For interns, the hospitality and other industries may be in a holding pattern right now, with many businesses struggling and some not recruiting or offering internship positions, but now’s the time for you to set the foundations for your international experience to come. This is equally true for those intending to study abroad. Here are some tips on how to get ready for your international experience , whether it’s arranged, planned or as yet an aspiration.
Speaking to employers recently, it’s clear that the shape of internships and the industry as a whole is uncertain, yet there is resilience in this industry. Enlightened businesses understand the importance of a commitment to training and development for their quality of service and business performance, both of which will be key to a sustainable recovery. Your time will come if you use the time available to you now to develop new skills, demonstrating commitment to your own growth and development. You should pursue any avenues available to you to internationalise and professionalise yourself.
Similarly, if you’re looking to study at a university or college outside your home country, the current pandemic is obviously a concern. You do need to stay in touch with prospective universities whether you’ve applied or not. Given travel restrictions and concerns about reducing or preventing further outbreaks, many universities are only accepting international students in-person in the spring semester. Classes are likely to be largely online, so you need to consider whether this is enough.
Online learning does reduce the cultural opportunities open to you, if you’re studying from home, but doesn’t entirely prevent interaction with the people and places you hope to visit. nevertheless it’s an important consideration even if you’re allowed to enrol. The key here is communication with the university – check your email for updates, make use of any social media and forums set up for their international students and make an informed decision. Being informed also means using this time to do your research about the place, the course, the opportunities, and for reassurance the current Covid-19 situation where you’re thinking to go. If it’s still possible to travel for the spring semester you’ll be in a much better situation with all the facts you need to decide whether or not to go.
Students who’ve been offered internships for 2020 start dates have generally not been able to take up their positions, or at best some have been able to change to a virtual internship. While ‘going virtual’ isn’t the most effective way to get hands-on experience, even a short-term, virtual placement can offer experience and insights into the values, management approaches and training in the business. It also speaks volumes of your own adaptability and resilience in the face of difficult challenges for all of us!
Furthermore, many employers are intending to honour pledges to students of an internship in the following year, once the ‘new normal’ becomes clearer. For example, in the USA, year-long J1 student internships offered for 2020 by some hospitality providers are being re-offered for 2021 starts to those same lucky individuals, subject to the US State Department review of the visas, and the coming presidential elections.
So the answer if you’re in this position is (1) to explore whether your university course allows placement at a later stage, and (2) even if this isn’t the case, the J1 visa is valid for graduates within one year of ending their studies. This would be a great chance to set out with renewed career aspirations – what better opportunity for your first year as a graduate?! So contact that employer for an update on the status of your place and whether next year may be an option. Ask for suggestions of areas you’d benefit from developing beforehand so that you can ‘hit the ground running’.
Many online platforms are offering either free or very affordable training in such areas as marketing and customer service, more effective use of software for analysis or creative projects, or financial management. The knowledge and skills you have to take with you, working or studying abroad, can be key to making the most of the opportunity. Keep those brain cells ticking over by immersing yourself in one or more courses like this. Universities offering massive open online courses (MOOCs) usually just require registration to follow a course, and these can be taken without payment, only asking a fee if you want certification or to download further course materials. Make sure you know what if anything you need to pay for on courses offering a ‘free first month’, and importantly when and how to cancel. Remember to check the appropriate boxes to ensure they don’t bombard you with their own marketing materials or pass your details on to others, too.
Language skills can always be honed during a period like this, even offering a chance to embark on gaining a working knowledge of a new language. There are plenty of apps out there, notably DuoLingo which is constantly adding new languages to its list. Perhaps less playful but very useful apps include courses offered through Babbel.com and translation resource Reverso Contexto. Find one that suits what you want to achieve and your preferred learning style. Registration is generally all you need, and only the more advanced features call for payment of any kind. Ideally look for something allowing you to focus on the area you’re interested in – hospitality and tourism are common, but business, events and sport perhaps less-so. You can even dip in and out of different resources to customise your learning, and this has the side benefit of showing how creative and adaptable you are. Win-win!
If you’re lucky enough to have an offer of an international experience, albeit postponed, then this is the time to do research into the institution, company, the location, accommodation options, places to visit and day-to-day essentials. Make that transition into your new location smooth and effortless when you arrive, with a little effort right now. It will also do wonders for your confidence and hopefully raise extra excitement for what’s to come.