Independent Path

The Independent Path

5 steps

Professional Development is an important component of the undergraduate experience. It helps to build your resume and gain professional training. In the same way that you consider domestic internships, work, and service as valuable for your education and preparing for your future, these international experiences can be equally as worthwhile for today’s graduates in the global marketplace.

Just like work/internships here in the U.S., some students organize their experiences as part of an official UNH program, while others make their own arrangements through individual searches and connections. This applies for international experiences as well. There is a wide array of independent opportunities and programs that can help you find the work, internship, or service experience that you are looking for abroad. In the International Experience Opportunities section, you can find lists, links and descriptions.

It can be intimidating, however, to organize this process on your own. Below are suggestions and advice for going about your search, decision-making and preparation process.

Step 1.  Decide on the type of international experience you want by considering these issues*:
 
  1. Timing – when can you go and for what length of time? Some programs operate year-round, others only during very specific periods. Duration can range from a few weeks to a summer or semester or even year. 
  2. Location – especially the choice between developed or less developed regions, and its relationship to other factors such as costs and health and safety issues.  Always think about cost of living in the host country.
  3. Type – each category of international experiences (internship, volunteering, teaching, paid jobs, research) has its own distinctive focus and a greater or lesser degree of structure.
  4. Eligibility requirements – some programs require specific skills (e.g. engineering or foreign language competence or teaching English certificate), while others are open to generalists.  Some programs are restricted to U.S. citizens.  Read the fine print to make sure you could be considered for the program.
  5. Costs – with very few exceptions there will be expenses for which you will be responsible.  Even paid positions will usually have program fees or at least start-up expenses.  The only programs that cover all of one’s expenses tend to be government-sponsored (either U.S or foreign) and for a longer period of time, such as a year or two.   
Step 2.  Evaluate the programs you are interested in by considering the criteria below and by asking the recommended questions:
 
  1. Refer to the full IVPA Standards List, which establishes best Principles and Practices in the development and operation of volunteer programs abroad. Most of their standards apply to broad spectrum of international experiences. We picked out a few key issues below, however, we urge you to review the full List an evaluate your program by them.
  2.  Is the program well established?  For how long have they been operating? Who are their founders/staff and do they extensive experience? A program history and staff bios should be well documented in their materials.
  3.  Can you easily reach a live person who is responsive and helpful? Do not rely on just email. You should communicate substantively with a person via either phone or skype before you commit to a program.
  4. Try to get references about the program from reliable sources if possible. Ask for participant references and follow up with detailed questions. Don’t rely on their marketing testimonial statements or someone telling you vaguely they had the time of their life.
  5. Health and Safety – see the Department of State’s Travel Advisories and consular information reports for assessments of these factors for every country.  What help does the organization offer in the event of an emergency?  Do they provide you with international health insurance and emergency assistance in country? How will they support you if you are having issues with the program on-site.
  6. What is the program offering you?  Can they follow through with what they are promising?  Always ask for contacts and identify who their staff are and how they will support you.
  7. What are your rights if you participate on the program?  Always read carefully the fine print in the liability waivers and terms and conditions before signing any documentation.
  8. Review very carefully the program fees and costs. What is included in the program fee and is it what you expected. Understand how the fees are broken down, what is not included, and for what you will be responsible for paying extra.
Step 3.  Research Funding opportunities - pay attention to eligibility requirements:
 
Step 4.  Prepare for departure:
 
  • Make sure you know what documents are required and that they are up-to-date (passport, visa, plane ticket, confirmation of vaccination, prescriptions, power of attorney). The program should provide this information. You can also find it on the host country’s U.S. embassy and the U.S. State Department websites.
  • Purchase international insurance.
  • Review country information and recommendations on the State department website and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website.
  • Register with the US Embassy via The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
  • If you have any pre-existing conditions--mental or physical--communicate these with the program and your doctors to develop a plan for staying healthy abroad and what to do/where to go if you require medical intervention abroad. You will also need a strategy for traveling with medications and having sufficient medications for your entire stay.
  • Prepare for logistics of how you will manage and access money abroad, communicate on-site and with home, and pay bills.
  • Develop a personal emergency action plan.
  • StudentsAbroad.com has a helpful study abroad handbook online that will include helpful and important pre-departure information that is relevant to any experience abroad.
Step 5.  Coming Home:
 
  • Understand duties and customs declarations for traveling with goods and money. Know what you can bring out of your host country and bring in to your home country.
  • It is quite common that people returning from an extended period abroad experience reverse culture shock, in which your home seems unfamiliar and difficult to adjust to and you miss your friends, life style and culture from abroad. There is additional information in the StudentsAbroad.com handbook referenced above.
  • Meet with a career counselor to discuss how best to integrate your international experience into your resume and discuss it in an interview.

* Adapted from information on the University of Michigan website.