As we put on our swim vests my boss yelled, “Who wants to capsize!?” I was taken aback that this white-haired professional seemingly wanted to throw himself straight into the powerful river current.
We were white water rafting as part of a team-building day with my host company in Malaysia, and my boss yelled this right before we capsized our raft for the second time that day. Luckily no one was hurt. It was a great deal of fun and that boss was one of the best I've ever had. You never know where you'll end up when you intern abroad!
I studied international business and trade at Zealand Academy of Technologies and Business in Denmark, and although my degree had built-in internship slots, there was actually no international component offered. So, a few of us took it upon ourselves to build a partnership with a university abroad. As a result, I got lucky and was able to spend a semester at the University of Malaya, which I then managed to extend into an internship with a local outsourcing company in Malaysia, named Vedel IT. This internship was an eye-opener and a big career booster for me.
Going Abroad Kickstarted My Career
I’m currently based in Vietnam, working at a healthcare start-up (and managing the Expat Vault blog), but it was the international internships undertaken during my studies that set me on the path to career success abroad.
I undertook several internships during my studies, trying to find a way to stand out to future employers. I interned at agencies, bought TV advertising for some of the biggest brands on the planet, worked at a well-known travel start-up, and more. And I actually ended up completing more internships abroad than at home.
My internship in Malaysia, with a local outsourcing company, stands out because it demonstrates what is truly possible when we take the plunge, go abroad and take advantage of every opportunity.
This six-month internship started out unexciting. I was asked to do surveys and research potential clients in my native language. This could have been somewhat boring, but I made sure to offer my services for other campaigns and help out in other areas of the business.
At the time, I didn’t know much about online marketing, apart from what I’d learned through personal projects in my spare time. Still, even this level of experience ended up being hugely valuable because no one else at the company had similar knowledge. In the end, I became responsible for doing most of the company’s digital marketing campaigns and gained valuable experience that, unbeknownst to me, would set me up for a job abroad further down the road. All because I was willing to take on extra challenges and make the most of my unique package of skills and abilities.
Taking Your Skills Abroad
I was surprised to find that, in the office abroad, no one cared if I was proficient in the local language. They found it more valuable that I was fluent in my mother tongue, because I could better connect with clients from my home country. I became an invaluable resource for client communications and was able to ensure that nothing was mistranslated or misunderstood.
For business students, I think the biggest challenge when looking for a first job after graduation is how to set yourself apart from other candidates. Our studies don’t seem immediately useful in the real world, so it’s hard to know how to sell yourself for positions. Hiring managers also seem to find it challenging to see the connection between our studies, our internships, our extra-curriculars and the value we might bring to their organizations.
However, when you go abroad and work with companies who have an interest in your home country, your value and potential is obvious. I found that getting hired by a business abroad as a recent graduate was actually easier than getting hired at home, because my innate value as a worker was crystal clear. As someone with an understanding of my home country’s business culture and language, I could offer in-depth knowledge to the Malaysian team, even without prior experience in their industry.
Connecting with Experts & Friends
When I first considered working abroad, I felt confused about the options. I only imagined typical “international” jobs, like working as a diplomat or in the oil and gas industry. But this is where it became important to seek out experts in the field of international careers (like MyWorldAbroad). There are so many ideas and pathways to international careers that I had no idea existed until I started doing in-depth research and connecting with experienced expats.
Through networking and research, I realized that there might actually be opportunities abroad in my industry. And I discovered what I feel has been the biggest insight interning abroad: the hidden job market.
There are typically two ways to find a good internship or job abroad: apply online or discover hidden jobs through friends. The latter has become my go-to strategy since moving abroad.
Although when I first moved abroad I was concerned that making friends would be a challenge, I quickly discovered that networking with expats is actually easier – and more powerful – than making friends at home. There’s an instant connection between fellow expats abroad, and I’ve found that the further from home we travel, the more this tends to apply.
Many expats get bitten by the long-term travel bug and, instead of doing one job and heading home, they stay abroad and relocate for new assignments. By developing long-term relationships with these people, you can tap into insider opportunities and “hidden jobs” via your expat friends. I’ve seen this happen so many times you wouldn’t believe it.
My internship in Malaysia gave me the insight that one of my biggest assets was actually my nationality. With that insight, I went on holiday in a new country and, while there, I reached out to Danish companies with offices there. This led to a casual coffee meeting, interesting restaurant discoveries and, ultimately, a connection with my future boss. All because of a seemingly casual expat meet-up over coffee.
If you're interested in an international career, the one thing I'd leave you with is to go abroad, and reach out to experts and expats. You might be surprised at the opportunities that await you when you dream big!
Aske’s fascinating story demonstrates the power of going abroad and the value of remaining open to new opportunities and adventures. His positive and resourceful attitude sets an excellent example for all globally minded young people. We particularly appreciate his insights into finding hidden opportunities via expat networks while abroad. Aske has also gone the extra mile of beginning to share his expat insights with others on his blog, the Expat Vault, which is definitely worth a visit. In order to expand his cultural palette, Aske might one day also pursue professional opportunities in another contrasting region of the world, such as South America or Africa. We wish him luck! Some articles for others interested in long-term travel:
- The Global You: This is the foundational concept for living a global life. Discover the eight components of the Global You and learn how to integrate and improve them.
- The 10 Global Competencies: Anyone interning or working abroad will need a solid grasp of these competencies.
- How to Survive Your First International Internship: Heading abroad like Aske? Dive into this article for some top tips on how to make the most of your internship.
- Everyday Skills for Succeeding Abroad: Thinking of going abroad long-term? This is a crucial article for you!