends, but through conversations with students, by the number of mentions of internships in the news, and the support for the program through Madison Initiative for Undergraduates (MIU) it seems like interest is increasing. Some data that does indicate a growing student interest was found by the American Council on Education (ACE) in January 2008, showing that more than any other international experience, a greater percentage of incoming freshmen (46 percent) indicated that availability of internships abroad as important in their decision about choosing a college.

Why do you think student interest is on the rise?

There are constant changes within the job market, economy, and the way employers hire. There is a trend for employers to recruit only from a pool of candidates who have worked as interns.  Higher education institutes have recognized these demands so they are not only promoting international internships more, but students are catching onto this and are more aware of their options with internships. Also, culturally, Americans bend toward experiential learning; most of us like to “learn by doing” and an internship is a way to do so.

Also, are more companies searching for international students for their businesses? And who would be an ideal candidate for an internship abroad?

About 85 percent of Americans who end up working abroad are placed at an American or multinational company’s international office. It may be harder for Americans to work directly in a foreign company because of a language gap, visa issues, and the greater risk that an employee will leave and return to their home country.  Therefore, most of the organizations we are trying to work with are Wisconsin- or U.S.- based, but that have overseas operations.  Also, we have a number of Wisconsin companies interested in our international students on campus for their language and cultural skills. When these students return to their home countries, they have international experience and the Wisconsin company has a “badger” connection abroad. It is beneficial to the students and the companies involved.

Students who are not afraid to take risks, who are self-motivated, and confident are ideal candidates. On the same note, they need to understand there are hierarchies within companies and they should expect to encounter bits of grunt work along the way; it is a reality of many jobs, especially entry level.

Companies are generally interested in students who possess core global and intercultural competences; the ability to communicate clearly to broad and diverse audiences, and many times, in another language. They look for people with the ability to see issues from multiple perspectives, who are comfortable with ambiguity, and who can work well with people of different cultural and social backgrounds. In a survey by ACE, 86 percent of companies reported a need for managers and employees with greater international knowledge in the decade ahead.

What can students gain from an international internship, both academically and professionally?

Global competency! Academically an internship allows them the opportunity to apply classroom knowledge to a real world setting, and vice versa when they come back. It makes their textbooks and lectures come alive and gives them more context to the classroom discussions. Professionally, it allows them to develop skills that are important in a workplace; effective team work, self-motivation; realistic and timely problem-solving. Decisions which need to be made in the context of deadlines, fiscal constraints, and human relationships are part of the workplace environment and may to be handled in a way that is different from in a classroom.

Internships also allow students a “trial run” in the field they are studying, so they know whether or not it is the right career path for them. In addition, students gain a network for future employment possibilities.  At the same time, there is a tremendous personal gain such as self confidence and self-reliance.

Can you earn academic credit while doing an internship abroad?

Yes! The internships that are offered through International Academic Programs (IAP) which is the main study abroad office on campus, are all credit bearing. Most importantly, students should consider the value in the associated coursework of the internship. At Madison, credit is not given for the internship itself, but for reflection and critique on the internship and self-analysis of what they gained through the experience.

What are the pros and cons of doing a short (4-8 week) internships compared to a long (3 + months) internship?

Short internships, for many, appear to be more “do-able” either because they are in the summer months or they do not drastically affect a student’s income. Any international experience is better than none so the students will still receive some professional and cultural exposure.

For long term internships, students will have a much richer experience, both professionally and cross-culturally. They will be able to increase their language acquisition and are more likely to be offered a post-graduate of full time position. Some aspects that may retract interest would be—if the position is un(der)paid— the expenses accrued from a long period without income and it sometimes can delay graduation if students are not enrolled in classes at the same time. But the students need to ask themselves “can they afford not to do it?” and consider how much the added value is worth to their career, compared to the costs.

What kind of funding is available at UW-Madison for internships abroad? Scholarships?

For academic internships administered through IAP, students have access to not only their regular financial aid package, but also to special study abroad and internship scholarships. IIP also has some private donations for travel grants, and we are working on finding more!

What are the advantages of having an international internship compared to a domestic one?

There are benefits to students engaging in any high-quality internship regardless of location, however, an international internship is a bonus. It combines the elements of an internship but also the benefits of studying abroad. It allows for students to have an increased ability to connect with diverse sets of people and work on diverse teams; improve language skills and gain a more cosmopolitan, international perspective. Students will have the capacity to think more originally and to see more than one perspective on an issue. And as students grow they will see they have a greater sense of self-reliance and self-confidence than before, along with more comfort in complex situations, the ability to better cope with ambiguous information and greater flexibility.

By Flannery Geoghegan, Division of International Studies