Online international internships: the same but different

Understanding the respective benefits of an international internship abroad versus online will put you in a better position to advise students – and open up options to them that they may not know exist.

One of the immediate consequences of the spread of Covid-19 has been the rapid need for study abroad providers and international education organizations to continue their courses in an online environment. This was as true for those on internships as it was for any other course. Every previous musing on the value of online internships led to an internal call from many providers for a hands-on deck and a move into previously uncharted waters.

Research into remote working and online learning took center stage, dispelling any doubts about the legitimacy or usefulness of online internships. The subsequent and for many unforeseen demand from both students and placements in English-speaking destinations.

As the reality of a Covid/post-Covid world becomes normalized across the globe, it is time for recalibration and reassessment: are online internships a kind of crutch or are they simply a stopgap?

The changing nature of work and internships

Chief Academic Officer has produced an internal document entitled The Changing Nature of Work and highlights the following key areas:

  • Blurring of professional/personal time and space.
  • Increased employee control over space and time
  • Entrepreneurship/micro-enterprises/multiple businesses in one

The internal document contained a discussion that would not have been out of place at the beginning of 2020:

The fact is that in a modern workplace, supervision often takes place remotely and via technology. Interns are sometimes asked to bring their own computers to the workplace. Interns themselves are occasionally asked to work from home. Individual entrepreneurs often start or run multiple businesses simultaneously, and there are business complexes that house many start-ups where staff, interns and other resources are shared. Students often still expect a more fixed sense of time and space and tasks that are clearly labeled and defined rather than flexible and fluid. We must continue to prepare our students and our partners for this reality. What new realities might we encounter in the workplace in the next ten years?”

The themes highlighted were not new and have become embedded in many societies this century as part of the work culture. The fact is that, even in a pre-Covid 19 world, these trends have played a role in how companies work with interns and emphasize what interns can expect in the workplace.

Yet teachers continue to struggle with the changing work landscape – something that has been given credibility by the mass working from home in the months immediately following spring.

More specifically, to what extent what has taken place on site and in the country is compatible with the professional, personal and cultural learning outcomes set out in the curriculum.

Back to Basics – keeping focus on the goals of an internship

The advent of Covid-19 has prompted many in the sector to refocus on the core of what is delivered during an internship. Looking at what an internship is in its most basic form and assessing whether the concept of an internship will hold its form if conducted entirely over the Internet – not to mention across many time zones – is a starting point.

  • Consists of educational enrichment projects with learning objectives, quality training and guidance and regular feedback.
  • Provide assignments and projects related to the student’s major or career interests. A minimum portion of an intern’s assignments must include administrative work.

As with any educational delivery, the key is to always let the content drive the process. And because the process has no inherent features that require on-site participation, this paves the way for its creative execution.

All the ‘must-haves’ of the placement can take place remotely: this planned, controlled, structured experience with meaningful work and supervision is not bound by time or space. If there were any doubts about remote working as it has developed over the years, it has quickly become clear that many office jobs and types of work can be successfully performed from home.

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