International students enrolled at Penn seek internships and jobs in their home countries, in the United States, in global organizations’ locations around the world, and in other countries. Searching for an internship or job involves many of the same tasks anywhere (identifying one’s strengths and goals, exploring career fields, preparing resumes and cover letters, networking, researching companies, applying, interviewing, and more), but two particular issues make the process different for international students seeking positions in the United States: language skills and immigration issues.
Through my experiences at several universities working with international students who are undergraduates and graduate students in many different disciplines, I’ve found that the best way for international students to address these two challenges is to take responsibility for what they can control and to learn as much as possible about what they cannot control.
You do have control over your language proficiency. If English is not your first language, practice. Practice more. Practice every chance you get. Practice with people whose first language IS English. Listen to English being spoken—on TV, online, in movies and plays, during lectures (in your own classes and through guest lectures on other topics you find interesting). Find every opportunity you can to speak English. Visit the Graduate Student Center’s website to learn about their resources. When you are with friends from your home country, agree to speak English together all the time or at designated times. (For example, ask your friends to promise to speak only English this evening until 10:00 p.m. If anyone breaks the rule, that person must buy ice cream for everyone else in the group.) Practice makes sense. If you were planning to compete in a sport—let’s say tennis, would you spend most of your time practicing volleyball?
You do not have control over immigration policies in the United States, but you DO have control over how well you understand them. Take the time to visit ISSS to learn about your visa options regarding work during and after your time at Penn. Review the online resources about immigration. Attend workshops about OPT and CPT. Read our blog regularly to glean advice for international students from career advisors, students, and alumni. Pay attention to calendars at Penn so that you can attend helpful career events such as alumni panels (former international students) and the annual fall lecture on “Immigration Made Easy,” presented by immigration attorneys. The more you understand about work visas in the United States, the better prepared you will be to respond to potential employers’ questions. There were many special Career Services workshops for international students at Penn last year; how many did you attend?
Tomorrow is the first day of summer, and fall seems many weeks away. But summer is a great opportunity to dedicate some time to your career preparation. Update your resume. Draft your cover letter. Be able to identify what type(s) of work you’re seeking and be able to explain why. Think of good examples you can use to prove you have the skills needed for the position(s) you plan to seek. Practice your English skills. Acquaint yourself with the visa issues you need to understand.
International students at Penn bring incredible strengths with them: tenacity and drive, global perspectives, unique experiences, enthusiasm, daringness and bravery, intercultural competence, an awareness of more than one way of doing things. Use these skills to tackle the challenges of language proficiency and immigration issues. And go eat some ice cream on the first day of summer!