By BRIAN HENDERSON
Last April, BYU graduate Steve Hales stood at the threshold of his future with one hand clenching his new degree in Russian, and the other hand scratching his head as he wondered, “What will I do next?”
After some sleuthing, a little legwork and a heavy dose of good fortune, he hopped on a flight to Brussels for a six-month internship at NATO.
Last month Hales returned from Belgium, satisfied with the return on his investment. Now he is interviewing with the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C., the World Bank, the IMF and some other high-profile private companies, all of which are impressed by his stint at NATO.
He said he couldn’t overstate the value of his time in Europe. The overseas experience should provide a substantial opportunity for his first job out of college, he said.
“I think people need to be more pro-active as far as setting things up themselves, because the opportunities are out there,” Hales said.
Noting his one regret, he recommended that students get an earlier jump than he did on spending time overseas.
Steve Brossard agreed. He’s a facilitator for programs and internships for Asia in the International Field Study and Internships Office at BYU. The ideal timetable would be to plan as a sophomore to go overseas as a junior, Brossard said.
“The greatest value for me was seeing the world from the perspective of other countries, different from the way the U.S. does,” Hales said.
Along with the cultural aspect, working overseas can lead to job opportunities either with that organization or through contacts made at the organization. Hales set up his internship through a personal contact who had recently returned from NATO.
For those who don’t have any leads, the IFSI Office said it could get people started. Depending on a student’s career interests, the IFSI Office operates to help students find their own international field study, volunteer effort, study abroad or internship while earning college credit.
Brossard stressed that anyone going overseas through the IFSI office must participate in an arranged academic program. However, if courses are not a viable option for certain situations, arrangements for collaborative research efforts with a professor can be made.
“We’re not a placement office,” Brossard said. “We’re here to help people graduate, to help them gain international experience and to help them take courses to enhance their learning while they are abroad.”
Brossard said his office wants students to do their own legwork for finding an international experience.
If a student isn’t concerned with losing a semester of credit, Hales suggested another option.
“The IFSI office does offer opportunities. The development side seems pretty good. But it never hurts to look for opportunities on your own,” Hales said.
International internships span every major and every occupation, but finding the right one requires a willingness to venture into the unknown and create an opportunity Hales said.
“Say, ‘Hey, maybe it is unpaid and not exactly what I was thinking it could be. But in the end, it could be worth it,” Hales said.
According to Hales, the reality is that most internships are weak in substance, offering glorified office management duties. But the point of doing an internship is for exposure, he said.
“Internships are not always that great. In fact, some suck. But it’s the idea of being there and seeing how things work and how professionals run an organization,” Hales said.
Even if a student is graduating, an internship might be the best option, said Carrie Reinfurt, who worked in Belgium a few years ago.
“Interns are much less expensive than paid employees,” she said.
According to Reinfurt, companies hesitate in hiring someone when they haven’t seen their work, so they like to hire interns.
Both Brossard and Hales suggest the Internet as the place to begin an internship search. Then Hales suggested asking yourself if you know anyone who works for a multinational company.
“If you call up a company and say I speak a language and I want to work for your company in this overseas office — if you’ve got those skills, plus whatever other skills you bring to the table, that’s something special,” Hales said.
Hales took his own advice. Now instead of scratching his head, he has a free hand to sign an offer for a great job he might not have run into otherwise.