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The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Internships abroad enrich student experience

At a university where studying abroad is common, an internship adds a unique angle to the experience.
Image by Maria Heinzen (courtesy)
Maria Heinzen, currently studying abroad in London, gazes at a sculpture located at the British Museum.

Stepping out of her shared flat and into the brisk London air, Maria Heinzen began her walk to the Westminster Archives Centre, taking in all the city has to offer. 

An everyday walk for Heinzen includes seeing Big Ben and the London Eye, two landmarks she said are surreal to see in real life. In the last stretch of Heinzen’s commute, she gazes at Westminster Abbey, taking in its ornate columns, then finally heads down the street to her internship at the City of Westminster Archives. 

Heinzen, a second-year student studying English and developmental psychology, is currently in London as a part of the University’s study and internship abroad program. Along with taking classes, Heinzen takes the half-hour trek to her internship, where she works 20 hours a week. 

Although it can be plenty to handle, Heinzen said she got lucky.

“My internship is incredibly flexible, and they work with me with everything,” Heinzen said. “I haven’t felt a lot of struggle, honestly, because I want to go to work. I enjoy it.” 

With a tight-knit community of coworkers, she said she has the hands-on experience she sought in an internship abroad. Aside from gaining skills, she set goals for herself in the workplace. 

In her internship, Heinzen preserves marriage documents, death certificates and other historical documents.

“It’s a very intimate space and experience. I feel like my voice is heard and not overshadowed,” Heinzen said. “It’s taught me a lot about how to work in a team with these people, how to take initiative, and how to work with materials that need to be conserved and are very delicate.”

Heinzen said her experience abroad is somewhat unique. On top of the internship, she is taking 15 class credits, many of which intend to aid students in understanding London’s heritage. 

“The classes are very integrated with London culture,” Heinzen said. “There’s a lot of field studies so a class will go out and do something and talk about it, like going to a museum or walking by the river.” 

Like Heinzen, Zoe Hoornbeek, a fourth-year student, said she made the most of her time abroad. While in Madrid, Spain, Hoornbeek interned at a therapy institute where she trained as a psychology major by shadowing a professional therapist.

“I got direct experience working with patients with mental health diagnoses and other lived experiences, people who wanted cognitive behavioral therapy, that they did all in Spanish,” Hoornbeek said. “It’s important to note I did not have any Spanish knowledge before going there, so I was able to also learn Spanish.”

As an intern, Hoornbeek said the most difficult part of the experience was finding time to visit patients, but everyone she worked with knew her situation and helped her create a flexible schedule.  

“A lot of the patients wanted sessions after work, or at lunch, as that’s when people aren’t working,” Hoornbeek said. “So that contradicts with when I wanted to have my free time, but other than that it was very flexible.”

Hornbeek said staying with her host family was a key component of her time abroad. Since she stayed with them, she got to see more of the country and feel at home in a foreign place. 

“I chose a host family just to be more integrated with the culture,” Hoornbeek said. “It was a very welcoming environment, and they took me on weekend outings and they took me to their place up north which was cool too.”

Varun Sarathy participated in the study and internship abroad program in Barcelona, Spain, in 2021 and graduated last year. Although there were strict COVID-19 procedures in 2021, Sarathy said he made the most of his semester abroad. 

“Spain was a great country to go to because there’s so much diversity throughout the country,” Sarathy said. “I was able to get a lot more of an in-depth perspective on Spain by traveling to more places within it.”

While in Barcelona, Sarathy interned with a marketing and sales company. He said interning there helped him understand the cultural differences when working with people from different countries, which helped, in the long run, with his future career. 

“They heavily emphasize that in our internships, that’s something that we’ll bring back and it’s just the ability to place yourself or understand that you’re working in a different culture,” Sarathy said. 

While working and taking classes, Sarathy added that he also had the chance to discover what tropical destinations Spain had to offer. He said one of his favorite memories was taking a trip to the small town of Tenerife to hike and explore.

Not every internship is a perfect match, according to Zach Kunkel, a third-year student who completed a similar internship to Hoornbeek, in Madrid. His tasks also included shadowing a therapist and speaking Spanish to patients.

“I would say overall a good experience. I liked the guy that I shadowed. He was good about talking to me afterward being like, ‘Hey, here’s kind of what I was doing,’” Kunkel said. “The main difficult part was that everyone was talking in Spanish, so it was a little harder to understand things.” 

Kunkel said with so many expectations from the program leaders, the cultural differences and the language barrier, it was tough to balance everything. Regardless, he gained a better grasp of himself and how to deal with his independence in a new country. 

“I think it improved my self-confidence and my ability to just have faith and trust that I can do things,” Kunkel said.  

Speaking from personal experience, Learning Abroad Center Director of Programs Zach Mohs knows that studying abroad can be a lot to balance. As a kid, Mohs lived in Japan and England for three years and later studied abroad in South Africa for a semester during his time as an undergraduate student. 

Mohs said an internship provides students exposure to their field of interest and assists in deciding whether their chosen path is right for them. 

“Often students think of that as this wasn’t a good experience because I decided I didn’t want to do it,” Mohs said. “That’s way better than graduating, taking a job, and then deciding this isn’t for me.” 

With several programs to choose from, students may not know where to begin when choosing an abroad program, according to Mohs. 

“If students are considering it, come talk to us if there’s questions or concerns, come talk to us,” Mohs said. “Studying abroad, in general, can sound daunting. Doing it can sound daunting, but the benefits far outweigh any concerns if someone is considering it.”

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