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Virtual Internship for a Cross-cultural Future

Q&A with Meghan: Virtual Internship in Central America
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Meghan
Virtual Internship in Central America
Her thoughts on Pre-Departure Preparation
I knew I'd learn about their culture through our discussions, but I thought it was respectful to take initiative and do my own research in advance.
Her thoughts on Boosting Your Career
As a future educator, I know I'll be working with families from diverse backgrounds, so it’s essential that I have an open mind and am able to integrate their values and culture into my classroom.
Her thoughts on Virtual Work Skills
I manage my schedule with a day planner, by keeping a daily “to-do” list and using phone alerts. I also keep a clean desk area and surround myself with positive messages to help me persevere throughout the day!

When and where did you complete a virtual international internship?

I’m currently volunteering as a Spanish Intern for Outreach360, a virtual impact program that connects teachers with Central and Latin American students through English classes and Spanish discussions. I was working with Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Colombia and Guatemala. I began volunteering for Outreach360 in the fall of 2020 through their fall virtual internship that lasted eight weeks, starting in October. My latest internship is a twelve-week program that lasted from late January to late April, 2021.

What made you pursue a virtual international internship?

The COVID-19 pandemic limited opportunities to travel and connect with students in-person, so I decided to pursue a virtual international internship to expand my experience working in education, to connect with international students, and to practice my Spanish skills with native speakers. Through virtual lessons and discussions, I now have the unique opportunity to gain a cross cultural perspective and connect with students from different countries. Moreover, I have the opportunity to connect with those students through language and a shared passion for learning.

I also chose to complete a virtual internship because I’m constantly pursuing opportunities to expand my experience in education and to become aware of different cultural practices and values. As a future early childhood educator, I know I’ll be working with families and children from diverse backgrounds and cultures. When building relationships with these students and families, it’s essential that I have an open mind and am able to integrate their values and culture into my classroom. As a virtual intern, I’m constantly interacting with another culture, learning with every interaction.

How did you manage your home workspace and schedule?

To manage my schedule, I plan my week with a day planner. I write down all the assignments and events occurring for the coming week, and note down my personal deadlines. For daily work, I keep a “to-do” list that tracks my daily tasks and assignments. In my online calendar, I place alerts on each event, so I’m able to prepare for each event as needed. For example, I have a weekly reminder for my virtual internship, which is set to go off a day before my internship is scheduled. This alert allows me to review the material in advance of our discussions the following day.

I currently live in an on-campus dorm room, so my home workspace is limited. To manage my space, I create a clean desk area and surround myself with positive messages that help me persevere throughout the day. I try to follow the common message of “a clean workspace equals clear mind.” I find that if my workspace is cluttered, it is more difficult to focus and I become more easily stressed. I conduct my internship sessions in a separate space in my room, which I completely clear of all distractions. When I am working with my students, I want to focus all of my attention on them and the lesson.

What steps did you take to learn about your employer's home culture? Were you able to socialize or engage in any additional activities or advising sessions that expanded the cultural learning component of your experience?

At the beginning of each internship session, I research my students’ home countries to get background information on their culture and values. Although I knew I would learn about their culture through our Spanish-language discussions, I thought it was respectful to take initiative to conduct my own research before meeting students. Before the first training session, program staff provided resources to research about the various countries represented through the student population, including information on the countries’ core values, beliefs, symbols, traditions, and official languages.

Outside of the Spanish discussions, training sessions, and background research, I was not able to socialize or engage in activities or sessions that expanded the cultural learning component of my experience. That being said, cross-cultural learning is an integral part of the virtual internship experience. Spanish conversations are guided by the students in discussions about different elements of culture, such as food, art and music. Students are encouraged to expand on and share personal experiences about the given prompts or questions that teachers provide.

Describe a situation during your virtual international internship that required you to use your cross-cultural awareness and adaptability.

During one of my recent English lessons, I noticed that several students were missing from the Zoom call. It wasn’t until one of the students noted that they were on spring vacation that I realized why so many were absent, and understood that their country was operating on a different schedule. Once it was brought to my attention, I decided to adapt my lesson to the interest of my students: their spring vacations.

Instead of focusing on reviewing basic conversational skills and vocabulary, I created a list of activities the students were planning over their vacation. I noticed an instant increase in the level of participation, excitement and engagement in the lesson. The students were clearly excited to think about their break and we had a rich and engaging discussion as a result of my decision to adapt the lesson to their experience. This lesson not only applied my cross-cultural awareness and adaptability, but it also applied one of the fundamental principles of teaching: follow the students’ lead.

Do you have advice for others hoping to pursue virtual international internships?

I recommend seriously considering it! Virtual international internships provide unique opportunities to build international connections without the expense of travel. Furthermore, these internships inherently strengthen cross-cultural perspectives, awareness and understanding. Not only will you gain experience in a particular field of study, but you will also strengthen your communication skills by interacting and working with people from another country!

For those interested in a virtual international internship, I suggest searching for opportunities that align with your career and industry interests. Specifically, search for opportunities for which you already have experience. This will increase the likelihood that you will get accepted into the position. For example, I decided to pursue an internship with Outreach360 because the position fulfilled two of my passions: language and teaching.

What are your future plans for international learning, travel and/or your career? 

I have several future plans for international learning and travel. During my undergraduate program, I plan on completing a summer study abroad program in Salamanca, Spain to improve my Spanish language skills and immerse in a new culture. While student teaching in my senior year, I also plan to complete some of the requirements abroad in Ireland. Through these study and work abroad experiences, I hope to continue to strengthen my cross-cultural perspective and build new international connections.

Although I do not have any formal plans for international travel in the near future, I am beginning to formulate plans to backpack across Europe with a group of friends in the summer of 2023 — the summer after graduation. Throughout the past year, I have looked into Fulbright programs for teaching abroad after completing my undergraduate degree, and I hope to spend a part of my teaching career abroad in a Spanish-speaking country.

Advice from MyWorldAbroad
Jean-Marc Hachey, Publisher, MyWorldAbroad

Meghan’s understanding of the importance of cross-cultural skills to her future career is impressive. We commend her! It’s true that no matter where she works, her career is likely to have global elements and she’ll be interacting with people from diverse cultural backgrounds. Her commitment to cross-cultural experience, understanding and adaptability will boost Meghan’s future career potential. We also commend her for her forward-thinking planning about how she will be incorporating international travel and immersion into her future studies. We also suggest that she includes travel to a contrasting destination, for example teaching English in Asia or Eastern Europe. No doubt this experience would expand her global understanding even more. Good luck!

Meghan's Next Steps
Advice from MyWorldAbroad
by the founder of MyWorldAbroad
Jean-Marc Hachey
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