25 Jun New York Times – Internships Abroad
Internships Abroad: Unpaid, With a $10,000 Price Tag
By STEVEN GREENHOUSEFEB. 5, 2015
Picture this: A summer behind the scenes at the Edinburgh Art Festival, helping set up a show and banquet, managing a guest list and communicating with artists and agents, plus an excursion to London and a tour of a Scotch distillery and 12th-century castle.
That was Darius Francis’ internship last summer. He loved it. Who wouldn’t?
“Anytime I talk to anyone about this experience, they say, ‘Wow, tell me about that.” said Mr. Francis, a senior majoring in public relations at Eastern Illinois University.
The only thing is, his 10 weeks cost more than $16,000, including $7,300 to the program provider, Panrimo, and $6,000 to Eastern Illinois for the nine credit hours earned through the internship. Mr. Francis was able to cobble together some financial help: a $6,000 federal loan and $3,800 in scholarships from the university’s study abroad office, Panrimo and a local nonprofit. His parents paid the rest.
Demand for internships abroad has surged as students — and just as important, their parents — grow ever more worried about their job prospects after graduation and seek a foothold in a world that values global experience.
“The hottest growth area in the whole international education area” is how Cheryl Matherly, vice provost for global education at the University of Tulsa, describes internships. “It’s a way to really make the international experience more relevant.”
There is no good data over time, but according to the Institute of International Education, almost 20,500 Americans participated in for-credit internships in 2012-13, while about 15,000 interned, worked or volunteered abroad for no credit.
For students, setting up an internship with an employer thousands of miles away is no easy feat. Seizing an opportunity, hundreds of program providers have jumped into the field, adding numerous bells and whistles and a steep price tag.
GoAbroad.com, which offers information on international education, lists some 3,200 internships, usually unpaid, put together by over 700 providers.
Most providers are for-profit companies, while some are educational nonprofit organizations. In addition, more and more universities, including Columbia, Georgia Tech, Rice, Yale and the University of Southern California, are arranging internships for their students, in part to keep costs down.
UP AND DOWNSIDE
Some experts complain that the internships give wealthy students an unfair leg up in the job market. “Expensive overseas internships are yet another way that the internship economy reinforces privilege, making the once unthinkable seem almost normal — people paying thousands of dollars to work,” said Ross Perlin, the author of “Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy.”
But to many students and parents, even to families like the Francises, for whom the expenditure was a stretch, the benefits — the on-the-job learning and exposure to another culture — justify the cost. In a 2012 survey by the Institute for the International Education of Students, known as I.E.S. Abroad, 84 percent of their alumni said the experience had helped them build job skills; 89 percent reported getting a job within six months of graduation.
Emily Merson, co-founder and C.E.O. of Global Experiences, a 13-year-old company that arranges internships in Dublin, London, Shanghai and other cities, argues that internships are more of an equalizer than study-abroad programs. “We’ve seen so many people do internships who would otherwise not study abroad because it’s too expensive,” Ms. Merson said. “A lot of students think, ‘An international internship is a really good idea, and I’m going to make sure I can afford it.’ ” She added: “We’re seeing proportionally far more first-generation college students doing internships abroad than doing study abroad, because it’s such a good strategic choice and such a good return on investment.”
She explained where the “tuition” goes: internship placement, which involves one-on-one time with each student; housing, which she says is particularly expensive in London and Sydney, Australia; and visa assistance, orientation, social activities and weekend excursions, among other expenses. Airfare and food are not included.
REVIEWS ARE IN
Many colleges and universities compile lists of preferred providers, though students often turn to online peer comments for advice. Troy Peden, a founder of GoAbroad, cautions that testimonials are often skewed because of voluntary-response bias. Moreover, internships are particularly hard to review.
“A lot of times, the satisfaction ratings for internships are all over the place,” he said. Are they reviewing the provider, who may be organizing only an orientation and a placement, or their boss, or the job itself? “You also have the interns themselves,” he added. “Were they a good intern? Did that impact their experience?”
Some students rave; some grumble about being underutilized and not learning enough.
Elena Friedberg, a junior majoring in history and French at the University of Michigan, had an eight-week internship at a bridal boutique in Paris arranged by Global Experiences. Ms. Friedberg said that the internship, which cost $10,000, was a great learning experience but the grunt work, like serving tea and coffee to customers, got repetitive, convincing her she did not want to work retail. “It had its ups and down,” she said. And she found her homestay, in a couple’s Paris apartment, less than ideal. The couple argued a lot and sometimes served frozen meals. At night she had to walk past an unlit park on the way home from the Metro.
Then there’s Sam Thayer, a 2011 graduate of Bucknell, who was eager to combine an overseas experience with work, and signed up with Dream Careers, whose website boasts “Over 3,000 Employers. 30+ Industries. 5,000+ Internships.” He made known his love of sports and interest in marketing, and was connected with Octagon, a leading sports marketing company in London. An Octagon executive interviewed him by phone, and they agreed it was a good fit.
At Octagon, Mr. Thayer helped develop marketing strategies for MasterCard and Cadbury and worked with account managers on making pitches. “They weren’t just sticking me in a corner, giving me busy work,” said Mr. Thayer, now an account executive at the 360i advertising agency.
Dream Careers’ 70 interns in London lived in a housing complex near Kings Cross, two to a room. They had weekend outings to Stonehenge, Bath and Paris. As might be expected, with a drinking age of 18, some plunged into the pub scene. “But everyone took their work very seriously,” Mr. Thayer said.
“When you are an entry-level kid coming out of a liberal arts college, you really need something in your résumé that jumps off the page,” he continued. “For me, to say that I worked at an international company in an international city, that’s something that was always interesting. In every job interview I had, that was discussed.”
This summer, the cost of a Dream Careers internship in London is $9,499, including housing, résumé polishing and excursions, but not airfare or visas.
Eric Normington, chief executive of Dream Careers, said his company does not pay employers to take students, and it’s up to the employer and student to decide whether they’re a good match. “A lot of employers like bringing in young American students because they bring insights, create connections, add a different culture,” he said, “and a lot of employers like the American work ethic.”
Internship operators note that many parents want their children to intern at prestigious giants like JPMorgan Chase, but such positions are few and far between. The best learning experiences, they say, are with small companies or nonprofits.
Hardly any international internships are paid. Mallory Meiser, community and brand manager at the website GoOverseas.com, explains why: “Most countries have regulations for foreign students saying, ‘You have to work for free or not at all.’ China doesn’t want a Chinese company paying American kids to do what Chinese kids can do.” (The phenomenon of unpaid internships does not plague American students alone; Europeans and Asians do them as well.)
Ms. Meiser acknowledges that cost is an obvious issue. “There’s a very small percentage of students who can afford it, who can afford to work for free in London for three months,” she said. “These companies provide a great opportunity and they charge for it. You might have the luxury of going to work at Wimbledon and not being paid for it.”
HOW TO CUT COSTS
Karina Cheung, who graduated from Temple University in December, did not let money stop her from pursuing her dream: an internship in Hong Kong. Many universities have special funds for study, internships and volunteering abroad, and Ms. Cheung secured two scholarships from Temple, which, together with a federal Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, covered the $10,000 charged by Dream Careers for an internship with a bilingual lifestyle magazine.
Ms. Cheung is from a single-parent household with three children, and as a low-income Pell grant recipient, she was eligible for a Gilman, a grant of up to $5,000 that’s available to 2,300 students a year. The grant is aimed at diversifying the kind of students who study and intern abroad. “All I had to pay for was my plane,” said Ms. Cheung, whose internship included translating articles from Cantonese to English, writing an article on luxury watches, helping photo shoots and writing ad copy. She now works at a Philadelphia radio station.
Federal financial aid can be applied as well, though it’s limited during the summer, when most students want to intern, and it can be used only for coursework that counts toward a degree. (Many universities will give academic credit for internships, whether they have an academic component or not.)
Some programs also offer scholarship money. I.E.S. Abroad awards more than $2 million a year in need- or merit-based grants. The nonprofit institute, which is part of a consortium of more than 220 American colleges and universities, is a big name in the study-abroad field. Over 100,000 students have enrolled in its programs since it was founded in 1950. But while part-time internships have long been baked into its study abroad, parents and students clamored for more.
“We saw a change in parents’ mentality,” said Keith Dipple, executive director of internships. “They were demanding a return on investment for their child’s study-abroad experience. The return on investment is a job after graduation.”
In response, in 2013, I.E.S. Abroad introduced full-time summer internships, which this year will be in Sydney, Dublin, London, Rome, Milan, Paris and Barcelona, Spain, and Santiago, Chile. Cost: $5,000 to $7,850.
Rachael Criso, a French professor at the University of Michigan, is not a fan of pricey internships. “There are a lot of private operators who charge students $7,000 to $10,000 for the privilege of working abroad for nothing,” said Dr. Criso, who helps find and arrange overseas internships for students in Michigan’s college of literature, science and the arts. “We’re trying to make it an affordable proposition for students. We have some scholarships that help them pay for housing and airfare.”
Assisted by Michigan alumni spread around the world, her program has arranged internships with a winery in France, an artist in Paris, a women’s group in Geneva and a school in Turkey.
Kai Norden, a University of Michigan sophomore majoring in business and environmental science, found an internship last summer at a London consulting firm where an alumnus worked; he got to research farming in Uganda for an apparel company that was setting up a fair trade program. The employer’s stipend covered housing and food; he paid only $1,400, for visa and flight. “It was a lot better than the whole pay-to-play program where you have to shell out a lot of money,” he said.
Kai Norden, right, a University of Michigan sophomore, in London.
These students may have to find their own lodging and, without some programs’ bells and whistles, make their own fun. “We’re trying to set up something individual without having all that hand-holding,” Dr. Criso said. “You might have to find your apartment in the dark; you might not know where your key is coming from. But all of a sudden you’re a couple of inches taller. These can be some of the most enriching experiences.”