Beyond study abroad: work, volunteer and intern opportunities around the world

By Susan Meyer

In today’s globalized world, more young people are looking for jobs, internships and volunteering opportunities abroad. Student interest has increased in this area at the University of Iowa over the past few years as well.

As one of the University’s strategic initiatives is to increase study abroad and internationalization, International Programs’ Study Abroad office has added a Work, Intern, Volunteer Abroad (WIVA) advisor to assist students who are interested in this sort of experience.


Leadenhall Market, London

Before April 2011, the Study Abroad resource room was primarily organized only by geographic region. There wasn’t an area specifically designed to provide information to students who wanted to work or volunteer abroad, and there wasn’t a specific advisor to answer general questions related to this area.

Students looking for WIVA information first had to sift through large amounts of information from each geographical region in order to find potential work, intern or volunteer opportunities. Then they had to search through all of the programs they found for one that met their interests. Then they could talk to the advisor that specializes in that region, but they may not have had specific information about the program they had chosen.

Now, with the addition of WIVA advisor Leslie McNeilus, the process will be easier for students.

McNeilus has a lot of experience working and living abroad. She has studied abroad in Austria and England, interned in London after graduate school at the American Intercontinental University, and was later offered a job as an Onsite Advisor/Internship Coordinator with Academic Solutions in London, where she stayed for six years.

These experiences make her an invaluable member of the Office for Study Abroad, and a great resource for UI students.

“My experiences abroad have been filled with the extraordinary, the mundane, and everything in between. Living in London for several years was a rare opportunity to experience life from a different perspective, to absorb the subtleties of another culture, and to be surrounded by people and ideas from across the globe,” McNeilus said.

It is her goal to one day have specialized WIVA programs sorted by area of interest and geographical region.

For now, McNeilus can give students a broad resource list of organizations that offer WIVA opportunities and advise students on what to expect and look for when searching.

There are programs available to suit every interest, from business to theater to political science. The resource lists include institutions and organizations familiar to students such as Arcadia University, Habitat for Humanity and the Peace Corps, as well as many that are lesser-known.


Kelly Diggins

Kelly Diggins interned in London, England, during the summer of 2011 before graduating from the UI in August. She interned through the EUSA program offered by the Tippie College of Business (however, you do not have to be a business major to participate).

EUSA is a non-profit organization that works with universities to provide students with academically-directed internships. Diggins interned at public relations agency Weber Shandwick and its sister agency, Rogers and Cowan.

She had the opportunity to work on accounts such as Oreo, Mobil 1 and Jacob’s Creek wine, and she worked with clients regarding prop/brand placement in films and television shows.

Diggins says of her experience, “I was definitely out of my comfort zone and challenged every day, but if it would’ve been easy, I don’t think it would’ve been worth it. Just living in a big city such as London was an amazing, eye opening experience. It’s such a diverse city with so many different cultures. You don’t get that a lot in Midwest America.”

She believes that interning abroad is a different experience than just studying abroad.

“You’re completely immersed in this different culture by being in the work environment. I loved walking to the office every day and feeling like a local Londoner.”

Working abroad can give students a completely different view of the world, which employers like to have, Diggins explained. With this experience on her resume, Diggins stood out to employers and it helped her land a job as a college coach at Admission Possible in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Study Abroad at the UI hopes to develop its own WIVA programs to offer more internship and volunteering possibilities abroad. This year, they have developed an alternative spring break course abroad (March 10-18, 2012) in Costa Rica, where students will learn about sustainability through volunteer work and experiential learning.

This one-credit class can be applied towards the Sustainability Certificate offered by the University and will be taught by Professor Craig Just. More information about this specific program is available on ISIS and the Study Abroad website.

So far, the WIVA area of the Office for Study Abroad has been well received by students and promises to develop into a well-organized, user friendly area.

To start your own search for WIVA opportunities, visit Leslie McNeilus at the Office for Study Abroad in 1111, University Capitol Center.

Susan Meyer is a UI senior majoring in international studies and English.

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