CareerCast: Finding an International Internship

by Jaclyn Chen (W ‘12) & Angie Luo (C ‘11)

One of the questions that gets asked the most in Career Services is “How do I get an internship abroad?”.   The process can be different (and lengthier) than a domestic internship search, but as these Penn students explain, with a little tenacity, you can secure a very rewarding international experience.  Enjoy.

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Clinical Volunteering Abroad: Know Your Boundaries

As a pre-medical or pre-dental student, visiting another country to volunteer in a clinic can be a valuable, even life-changing experience that strengthens your commitment to medicine and teaches you about patient care in a different cultural or economic context.  If you are interested in serving communities abroad and learning more about global health issues, clinical volunteer work in another country is a great idea!  There are, however, some points to “know before you go.”
1.  It is not necessary to volunteer abroad to get into medical school; in fact, a week or two in a clinic abroad without medically-related service work in your local community or the U.S. can raise doubts about your commitment to serving others.

2.  Evaluate the organization or program carefully before you commit.  How long has it been in operation?  Have you talked to anyone who has participated in the past?  What plan is in place should you fall ill or are injured?

3. Consider your budget when looking at programs as well as less expensive ways to volunteer that might be equally interesting to you.  Some opportunities can be extremely expensive.

4. A good clinical volunteer experience is not the one where you are allowed to do the work of trained physicians and dentists.  When volunteering abroad, your level of training may be vastly overestimated by staff and patients.  Consider carefully whether you, as a patient, would want an untrained volunteer giving you medical advice or performing procedures such as pulling teeth or conducting hands-on exams.  Show respect for patients by knowing your limits before you go abroad and expect that you may be asked or invited to perform duties beyond what you might do at a clinic at home.

Read: An interesting ethical case study on the AMA’s website, “Limits on Student Participation in Patient Care in Foreign Medical Brigades,” profiles a third-year medical student who sutured incisions without supervision.

It may seem necessary to volunteer abroad to build a strong application, but it isn’t the case.  Also, you may despair that your clinical volunteer work will not impress admissions committees because you “didn’t get to do a lot of hands on stuff” that other students have reported from their experiences.  Know that professionals on admissions committees are troubled by applicants who appear to have put themselves before the patient by taking on care beyond their training.

Having the above in mind while searching for a clinical volunteer experience can help you find a “good fit” for what is sure to be a rewarding, exciting, and educational time in the field.

Tips for the Long Distance Job Search

By Barbara Hewitt

With spring break upon us, I’ve been thinking (a bit jealously I admit) about all the wonderful places Penn students will be travelling to during the coming week. (This week I’ve had students tell me they are headed off to Mexico, Florida, Trinidad/Tobago, and Japan among other places….Ahhhh, the life of a student!)

It is a big world out there, with plenty of places to ultimately settle down for a job. Whether you are looking to return to a place you hold dear to your heart, or seeking to put down roots in a new location, a long distance job search can definitely add a layer of difficulty to the process, which is why I thought I would focus this entry on providing some tips for just such a search.

Before you even begin sending out resumes and cover letters to far-away employers, recognize the challenges that you might face. If the location is entirely new to you, your network will likely not be well established there. Some employers will be hesitant to hire applicants unfamiliar with the area, worried that you may not stay long. If it is an organization that pays for interview travel costs, they will undoubtedly find it cheaper to bring in local candidates. If you are looking internationally, even the communications process can be difficult, as what is the middle of the day for prospective employers may be the middle of the night for you.

However, even with all the hurdles, it IS possible to land a job across the country or the world. During the initial stages of your search, it is wise to focus your search enough to make it manageable. Looking for a job “West of the Rockies” may be a bit too broad to start with, unless you are seeking opportunities in a relatively small industry. Start focused, and then you can expand your search later if necessary. Learn as much as you can about the growth industries in the area, the economy, and the demographics. For example, if you know that the area has a large Spanish speaking population, it would be helpful to highlight your Spanish language skills on your resume. If possible, plan at least one (preferably two) trips to the area. The first trip could be ideal for networking, exploring housing options, and conducting informational interviews, while the second could focus on actually scheduling interviews with employers. (Hopefully you can line up a number of them to help make the trip most effective.)

There are a variety of ways to research potential employers including checking out websites for the local Chamber of Commerce, which often provides a list of member organizations and may coordinate networking events. You might also research regional trade associations in your industry of interest, as they may sponsor conferences (great for networking!) and list available jobs on their websites. An added plus is that often student memberships are extremely affordable! You might also check to see if there are any career fairs that will be held in the area, and plan a trip to the area to coincide with it.

Read the local paper, as it can be very helpful in uncovering employers which might be hiring. That article about the advertising agency getting a brand new account or a real estate firm developing a new shopping center could inspire you to send them your resume! Newspapers will also help you when you go on your interview. It’s important to know how the local sports teams are doing and what the big issues are in the community. You never know what will come up over lunch when interviewing with prospective employers….and a familiarity with the community could be a big advantage.

Online sites such as or can let you search opportunities by geographic location and keyword, which can be extremely helpful. PennLink also has an option to search by zip code. The RileyGuide can help you find specific job boards for regions of the country. Specific city web sites can also be useful.

In a long distance job search, networking is critical! Check out PACNet (Penn Alumni Career Network) and regional alumni clubs to see if you might be able to schedule informational interviews with alumni in the area. Talk to other contacts you might have (friends’ parents, parents’ friends, faculty, etc.) about your interest in a particular region. You never know who might have the perfect lead for you!

In your cover letters, discuss any ties you may have to the area and the reasons you want to move there. Indicate if you plan to be in the area in the near future and suggest arranging an interview to coincide with it. It can often move the process along more quickly if the employer knows they won’t have to pay your travel costs. If you don’t plan to visit soon, suggest the possibility of an initial phone interview to discuss the position. Note that the Career Services office also has videoconferencing services available which current students can use to conduct interviews with distant employers. Skype might also be a good option to suggest for smaller employers which might not have more elaborate videoconferencing facilities easily available to them.

A long distance job can take longer and be more challenging than a local search, but it is successfully done by job seekers every day. (Want proof? California is the second most common destination state for Wharton graduates in most years.) You can land a position in a far-away place…you just need to be willing to put some extra effort into the search.

Going Global: Go Abroad Now!

Going Global is a great resource for anyone interested in going abroad to work, intern, study or volunteer.   We currently have an online subscription with them (gain access by visiting our international resources’ page) and their listings are available to Penn students and alumni through PennLink.  Every Monday, Going Global features a piece of advice on their blog to help you get abroad.  This ongoing series is called “Must Do Mondays”  –  a must read if you want to turn your dreams of getting abroad into reality.  Today’s post discusses the importance of building your LinkedIn profile – check it out!

Volunteer Abroad

by Shannon C. Kelly

I would like to dispel a myth for those of you interested in gaining international work experience – it can be easy AND affordable.  How? By volunteering abroad.  There are a TON of programs out there which you can volunteer through – many vary in their fee structure and what is included in the fee, but I promise (cross my heart…stick a needle in my eye) it is possible to find one appropriate for your budget and areas of interest. has a Smörgåsbord of resources to jump start your search.

Why am I willing to potentially stick a needle in my eye? Because I know first-hand it’s possible since I volunteered abroad this past summer.  The whole trip cost me under $2,000 (air fare, spending $, room & board) and I KNOW I could have done it for even less.  I found my particular program through Volunteers for Peace ( thanks to our annual International Opportunities Fair.  VFP is an international volunteer exchange organization.  They have partners all over the world who help place volunteers at International Voluntary Service projects, also known as international workcamps.

I searched VFP’s directory for programs in the UK because I have always wanted to go. I found an opportunity to volunteer at a festival (Think: event management experience) outside of Bath, England – Monkton Combe in Avon. Which brings up another advantage of volunteering abroad – getting off the beaten tourist path.  I met university students and other young people from all over the world (Turkey, Italy, Poland, Japan, Greece, + more), but I also met fascinating individuals older than me who had great stories and advice to share for my own ambitions.  (Think: networking is not just for when you need a job).

So what’s the catch? When you volunteer abroad, you are not taking a traditional vacation.  You agree to work a certain number of hours in exchange for your room and board (of course specifics vary by program, location, etc).  I worked 6 hours a day and helped run the festival by setting up rooms for workshops, coordinating materials for the attendees and answering questions about specific events (Think: bullet points on a resume).  It’s not all work though. I had free time to attend workshops at the festival (lessons on Brazilian Forró) or to hang out with my new friends from Italy or Greece.  All in all, I gained valuable experience for my resume, extended my network, and got off the beaten path – even learned a new dance I know I would not have otherwise.

Whether you want to teach children, learn a foreign language, rebuild walls, help the environment, steward at a festival – there’s a program for that.  (Think: iPhone’s “there’s an app for that”).  And if you do your homework, you can find one appropriate for your budget.  I did and I can’t wait to volunteer abroad next summer.

I’ll be posting more about volunteering abroad as it relates to gaining work experience. And sharing stories from friends around the world.  If you’d like to share yours, leave a comment!