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The debut of an international internship program for students of Lehigh University's Iacocca Institute recently came to a successful conclusion. Administered by American Councils for International Education, the program has to date sent three students abroad to Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Kosovo with plans to send even more next summer. Students on the program are assigned as interns to a high-profile hosting organization abroad and receive mentoring from both a Lehigh University representative and a supervisor at the hosting organization. The eight-week international internship proved challenging, yet rewarding for the students, both on the job and as a cultural adjustment.
The program participants were pleasantly surprised with the substantive on-the-job tasks they received while abroad. Joe Rendon was assigned to the corporate development department of KIMEP, one of Kazakhstan's top universities. His job was to interact with students and gauge their perception of the university. “I [interviewed] around 80 students... and the information gathered [was] given to the heads of [each] department to see what improvements can be made at KIMEP,” Rendon recounted. Anne Orenstein, assigned to the Georgian Vice Prime Minister's Office [think Joe Biden's office], was also surprised by the scope of her daily tasks. Reflecting on her role of editing and translating documents into English, Orenstein confessed, “It took a while to sink in that the words I placed on [the] paper could be viewed by anyone from the producer of the local evening news to the President!”
In addition to benefiting from daily work tasks, program participants also experienced an office environment different from the typical business culture found in the U.S. Maria Mejia, interning at the American Councils office in Kosovo, recalled being “surprised to learn that almost everyone [in the office]... speaks some English.” Significant international experiences like these are likely to pay off as program participants enter a crowded job market. “Learning how to work with many different types of people and personalities (which is exponentially increased... in another culture) is an extremely significant skill that makes me a much more desirable job candidate over someone who [hasn’t],” Orenstein said.
The less-obvious challenges of the program, however, are culture-related, and even begin prior to boarding the plane. Orenstein questioned her ability to “leave friends, family, and culture behind for an entirely different world.” Adjusting to a new country is often made easier, however, with the comfort and support of co-workers and host families. Orenstein said, “Having [my host family] stand beside me throughout [the] entire journey [made] me truly appreciate the Georgian character as well as the Georgian culture.”
And what about the experience as a whole? Well, Orenstein finds both the cultural adaptations and the work experience to be essential components of the program. “[The] working environment combined with the incredible family I was placed with, contributed equally to make this an absolutely life-changing experience.”