Finding an International Field Experience or Internship

Carrie Rheingans

I learned a lot during the process of finding my international field experience/internship in Peru last year. Although most funding sources don’t require you to submit applications until January and February, it’s a good idea to start looking for international placement options now (November). Most public health departments require an internship, and some programs require an international internship. I’ll be doing a social work internship in China and Bangladesh this summer. The Office of Global Activities at the School of Social Work has some programs that students can apply to, which is how I found the internship in China. I found the internship in Bangladesh through a friend whose family works in the field of microfinance in Dhaka. The organization is the Shakti Foundation for Disadvantaged Women. I’ve communicated a couple times via email and Skype with my Bangladeshi preceptor/supervisor, and we’ve determined the main projects I’ll be working on.

Some steps for finding an international internship (NOT necessarily in any specific order):

  • Think about what skills you want to learn or develop. You can base this on your department’s competencies, theories you learned in class that you now want practical knowledge of, or skills outside your academic training – maybe skills outside your department. Your internship is supposed to be the practical/skill-based portion of your academic degree.
  • Think about a region or culture you’d like to learn more about. Do you see yourself working in a specific region upon graduation? Do you have language skills you want to develop – or do you want to learn a new language? Do you need a placement in which you can speak English? Remember that while it’s summer in Michigan, it’s winter in the southern hemisphere. Consider major holidays that take place in certain regions of the world – for example, Ramadan will start either 11 or 12 August, depending on the exact location. This could affect your internship in some countries.
  • Think about what contacts you have in global locations – family, friends, colleagues. Your professors are a major asset here, and from my experience, they want to help you, so contact them! Talk to your adviser about his/her specialty/ies and see what suggestions s/he has. Contact speakers you might have heard and found interesting on campus.
  • Visit the many campus offices and websites (many listed below) that might have any contacts. Consider working through a volunteer organization (though these often aren’t as flexible for academic purposes and have set programs to offer).
  • Consider your budget and the amount of time you will be able to spend applying for campus and other funding. Most students get mostly funded, but it does take time to apply. I’ll write another post later about funding your international field experience/internship.
  • Contact potential international sites. Discuss with them what you are hoping to gain from your experience and what you hope you can contribute to their organization. Remember to be patient and flexible when contacting potential sites. Also remember to be mindful that the skills you want to develop may not be feasible at some organizations. For example, some organizations may not have computers with SPSS – or even have computers!

Students who’ve already done international internships, please leave other tips below in the comments. Students seeking international internships, please leave questions below in the comments!

Some Potential Resources:

4 thoughts on “Finding an International Field Experience or Internship

  1. I worked with the Reproductive Health and HIV Research Unit in Johannesburg, SA which has a visiting scholars program. If interested you can send an email inquiry through the website below asking for an application. They have several ongoing projects.

    The South Africa Initiatives Office (SAIO) here at U of M is a good funding resource.

    Your blog is really helpful!

  2. Carrie: A student services rep at SPH told me she thought this was really good information. She said she hesitated a bit when you said that most internships are mostly funded, though.

    Seems to me that you’re trying to make the point that the harder students work at finding funding, the more likely they are to get it. It’s great people are already posting additional sources to explore.
    MB Lewis, SPH communications

  3. Hmmm… good point MB. Most of my friends from HBHE were mostly funded, but I’ll have to admit that I don’t know much about what happened for Epidemiology and HMP students.

    I do think it matters how much work you put into finding funding. I’ll try to make a good blog post about the funding 🙂

  4. Great post Carrie! As a 2nd year MPH student who already did an international internship I just want to emphasize the importance of knowing what you want to do (or at least having a basic idea) and not being afraid to contact an organization. I found my internship by contacting an agency in Guatemala and telling them I wanted experience in program evaluation, did they have a need for the summer? This helps you, so you end up doing something you’re interested in, and it also helps the agency because they know what you want to do. I think people are more productive when they do what they like.

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