The availability of virtual internships has grown rapidly in recent years. These opportunities are attractive to students for various reasons, including being able to choose from a wider array of companies without regard for geographical location. For international students (who should speak with their university before accepting any internship opportunity), gaining experience with an American business can be very valuable, but there are several advantages and disadvantages to consider first:
As an international student, you need not be limited to opportunities within your college town. You can apply for promising virtual internships in cities like Chicago, New York, and San Francisco, among others. All you will need is a computer that allows for video conferencing and a strong Internet connection.
Virtual internships often involve tasks for specific projects that are discussed in advance, which may limit the amount of “busy work” (like running errands) that you receive. You may also have some flexibility in your schedule, which can enable you to pursue other interests outside of work. You will not have to physically report to an office, thus eliminating commuting headaches.
Finally, you do not have to wait until there is a break in your school schedule to complete an internship. Instead, you can apply for and participate in an opportunity whenever it becomes available.
Even though you may relish the chance to craft your own schedule, you will have to be especially mindful of remaining on task. Planning your responsibilities with your internship supervisor can help you ensure that your workload is manageable, and that the project goals are achievable within your internship timeframe.
The virtual environment may also mean that you forego lessons that you may have learned while working in an office environment. Items like corporate culture, office etiquette, networking, professionalism, and workplace camaraderie cannot be experienced as easily when remote.
You will not have the advantage of walking to your supervisor’s office whenever you have a question. Due to time zones, it may take several hours or days for you to receive feedback on a project. You may risk being overlooked if things become very busy at the office.
It is also important to ensure that you have thoroughly researched the company. The terms of your internship (for instance, whether it is paid or unpaid) should be noted in writing. Unfortunately, you may stumble across unscrupulous organizations who hope to take advantage of students. If any information seems too good to be true, ask questions and seek out testimonials from previous interns.
As more workplaces move toward allowing their employees to telecommute, virtual internships are gaining in popularity. These internships are a great option for many students, including those from other countries. Though they differ from traditional internships in many ways, a virtual internship can still provide needed workplace experience for university students.
Niki Bridges is a contributing writer for UniversityTutor.com, the world’s largest global marketplace for finding independent tutors.