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Traveling on an international career path

Whether you’re an experienced globetrotter or looking for your first journey abroad, there are opportunities for just about every student to live and work in another country. It doesn’t matter if you’re pre-med or a business major — taking advantage of overseas internships is a great way to explore another country. It’s an opportunity to gain something every college graduate needs: experience.

Departmental opportunities

Internships offer career and international experience, but students need to recognize that they might not get paid, said Kari Hamilton, assistant director of career services at the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs.

“It can definitely be worth it,” she said, even if this is the case.

The first place a student should look for work-abroad opportunities is within his or her major. For instance, the Evans School requires many of its graduate students to spend one term abroad, while the Department of Communication offers journalism internships in Asia and Africa.

Claire O’Brien, a graduate student in public affairs, worked in Vietnam for a small non-government organization last summer called Education for Development.

“It was amazing,” O’Brien said. “It was really helpful because it was the first time I got to use my skills in a work setting.”

One of the challenges she faced was “finding ideas that can work within the Vietnamese culture and also communism,” she said.

When it comes to dealing with culture shock, “go easy on yourself and go easy on other people,” O’Brien said.

Just because something is different doesn’t make it wrong.

“Be open to other ways of doing things,” O’Brien said.


Another intriguing opportunity abroad is the Japanese Exchange and Teaching Programme, which is sponsored by the Japanese government to bring college graduates to Japan to work as teaching assistants.

B.J. Bell, who graduated from the UW last year, joined the program because he wasn’t ready to start a career, he said. He worked in Namegawa, Japan and renewed his one-year JET contract twice to live in Japan for three years.

Bell enjoyed the time he spent overseas. He said there was a lot of vacation time, which he used to explore most of Japan. He now works at a financial firm in downtown Seattle.

There are 62 public and private schools that participate in JET. Teaching assistants can be placed almost anywhere in Japan, from a bustling urban city to a small village in the mountains. The town where Bell lived was a 90-minute train ride from northern Tokyo.

JET is for seniors who plan to have their bachelor’s degrees by July. Competition for this program is high, but you don’t need to speak Japanese. However, participants are expected to show an interest in the language and culture of Japan, according the JET Web site.

Last year, more than 5,500 people participated in JET, and nearly 2,900 came from the United States. JET began in 1987 with only four countries sending college graduates to Japan. Now more than 40 countries participate.

While 90 percent of all JET participants work as teaching assistants, management positions are also available.

IE3 Global Internships

IE3 Global Internships are available to most juniors and seniors and can earn students up to 12 credits.

Monya Lemery, the program’s Latin America and Caribbean director, said IE3 tries to make certain the internships fit the student’s educational goals as well as the host organization’s needs. About 95 percent of applicants are accepted, she said.

As for experience, International Programs and Exchanges study abroad adviser Shannon Koller said students who participate in the IE3 internship program aren’t in the back room filing — they gain meaningful work experience.

That’s the difference between studying abroad and working abroad, said Darell Kumar, a pre-med student who spent last summer in India.

On his first day, he saw an abortion. There were complications with the pregnancy, and the woman’s life would have been at risk if she continued with the pregnancy, Kumar said.

While working with a cardiologist his second week, a patient had a heart attack. Kumar said the doctor repeatedly smacked the man in the chest and revived him.

“That was like an E.R. moment,” he said. “Highly impressive.”

Kumar said he was exposed to various medications. He worked closely with a cardiologist, a pediatrician, a gynecologist and emergency medicine specialists.

“It was an interesting mix,” he said.

Living in India wasn’t easy for all interns. Kumar said many of his co-workers were uncomfortable with pit toilets and the lack of toilet paper.

Kumar, a Fiji native, is Indian and speaks Hindi. Despite his international experience, culture shock was difficult to escape. He didn’t know what to say when someone asked him which caste he belonged to. The caste system is a hereditary system of social class used in many parts of the world and most commonly associated with India.

Despite the inevitable culture shock, “I have never had anyone come back early,” said Koller, who has been working with IE3 for three years.

IE3 Global Internships are available in 45 countries. The internship costs $2,950 for one three-month term and $4,550 for two terms.

By Keith Vance
January 29, 2008

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