Out of Our Comfort Zones with International Internships

By Mickey C. Jensen
St Andrews Economics and International Relations graduate (2015), current MSc Finance Student at the University of Groningen, Netherlands. He is a keen advocate for international careers, having lived or worked in 7 countries, and counting, across Europe and Asia.    

Want to get out of your comfort zone? Ever dreamed of experiencing what it’s like in a developing country? Believe it or not, your options are not limited to teaching English or working for a non-profit in a remote village (however this is a possibility!). There are many firms, both local and European conglomerates, in Asia’s modern cities looking for European students wanting an adventure.   

Having formerly interned at various Danish multinational corporations in Malaysia, I will give you an insight into the unique opportunities you get as a foreign intern in a developing Asian country and how to get an international internship.     

All in a Day’s Work: Business Meetings, Publishing Articles & Coffees with Ambassadors

Now, what are the benefits of interning overseas? Besides exposure to a new culture, learning to work alongside a diverse group of colleagues and undoubtedly fantastic new food options, there are many unique opportunities that you will never get in Europe.

Firstly, you may be given peculiar but distinctive assignments. For instance, on behalf of my firm, I authored two full-page articles on the economic externalities of fossil fuels, which were published in the largest Malaysian national newspaper and a green-business magazine. Now you can finally fill in that “publications” section on your CV! Another example of a unique assignment is when I was sent to a conference in Kuala Lumpur to learn about financing methods for a project and network on my firm’s behalf. Besides getting my own personalised business cards to hand out (an awesome souvenir), I actually managed to set up introductory meetings for my boss with potential business leads. This is when you learn how business gets done in the real world.

While being a foreign intern, you will also be part of a “business-expatriate” community: this means being part of a close-knit group of other foreign business professionals. These groups usually consist of diplomats and executives of large multinationals and, with a little effort, you can become a part of it. Attending events organised by embassies is a good place to start.

Where in Europe would you, as an intern, have the opportunity to chat one-on-one about international relations and business with an Ambassador? This is the opportunity to learn from the people at the top. Also, who knows, if you have enough brains and charisma, the managing director for that large multinational conglomerate you spoke to over dinner might remember you! You will get the exposure and opportunities, what you make of it is up to you.

Be Proactive – “Hi there, do you have an internship?”

Excited but don’t know how to get a shot? Let me tell you about how Julian Lasius, a St Andrews master’s graduate, landed his internship at the UNHCR, a refugee organization. Julian was initially in Malaysia to experience the culture and learn the language but he eventually got bored and wanted to work. He walked straight into the UNHCR office in Kuala Lumpur and asked for an internship. The result: he charmed the HR department, they had a position available, and now he works for the UNHCR.

Use a Network: Chambers of Commerce

A great source for internship hunting is the chambers of commerce; it is how I got mine. For example, if you are British and want to work for a British firm, call or send an email to the British Chamber of Commerce in the particular country that you want to work (Myanmar/Burma is a very interesting place at the moment!). They have a large network of businesses, to which they can forward your CV. In addition, the Chamber of Commerce and embassies are typically looking for interns themselves, and sometimes these opportunities are not published. The Danish firms I worked for would only publically advertise the position if they did not receive any requests beforehand, so get ahead of the curve! Also, one of the myths I would like to dispel is about languages. English is used at international firms, unlike in Europe, in many parts of Asia you can get by with just English. So don’t let that hold you back!  

The lesson: be proactive, don’t be afraid to make speculative applications, you only stand to gain!

Finally – Take the Leap

You have several summers during your undergraduate years. My advice is to go abroad for at least one of them. You will take away a global network of people and experiences. You will be given responsibility and experience things which you may never get in Europe as an intern. Yes, it may be daunting at first, but do it not because it is easy but because it is hard!  


For questions and advice, feel free to contact the author @ m.c.h.jensen@student.rug.nl
Feature image courtesy of Thomas/Flickr

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