Psychological Internships Abroad: Don’t Wait Around for Opportunities, Create them Yourself!
University of Bern
According to the Institute of Education (IIE; IIE, 2002; IIE, 2010) there were 260,327 Americans studying abroad in 2008 and 2009, almost doubling the 143,590 nearly a decade earlier. Gaining experiences in other countries is becoming more important every day, and internships abroad present a unique opportunity for gaining these experiences as an undergraduate (e.g., by joining a research lab, working with a patient population in a clinic, etc.). The following article will elucidate the benefits of such an internship and present the important steps to take during the planning process.
Why Look for an Internship Abroad?
The experience of a placement abroad has almost limitless advantages. To start, the stay provides you with an opportunity to travel. As Mark Twain once said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Immersing yourself into another culture expands your worldview both cognitively and geographically, makes you realize new perspectives about yourself, and highlights what you want and do not want in life. A stay abroad gives you the opportunity to break out of your routine at your university, make new friends, and build social and professional networks. Furthermore, research suggests that an internship abroad has a positive influence on worldview, cross-cultural awareness, self-reliance, self-confidence, and personal well-being, as well as interest in subjects like art, history, foreign languages and architecture (see Kitsantas, 2004). On an academic level, you may experience training that is not available in your country. This enables you to not only try out your future profession, but also to improve your CV and thereby enhance your employment opportunities after completing your degree. Completing an internship abroad demonstrates to your future employer that you can take initiative, show commitment, acquire fluency in a foreign language, cooperate with people from other cultures, and adjust to a new environment. It also proves you have experience putting what you’ve learned in your degree into practice. Networking during your internship might even provide you with new job opportunities for your future career.
Planning Your Internship Abroad: Hints and Tips for the Search
It would be ideal to start organizing about a year prior to the intended date. First and foremost, you have to ask yourself the following questions: What field of psychology do I want to work in? Which countries would I consider? How long would I be able to work there? Do I want to earn money or could I work for free? What language skills do I possess? Which other skills could be important for the internship? It is important to keep in mind that although it will entail numerous advantages, the journey to an internship abroad is long and requires initiative, courage, stamina, hope, and trust in yourself and in the people you will be in contact with.
So where exactly should you look for the internship? The answer is simple: everywhere! Ask all the people you know who could possibly have any connections to the countries or fields you want to apply to. Speak to professors, look in newspapers, ask for information your faculty might have collected about internships abroad, go to the international office, network with people at conferences, and perhaps most importantly, use Internet search engines to look for organizations or professionals that fit your internship criteria. An email to a prospective supervisor should include a description of yourself, your idea of the internship and the role you might play, as well as an explanation of how you might contribute to the psychologist’s or organization’s work. Moreover, it is important to mention the reasons for wanting to work in this particular country and with this particular person or organization. This initial correspondence should be written in the psychologist’s native language, and it is of great advantage to add your CV and any reference letters to the email.
It is often difficult to become an intern in a foreign country, especially in the field of psychology. Finding an internship in a clinical setting can be a challenge, but don’t be discouraged! Where there is a will, there is a way! Educational and qualification systems in the various countries differ to such a degree that students are often not allowed to work with patients in clinics (Germany seems to be an exception here). What seems to be much easier is the search for an intern position in an organization or as a research assistant. Unfortunately, the psychologists you will be working with abroad will not usually have the funds to pay you a salary, but they will contribute their time, energy and knowledge to support you. All the more important is the search for an adequate scholarship after you have identified your ideal placement. Scholarships differ a lot depending on the type of internship, the country, and the length of time, but the international offices of universities and the countries’ embassies usually provide students with plenty of information. Saving up money beforehand and subletting your apartment while you’re away might also help. Furthermore, advanced language skills are very important. Working with people requires a considerable amount of vocabulary and level of understanding. This is especially important for the application process. If you do not have an advanced level of the foreign language, you should consider taking extra classes and improving your skills on your own. However, with the necessary dedication, language will not be a problem.
Once you have accomplished the big step of receiving a confirmation to an internship abroad, subsequent tasks such as applying for a VISA and a scholarship, booking flights, facing another culture, speaking another language, finding a place to live, and organizing everything else that comes with starting a new exciting life in another country will seem to be the easiest thing to do. In the end, you will be surprised by how fast you find yourself having a new home and you will feel extremely proud of what you have accomplished.
Institute of International Education (IIE). (2002). “Leading Destinations of U.S. Study Abroad Students, 1999/00-2000/01.” Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. Retrieved from http://www.iie.org/opendoors
Institute of International Education (IIE). (2010). “Top 25 Destinations of U.S. Study Abroad Students, 2007/08-2008/09.” Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. Retrieved from http://www.iie.org/opendoors
Kitsantas, A. (2004). Studying abroad: The role of college student’s goals on the development of cross-cultural skills and global understanding. College Student Journal, 38(3), 441-452.
Corinna Horbach finished her Psychology diploma (equivalent to a European Master’s) at the University of Trier, Germany, in 2012. In her 6 years of academic studies she has organized and enjoyed a clinical internship with an organization specializing in brain injury rehabilitation in Canada, a research internship in the forensics department of the Simon Fraser University, Vancouver (both sponsored by the German Academic Exchange Service), and spent a year studying abroad in Spain sponsored by ERASMUS (EuRopean Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students). After graduating she volunteered for Oxford Homeless Pathways in England and is now specializing as a psychologist in Integrated Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy doing a Masters of Advanced Studies at the University of Bern.