By the time you read this, I will—hopefully—already be moved into an apartment in Paris, ready to start my third and final co-op at a French public relations agency. Getting to the land of wine and cheese, however, was not easy.
The idea of an international co-op is incredibly alluring, but it’s not without its challenges. If you’re interested in working abroad but don’t know where to start, here are my best tips for your planning process.
Figure out how you want to find a job.
There are three main ways:
- Go through Northeastern: The school has some great connections overseas, but if you’re expecting MyNEU COOL to have 20 pages of jobs in your chosen country like it does for Boston, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.
- Contact a provider: The co-op office can direct you to a number of companies that specialize in placing students at foreign internships. You’re almost guaranteed to get a job, but it’s not cheap. More on that later.
- Self developing: While it’s arguably the most infuriating/stressful method, it also gives you the most control over where you go and what you do.
Along those same lines, once you accept a job, start working on your visa as soon as humanly possible. Unless you’re #blessed, it will take longer than you think.
Do your research early.
I cannot emphasize this enough. Before you even accept a job, look into what your desired country’s visa and/or labor requirements are, as this is where many people, myself included, run into problems. For example, I originally accepted an unpaid internship in France, only to find out a week later that not paying interns is illegal there so I couldn’t take the position. I had to totally start over, all while panicking that my life/dreams/co-op were falling apart. Don’t let that be you.
Don’t rule out low paying jobs or working with providers.
I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but international co-ops are not usually your ticket to wealth—you’re likely going to take an unpaid or stipend-based job, or pay a company to place you in an internship. It’s not as bad as it seems, though. Providers’ program costs often include housing, which is a major expense depending on where you go, and you can get up to $6,000 from Northeastern if you apply for the Presidential Global Scholarship.
Think outside the box when looking for housing.
I had great luck with the housing share website Airbnb, through which you can opt to rent a room in someone’s home (as I did) or someone’s entire apartment. It’s often cheaper than traditional rentals and comes with the benefit of making contact with a local who can give you recommendations and answer questions.
Other ways to tackle housing: Ask your company for suggestions, look into a homestay or long-term hostel, or ask nearby universities if they let foreign students stay in the dorms.
Consider things outside of your job that you’ll need to do.
Don’t get caught up in the excitement of travel and forget about the mundane parts of everyday life. Look into things like public transportation passes, opening bank accounts, getting to your new home from the airport, and so on before you leave the comforts of American Internet and cell service. That stuff feels overwhelming sitting in your bedroom at home, so just imagine how it would feel on a terrible connection in an Internet café in Barcelona.
Try to understand the work culture of where you’re going.
I’ll be honest: For someone used to the fast-paced, efficiency-oriented American business style, it was jarring to adjust to how other countries work. (Let’s just say the French aren’t stressing about deadlines.) Try not to freak out if someone doesn’t respond to your email in less than an hour.
Have backup plans for your backup plans.
Maybe I just have terrible luck, but my job hunt was incredibly stressful and often looked like it wouldn’t work out. If you’re going to try to go abroad, know that the process is typically far harder than applying for domestic jobs, and plan accordingly. Decide what you’ll do if, say, your job turns out to be illegal (classic) or you get denied a visa. You can’t control what happens, but at least you’ll be kind of sort of semi-prepared.