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Gaining a Global Perspective via an International Internship

Posted At: May 26, 2011 12:50 PM
By Katherine Baker


An employer at a major public relations firm in New York City looks at a potential employee’s résumé. He sees something on the neatly formatted paper that catches his eye — a word that almost all employers want to see in order to hire — “intern.” As he reels back over this section he notices the location of this internship: London.

Instantaneously this employer knows that this candidate has had training in the PR field and a chance to experience this training in another culture. This résumé is now very appealing to him.

Internships offer wonderful learning experiences for the intern. Often unpaid, internships put interns in situations that would normally occur in the workplace. These situations help prepare the interns for the real world.

On top of the exceptional experience some local internships provide, international internships can sometimes have bigger and better benefits.

“Employers want employees who are willing to experience new things, be flexible and be respectful of other cultures and traditions,” Assistant Director of Capstone International Academic Programs (at The University of Alabama) Diedre VanZandt said. “These are all things that students learn when they complete international internships.”

PR students have the potential to learn and apply multiple skills that are acquired while interning abroad.

“The best way to relate to the public is to learn about the people: their cultures, their traditions, the things that are important to them,” VanZandt said.

Even though having an international PR internship can set you apart on a résumé, the actual material one learns abroad can be more beneficial than simply the credentials it provides.

“The main advantage of an international internship is the exposure to a different culture, and development and understanding of how PR can work in that culture,” said Dr. Joseph Phelps, professor and chairman of the Department of Advertising and Public Relations at The University of Alabama.

Nowadays, employers look for potential employees who have the most experience. This often means more to them than grades and GPA, although these components can factor into the company’s final decision.

“Students that have multiple internships [set] themselves apart,” Phelps said. “It’s not good enough to be really good in the classroom.”

Dr. Bruce Berger, member of the Board of Advisors of The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations and a public relations professor at The University of Alabama, said that if a PR major has some experience abroad, it can often be an advantage in securing a job.

He also believes we live in a shrinking global village in an age of diversity and globalization.

“There’s an old saying that ‘we don’t really understand our own culture, or that our culture is different, until we live in another country,’” Berger said.

When students gain internship experience abroad, it helps them understand their own culture, as well as how to apply certain aspects of different cultures.

“As a public relations professional it will be important for these individuals to relate to a diverse population within their own country,” VanZandt said.

Not only do future employees want these overseas internships; they are starting toneed them.

“Culture is rich, complex and fascinating,” Berger said. “Future leaders in public relations will need a greater understanding of cultural differences and similarities in order to be effective and excellent communicators and strategists.”

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