Internships go beyond study abroad

Determining a direction for one’s life after graduation is sometimes an arduous task. Even with a degree in hand, students often find it difficult to choose a career path and set themselves apart from thousands of other graduates.

Coordinators for Portland State’s International Internship Program say that in addition to gaining real hands-on experience in the student’s chosen field, an international internship may help set a student apart once they enter the workplace.

“An international internship shows that students are adventurous, willing to take risks, that they have an understanding of the world from another perspective,” said Alyse Collins, international internship coordinator at PSU.

Many students are opting for an international internship over the traditional study abroad experience, she said.

Krystal Powell said she has always been interested in traveling and experiencing other cultures. She recently graduated from PSU with a bachelor’s degree in speech and hearing sciences. She says a professor urged her to look into Portland State’s International Internship Program as an alternative to a study abroad. She is currently working for a private Catholic school in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico where she in providing speech therapy in Spanish two hours each day to the 12 students with Down Syndrome who range from grades three to nine.

“My father is from Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico and most of his family is still in Mexico,” Powell said. “In the summer of 2001 I went to Torreon and Zacatecas to stay with them for about six weeks. I decided that I wanted to return and stay a whole year in order to learn more about Mexican culture.”

For Powell, the location of her internship was crucial. She wanted to experience Mexican culture firsthand by living with a host family. At first Powell was wary of living in Puerto Vallarta, a city known for its tourist industry. But she quickly discovered that Puerto Vallarta provided a unique mix of cultures.

“The people are wonderful and I can surround myself with culture for as long as I want,” she said. “When I start to feel like I need to speak English and be with tourists, I hop on a bus and go to the beach. It has been beneficial to have that escape.”

Powell plans to return to Portland State in September to begin a graduate program in speech language pathology. She hopes that her experience in Mexico will make her a better therapist by giving her the skills to work efficiently with people from different cultures.

According to Powell, the key to getting the most out of an international experience is flexibility, understanding and lots of patience.

“There will be many cultural misunderstandings and miscommunications,” she said. “Remember, for the most part nobody is out to hurt or offend anybody else. The most important thing to understand is that we all come from different backgrounds and cultures. Immerse yourself in the culture, ask questions, get involved and try new things.”

Miranda Celeste is currently studying film at Portland State. “I disguise it as bachelor of science arts and letters degree because PSU currently does not offer a film studies major,” she joked.

It was precisely because of the lack of established major that Celeste turned to the International Internship to achieve her academic goals. She will be departing for her internship site at the United African Alliance Community Center in Arusha, Tanzania this spring.

Celeste says her host was open to allowing her to customizing her work experience. “I decided to try teaching introductory filmmaking to a group of interested high school students affiliated with the community center,” she said. In addition, Celeste has been offered the opportunity to collaborate with local filmmakers who are currently producing a documentary on progressive hip-hop artists in Tanzania.

Although Celeste had not pre-selected her destination, she found Tanzania to be a place “too amazing to pass up.” She was enticed by the level of community activism in the area and the creativity involved in the Tanzanian program. “There is everything from AIDS awareness classes and traditional academic courses to more artistic activities like film and music production to a developing radio station,” she said.

Celeste hopes that her experience will give her a deeper understanding of the world as well as her own capabilities and limitations. She also hopes to learn more Swahili while she gets valuable filmmaking experience.

International internships are open to students with at least junior level standing. Some programs have a language requirement, but Collins points out that several opportunities exist in England, Scotland, Tanzania, Ghana, Ethiopia, India, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Malaysia, Singapore and more for students with no second language skills.

Students pay a program fee of $2,300, which covers up to 12 credits of tuition, internship development and placement, international health insurance, pre-departure orientation and on-going support. The fee listed above is the same for undergraduate, post-bac and graduate students.

Unless otherwise stated in the position description, students are responsible for international airfare and living costs while abroad. Students may use their financial aid to cover the fees and cost of living abroad, and there are some scholarships available. Collins urges all interested students to make an appointment to meet with her to discuss all the options.

According to Collins, many students postpone their international experience until after graduation. Often they discover that after they are in the workforce a few years, it is increasingly difficult to have a substantial experience that can match an international internship.

The deadline to apply for a fall international internship is April 15. Interested students should contact Alyse Collins by e-mail: [email protected] or make an appointment by phone at 503-725-4094.