Addressing Culture Shock for a Better Internship Abroad

Categories: Global Mindset, International Education

In this day and age, cultural competence and inclusion are relevant to every sector. No field or organization is exempt from the nuances and complexities that globalization and a diverse workforce naturally create. Because of this, we work with a wide variety of clients, in all types of industries.

We’re proud of the work we do, and the clients we work with. This has inspired us to start a Client Showcase series, to demonstrate the wide range of organizations we work with, and how our tools are used in different contexts to help create positive and sustainable change.

For our first article in the series, we have the privilege of sharing a story from Emily Tong, Senior Program Coordinator for World Internships. She witnessed first hand the negative impact culture shock can have on internships abroad, at times cutting short the intern experience entirely.

As a service provider, World Internships pairs students, recent graduates and young professionals with internship programs in a wide range of fields around the world.

The majority of our interns are upperclassmen university students or just out of university and preparing to join the workforce. Our interns tend to be between the ages of 20 to 30 years old and come from all over the world. The majority are from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

Our interns work in many different fields in 12 different countries spanning 5 continents. Most of the internships are with small teams and integrated roles within organizations.

As our interns pay for their experience, the success of internships is extremely important to our business. Anything that could impede the success of an internship is a major concern.

Culture shock is a big threat to ending global internships early and can have a very negative impact on the internship experience overall. Most internships are between six and twelve weeks, however, some interns that struggle with culture shock find it too difficult being in a foreign place and come home early.

We recognized that we needed to do a better job of providing education and training to prevent culture shock, and improve our internship success rate.

GlobeSmart helps us with the exact gap we were struggling with. We introduce interns to the platform about two months before their departure and give them access for up to six months. We encourage our interns to take the GlobeSmart Profile assessment so they can understand their own cultural work style. Then, we encourage them to compare their Profile with their internship country and read through the country’s Culture Guide. We suggest they explore Core Knowledge, Communication, Protocol, and Travel content.

About three weeks before they leave, we conduct a pre-departure orientation where we discuss and debrief their GlobeSmart Profile and Culture Guide findings. It is the perfect way to open up discussion around cultural differences and culture shock and talk through any questions or concerns they might have.

It helps interns prepare for cultural differences they will experience and also adjust their own cultural expectations. For example, I worked with an intern who was very task and certainty oriented and liked for things to be very orderly. Before she left for her internship in Morocco, I leveraged the GlobeSmart Profile and Culture Guides to illustrate how different the culture is there compared to what she was used to. I was able to prepare her for a much more relaxed culture, where things aren’t always on a strict schedule, and where relationships and risk are highly valued.

She told me that when she got to Morocco, she found that public transportation did not run according to the printed schedule. Instead of getting frustrated, she remembered this is likely due to a cultural difference, which she was able to acknowledge and respect. The cultural preparation from GlobeSmart saved her a lot of stress, time, and energy.

Overall, GlobeSmart allows us to get our interns into a mindset where they can appreciate and enjoy their experience, and not get upset by cultural differences.

Explore how GlobeSmart mentally prepares travelers for cultural differences to prevent culture shock.

About the Author

Emily has worked in the International Education field for over three years. Through working with World Internships and now Kaya Responsible Travel, she acts as the personal advocate and guide in helping interns and students find their place abroad. Emily is a Bowdoin ‘11 graduate receiving a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Visual Arts. She has spent quite a bit of time overseas, with extended time in teaching photography in Varanasi, India; Studying abroad in Tasmania, Australia; Teaching English in Hefei, China; and working and hiking in beautiful New Zealand. Emily’s goal is to provide guidance and perspective for young professionals engaging with new communities.