The University of Iowa

Virtual internships provide UI students the opportunity to gain relevant, global experience

August 24th, 2020

University of Iowa students aren’t letting the current Covid-19 pandemic put a damper on their aspirations to gain relevant, global experience in the form of international internships.

While international travel is on hold at the moment, alternatives exist in the form of virtual internships—experiences that offer many of the same aspects of a traditional in-person internship such as interacting with supervisors and colleagues, completing projects, and learning about the host country’s work culture. An added benefit of the virtual internship format is the opportunity for students to gain remote working skills—important to the new reality many professionals face today.

We caught up with three students who have recently completed a virtual internship to learn about their experiences:

Sara Gallaher, UI student pursuing a master of arts degree in strategic communication, completed a virtual internship at Centro Superior de Idiomas de la Universidad de Alicate in Alicante, Spain

Sara Gallaher, UI student pursuing a master of arts degree in strategic communication, completed a virtual internship at Centro Superior de Idiomas de la Universidad de Alicate in Alicante, Spain
KayLee Kuehl, UI student pursuing a bachelor of arts degree with a double major (art; English and creative writing), completed a virtual internship at TRANS Magazine through an NGO in Amsterdam, Netherlands

KayLee Kuehl, UI student pursuing a bachelor of arts degree with a double major (English and creative writing), completed a virtual internship at TRANS Magazine through an NGO in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Jiamin Xu, UI student pursuing a BBA degree in finance, completed a virtual internship at the Leonardo Group in Rome, Italy

Jiamin Xu, UI student pursuing a BBA degree in finance, completed a virtual internship at the Leonardo Group in Rome, Italy

What is your role/what are your responsibilities? 

Sara Gallaher: I am working in the promotions department, as a social media/content creator intern.  I worked on promotional materials, prepared a survey, collected and researched information and promotional pictures, helped update pictures for a website, created videos and information for an Instagram campaign, etc. 

KayLee Kuehl: I transcribed podcasts, proofread English translations, and wrote an article/published a scene of my full length play focused on allyship to the Trans community; as cisgendered writers, can we create Trans characters? And if we can, what do we need to learn/unlearn about the media’s historically awful portrayals of Trans people?

Jiamin Xu: I work as a finance intern. I assist the financial manager’s work and provide assistance in fund-raising considering all the range of potential sources of finance both for particular investment projects and for complex business development programs. I also work on market industry research projects, as well as detailed financial analysis.

Do you find the work rewarding? 

Sara Gallaher: Yes, I have done a lot to expand my knowledge of work tools, and I enjoyed the connection to Spain and the culture and language.  

KayLee Kuehl: Absolutely! It was an opportunity for me to grow on a technical and interpersonal level. Being multiracial, much of what I learned about Trans stereotypes in (American) media paralleled with African-American caricature. My journey with TRANS Magazine was one filled with soul-searching and introspective reflection, and I am new and improved because of that. I encourage everyone reading this to watch the documentaries, ‘Disclosure,’ (Trans history) and ‘Ethnic Notions,’ (African-American history). Both films are examples of intersectional connections, and offer wonderful teachings for people looking to be better allies.

Jiamin Xu: My communication and writing skills improved a lot during the internship. In addition, I have more understanding of financial manager’s daily work. I also have more understanding of project management because I participate in the project evaluation process.

What do you see as the benefits of completing a virtual international internship? 

Sara Gallaher: You get work and language experience.  I was able to have a cultural connection with Spain, while gaining specific job skills for promotions and social media. 

KayLee Kuehl: It creates space for remote connections. Even though at this point in time a pandemic keeps us apart, fruitful relationships and experiences can still develop!

Jiamin Xu:

  1. As an international student from China, English is my second language. Because I need to communicate with my supervisor and colleagues in English, my communication skill and writing skill has improved. 
  2. I have become more patient.
  3. My business communication skills have improved.
  4. Applied professional knowledge learned from college in the real-life work environment.
  5. I can write this internship experience in my resume.
  6. My time management skills have improved.

Do you see this experience being beneficial to your future career? 

Sara Gallaher: Yes, I plan to go into social media marketing/content creation. 

KayLee Kuehl: Yes! I would love to work with another international nonprofit organization. Currently, and thankfully, I’m still helping out TRANS Magazine!

Jiamin Xu: Yes. It helped me find the industry and position which I am interested in.

How has your virtual international internship strengthened your intercultural communication skills? 

Sara Gallaher: I have a better understanding of working within different time zones and I really enjoyed practicing my Spanish.  

KayLee Kuehl: One of the most important things I came away with, was to not be afraid to ask questions. It seems general, but I am someone who worries, to a fault, about stepping on other people’s toes. My internship experience helped me grow from this initial fear and shape it into a more empathetic tool; researching my question for my article also taught me how to properly ask specific questions.

Jiamin Xu: My experience made me more patient and helped me understand workplace communication and the communication habits and practices in my host country of Italy. I also learned more about communication tools such as WhatsApp.

Do you complete your work in English, or in another language? 

Sara Gallaher: I did most work in English, but I did some in Spanish, and had some time to speak Spanish during our Zoom check in calls. 

KayLee Kuehl: In English, however my article does include some Nepali.

Jiamin Xu: In English.

How has your virtual international internship strengthened your confidence and/or adaptability? 

Sara Gallaher: I think I am now more confident working remotely, especially with different time zones.  I also have more experience and confidence now with promoting my ideas and putting together videos and promotional campaign information. 

KayLee Kuehl: Specifically, I feel much more confident transcribing— that’s for sure! It’s something I’d love to continue doing in the near-future. Aside from that, I feel confident in my ability to dissect specific questions, research ideologies/philosophies, and understanding how to continue being a good ally— the kind I would want for myself.

Jiamin Xu: My colleagues are patient. They encouraged me to talk my thoughts and asked questions. I adapted their work rhythm.

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