Come spring semester, it seems like all college students start hunting for internships—and landing an international one is like hitting the jackpot.
Besides their many professional benefits, international internships give students a chance to travel, immerse in a new culture, discover their true callings, as well as make lifelong connections and friendships.
Despite continued strides and the growing demand for a globally-competent workforce, less than 2% of all U.S. college students study or intern abroad every year, and even fewer are members of underserved communities. One of the reasons why is undoubtedly the heavy price tag associated with it. Some students raise funds, receive scholarships, or get support from their parents, but a vast majority are deprived of such benefits.
Since 2013, Cultural Vistas, together with the support of its alumni and donor communities, has removed cost as an obstacle for more than 75 American undergraduate students through the Cultural Vistas Fellowship. This year, the seventh and largest cohort of students to date (15) spent their summers in Berlin, Buenos Aires, and Hong Kong interning at organizations dedicated to promoting health, education, human rights, minority rights, and equal opportunities for all.
Read on to learn about their transformative summer experiences.
Immersing in a New Life and Culture
Transitioning into a new life and immersing yourself in a new culture can be both interesting and challenging. Nicolas Schofield, one of our Cultural Vistas Fellows who interned in Berlin, recalls getting a lot of help from Cultural Vistas’ European Office in Berlin. “The Berlin team took us out to show the city and hosted a lecture on diversity and inclusion giving us an opportunity to broaden our horizons and expand our network.”
Katherine Moronta Rodriguez spent the summer in Buenos Aires and took every challenge as an opportunity. “Every time I faced a challenge, I thought of the bigger picture. I knew it’s going to make me grow and enable me to give back to the community.”
Though she also said that being away from their homes and families for the first time was a big challenge for most fellows, she was happy with what the experience did for her personal development. “I got a chance to venture out of my comfort zone, make my own decisions and become independent.”
By traveling to Hong Kong, fellow Malia Simon became the first from her family to ever leave the U.S. It shouldn’t be surprising to learn that, for her, witnessing an entirely different culture was the highlight of her experience.
“Learning new social norms in Hong Kong, enjoying its cuisine and witnessing weeks of historical movements has made this summer an enlightening experience that I will always remember.”
Living in a big city, particularly a foreign one, can also be a little overwhelming at times. Katy Grubb, who spent the summer in Berlin, thought the biggest challenge was getting used to city life. “I grew up in a suburban area, and my school is in a small town surrounded by rural areas so adjusting to the fast-paced Berlin was a challenge initially. Since I speak German, learning to navigate wasn’t hard and soon I began feeling at home.”
For most of the fellows, the fellowship was also an opportunity to brush up on their foreign language skills. Daniel Wang, who had been learning German prior to his trip, enjoyed practicing the language with his peers.
“It’s different when you’re learning a language and when you are able to speak it fluently. I can see that difference now after two months of conversing with my peers, supervisor, and other people in Berlin.”
Advancing Skills and Career
Arguably the biggest benefits of the Cultural Vistas Fellowship are the long-term career benefits they provide for participants.
For Joshua Flores, who spent his summer in Buenos Aires, the Cultural Vistas Fellowship was his first experience working in the field. He completed his internship at Subir al Sur, an organization that helps foreign volunteers find work related to educating and helping children in the city.
By working in the field, Joshua was able to witness the realities on the ground, including the challenges that less-developed parts of the world face and how volunteer efforts help overcome them. “Like other Latin American countries, Argentina has major human rights violations and challenges but the way it answers them is what’s most inspiring about this country. There is a lot to learn from that.”
For Nicolas in Berlin, the fellowship experience gave him the opportunity to suggest ideas and work on turning them into a reality. During his internship at the EU – Russia Civil Society Forum, Nicolas suggested a fundraising trip to the U.S. for the Executive Director of his organization. After working on the idea throughout the summer, he was ultimately successful in connecting his organization with similar ones in the U.S., enabling them to explore opportunities to work together on defending human rights.
Expanding a Global Network
Besides becoming more confident, self-reliant, and aware of the world around him, Joshua also learned how important it is to talk to people and get to know their thoughts and feelings about issues affecting their countries.
“Meeting and conversing with natives expanded my world view in a way nothing else can. It’s entirely different from reading books or watching the news. I am grateful to Cultural Vistas for this experience that has helped me connect with my Latin American roots and understand the world better.”
Indeed, international exchange programs are a great way to build global professional networks and make friends from diverse backgrounds.
Sarah Rodriguez, a Cultural Vistas Fellow who traveled to Hong Kong, made great friends in the city, who welcomed her into their hearts and homes. “I spent one evening with my friend Pauline and her family learning how to make dumplings before we enjoyed a delicious meal together. I will remember their welcoming nature, generosity, and laughter for times to come.”
Finding a New Purpose
International experiences often change people’s lives in positive ways.
Alexandra Guerrero, who interned at Be the Change in Hong Kong, looks back on her experience as a transformative one. “The internship refueled my passion to help underrepresented populations, particularly women and children who have been affected by crimes like rape, sexual assault, and abuse.”
Joshua had a similar experience in Argentina where he connected with his Latin American roots and came to understand the challenges faced by indigenous peoples. He now wants to help these communities address global challenges.
Sometimes people find inspiration in unexpected places. Sarah was particularly impressed by Hong Kong’s ability to come together during difficult times, and she would like to see communities in the U.S. come together to address similar challenges as well. “I was really inspired by the city’s resilience, tenacity and solidarity in tough times.”
Traveling abroad to unfamiliar places often makes people appreciate and want to improve their home countries. Daniel Wang hopes to use the inspiration he gained in Germany to make young people more dedicated to sustainability. “Young people can play a monumental role in promoting environmental sustainability, particularly by starting off with small steps.”
Returning with a Resolve
Following a transformative summer, the Cultural Vistas Fellows are now back in the U.S. ready to head back to college and share what they have learned with others. Most of them have already planned how they want to utilize their international experiences back home.
While some are hoping to push for a more sustainable America, others are looking to encourage young people to become agents of change, but what’s common is their dedication and resolve to civic engagement and to uplifting local communities.
The Cultural Vistas Fellowship aims to do just that. Mission accomplished!
Cultural Vistas will begin recruiting for its 2020 class of Cultural Vistas Fellows in the coming weeks. Visit the Cultural Vistas Fellowship program page for updates!
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