Tips for Finding an Internship in the Developing World

by Lauren on November 20, 2012

An internship abroad can be one of the rewarding experience of your life. However, with so many choices available, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to start. Here are a few suggestions:

1) Focus Your Search – There are thousands of opportunities to get involved with organizations in the developing world. First, consider narrowing your search by geography or area of focus. For example, are you passionate about Africa? Specifically interested in Southeast Asia? This would suggest you lead your search according to geography. Perhaps you may have taken classes in global development, or have interest in being a teacher. Great. So narrow your search by area of focus (i.e. development, education, poverty, etc.), and the geography becomes secondary.

2) Browse Professional Online Resourcesidealist is an excellent resource for internships in the developing world. There are currently more than 6,000 internships listed. According to Leslie Kingsley, Assistant Director and Internship Coordinator for Colby College’s Career Center, there are two other sources worth looking at. Transitions Abroad offers a listing of internships and short-term jobs abroad, as well as useful resources for work abroad preparation. Lastly, Cross-Cultural Solutions is a New York-based organization offering a number of unique, highly-organized opportunities in 11 locations around the world. Emphasis is on having a one-of-a-kind, safe experience abroad.

If you already know of an organization with which you’d like to intern, even better. Search for internship opportunities directly on their site, or by googling the [Organization Name] + [Internship].

3) Connect with Career Services – If you are currently in school, talk to the career services office about internship ideas they may have. As mentioned above, it is best to go in with some sort of focus. For example, “I really want to learn about poverty alleviation in sub-Saharan Africa. May I pick your brain for five minutes?” Or “I’m a good soccer player, and work well with kids. Do you know of internships that focus on youth in particular?” However you decide to approach them, be as focused as possible.

4) Be a Spider – Huh? Let me explain. Recruiters are inundated with applications for internships. Therefore, it’s not enough to simply submit your cover letter and resume. Is there a family friend who has worked at your organization of choice? Do you have a friend from Mozambique who knows of stellar opportunities there? Connect with these people, ask for 15 minutes for an informal conversation. In other words, you need to create a web of connections linking you to this opportunity. If the recruiter in charge of filling this internship has heard of you through your family friend, and also through your contact in Mozambique, your chances are much better being considered for the opportunity.

5) Prepare to Work Hard – This is your chance to shine, so take every opportunity you can to position yourself for success. Before getting on the plane. Is there a local language spoken that you can learn? Even if you only know the basics, that will go a long way in earning respect of locals. What will your colleagues be wearing? Take the time to invest in a few key wardrobe pieces, that demonstrate your cultural sensitivity. Do you know the backgrounds of the executive team in the organization? Study their bios, and be ready to ask them how they got involved in the organization. Demonstrate hunger, interest, and this will assure you get the most out of your internship.

For a first-hand look at my internship with Grameen Bank, click here.

Stories you’d like to share? Got questions? Feel free to comment below!

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