Interning Abroad

Brandenburg Gate

And did I mention I walked into the U.S. Embassy every day, in sight of the Brandenburg Gate? That remained a surreal feeling throughout the summer.

When I left Germany after studying abroad for 10 months, the first thing I did was start trying to figure out how to get back. I didn’t care what I did, as long as it was in Germany! That’s probably not the best criteria when it comes to applying for international internships. In fact, it’s definitely not the best criteria, but if I’m honest, it was the initial motivating factor.

My first international internship was at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, Germany in the Cultural Affairs & Exchanges Section. The U.S. Department of State Student Internship Program offers unpaid internships around the world during the summer, fall, and spring terms. After months of waiting, receiving an offer contingent upon passing a background check, and waiting again, I finally received an official offer from the Public Affairs section of the U.S. Embassy in Berlin. All in all, it was a total of about 7 months from application deadline to receiving my official offer.

That summer, with Berlin as my backdrop, I gained confidence in public speaking by leading discussions on topics ranging from the American political system to how to be a German-American cultural ambassador. I also had the opportunity to visit local schools to talk to German students. I learned about the inner-workings of an embassy and heard stories from career diplomats as well as the local staff, who are the life force of all embassies. Importantly, I also figured out that life as a Foreign Service Officer isn’t for me; I realized that I don’t have it in me to move around every 2-3 years and that’s okay with me.

I started graduate school right after I finished my internship, thinking that a degree in German Literature and practical experience teaching German as a Foreign Language (two things I both really like) would be a perfect fit. And in many ways they were; I loved teaching from the moment I started, even though I’d had a false start teaching English abroad in less than ideal circumstances.

The summer after my first year of graduate school I applied for the Halle Foundation Fellowship, a scholarship and internship placement program for university students in the state of Georgia administered by Cultural Vistas. I knew I wanted to work in a multicultural setting, but I hadn’t yet discovered the field of international education. Cultural Vistas took my experience and interests into consideration and helped place me with not one, but two internships in Berlin.


Never a dull day in the classroom – I took students to visit the Reichstag (German Parliament) on their last day of class.

As a German teacher. Teaching German in Germany? It definitely came as a surprise to me as well and I wasn’t sure what each internship entailed until I showed up in Berlin. Although I had been a Teaching Assistant in German for two semesters at that point, I had never carried a class entirely on my own; I taught by myself, but not every lesson and almost always under the supervision of my mentor.

It was in Germany, then, that I taught my own classes for the first time. I spent six weeks at the Carl Duisberg Training Center, a language school in the center of Berlin. I sat in and observed classes for a few weeks, got to know the students and other teachers and then finally taught my own entry-level classes for the last four weeks of my internship. Being right in the middle of the city had such amazing potential! After my students learned how to ask the prices of things at stores, I took them to the world famous Fassbender & Rausch a few blocks from the language school, where I proudly bragged about my students to the saleswoman as they ordered chocolate by the gram.

The highlight of my summer, however, was teaching a four-week course at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. I didn’t know what to expect when I showed up at my first meeting with my boss, well in advance of the course’s start date. I assumed I’d be assistant-teaching or helping with the logistics of the summer program. But no, I was to teach a 4-week German grammar and culture course, five hours a day, three days a week.

Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial)

Because we were learning about post-war Berlin and the division of Berlin, I took my students to the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial), where students were able to experience history in a hands-on way by seeing the wall and the legacy it has left behind up close.

I was given the opportunity to design the course’s structure and content. I had never written a course syllabus before! Initially, this amount of freedom was exciting. I had so many ideas and no idea how to rein myself in. I wrote my lesson plans with the help of a textbook, but the summer language program fees did not cover the cost of this book for my students. Thus, while I used the textbook as a basis for many of the topics I covered, I created a lot of the content myself, drawing on texts and videos I had previously used at my home university and thinking of ways to make this course mean something to my 12 students, all from different countries.

The opportunity to teach German – in Germany of all places – was personally rewarding, because I was able to meet German language learners from all over the world and connect with them over our shared love of the German language and culture. It was also an extremely important professional opportunity for me. I gained confidence in the classroom, which helped me upon returning to the U.S. to teach German at the University of Georgia. And of course it was another opportunity for me to experience the Germany that I have come to know and love.

As I said before, when I did my first international internship, I wasn’t thinking about how an internship might lead to a career, I didn’t think about things like networking, and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. I wish I had made an appointment to talk to someone in my university’s career center or in the Office of International Education, who could have helped me figure out the big picture. But that’s all in the past now and I certainly don’t regret the international internships I’ve done. However, I do consider myself exceedingly lucky that I found and was matched with internships that helped me gain confidence, figure out what I wanted to do, and that challenged me every single day.

I’ve compiled some helpful links (or links that I would have liked to have had before I ventured out into the world of interning abroad) to guide you on your way:

Rachael Taft of Girl, Unmapped fame has written all about international internships over at the blog, including a list of scholarships (happy to see lots of opportunities in Germany represented on that list!) and why it costs money to intern abroad (a particularly good read if you’re skeptical like I was).

Whichever route you decide to go – whether you’re looking for internships on your own and targeting companies and organizations you would like to work for, or you’re working with a placement organization – I wish you good luck!

Emily Caskey is an intern here at Study Abroad Spotlight. She studied abroad in Rostock, Germany for 10 months and interned in Berlin for two summers. To learn more about her experiences abroad, check out her Spotlight! 

Emily Sweeney

Emily studied abroad in Stellenbosch, South Africa. She worked for 5 wonderful years at AIFS, a study abroad program provider based in Connecticut and is now teaching English in M[...]

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