Internships vs. Volunteer Programs
By Katie Arango
So you’re looking to go abroad and have a meaningful experience, but which is the right one for you? Is it a volunteer trip or a career related internship? Certainly both can be very worthwhile and life-changing experiences. While there is a lot of cross-over between the two terms and in many ways they are quite similar, there are some key differences which can help you to determine which international experience is right for you!
A good place to start when deciding if you want an internship or service learning project, is to look at your main motivation for going abroad. Are you excited to give back to the community, or are you looking to gain practical skills to complement your current education? Of course to a large extent, both opportunities offer chances to contribute to something larger than oneself and to experience personal growth. Interning at a human rights organization or a nonprofit focused on economic development projects certainly qualifies as creating change in the world around you. And volunteering abroad can be a great way to make your resume stand out from the pack. But it’s a good idea to take a step back and think about your main goal for your trip.
One major distinction between the two programs is that internships often times require a certain level of familiarity, whether it be former work experience or education, in a specific area. Volunteer programs typically require fewer hard skills, but they have requirements as well. If you’re looking to write for a local newspaper in Cape Town, it’s probably helpful if you’ve taken classes or have some experience in journalistic writing. For a film internship in Buenos Aires, it’s likely that you’ll have to be familiar with certain editing programs. On the other hand, if you’re looking to volunteer with a youth development organization in Dublin, it’s important that you’re a positive, patient and energetic person.
An additional difference is that internships can sometimes be paid while volunteer positions are typically not. Keep in mind that often for international internships, paid options are not available, due to visa restrictions in the host country. (It’s always best to play it safe when it comes to interpreting local law!)
Both an international career related internship experience and a meaningful volunteer experience abroad will undoubtedly look fantastic on your resume or CV, and will give you excellent material to talk about on a job or graduate school interview. With an internship, you can often talk about skills you’ve gained in specific areas and demonstrate knowledge of the industry that you can contribute to your next job. A service learning position will show that you are motivated and a self-starter, willing to sacrifice your time for a cause. Participating in either opportunity shows that you are independent, flexible, globally minded and culturally aware – all traits that are extremely valuable in today’s job market.
So I guess there’s just one question left to ask…where in the world do you want to go?