Internships and Beyond

Summer Internships in Asia

Teddy O. Amoloza, Illinois Wesleyan University

Establishing internships in Asia is a tricky and challenging endeavor. We can make use of third party providers like reputable study abroad organizations or a number of for-profit organizations in the international education arena. However, cost could be prohibitive and our students may not be able to afford giving up several weeks of their summer during which they could be earning money for the following year’s school expenses and pay for internship in Asia or anywhere abroad.  The opportunity to intern abroad becomes very attractive if the internship could be supported by internal or external grants; these grants however have a cap on how much to support per student. If third party internship providers are not affordable, we could use our network in Asia to establish partners that will accept students for internships. This short piece will discuss how Illinois Wesleyan University, with a grant from the Freeman Foundation,  successfully created an internship program in five countries in Asia sending an average of 30 students every summer until the program was suspended in 2020 due to the pandemic. The internship provided opportunity for our students to experience working and living with Asians in a setting completely unfamiliar to them thus challenging their sense of independence and enabling them to appreciate and respect another culture.

In the Beginning

Getting started is like a chicken-and-egg question: do we find qualified students then find internship sites for them or do we find partners then find qualified students. We have two moving targets here and we opted for the latter. Using our network of contacts in Asia, both personal and institutional, we explored various possibilities ranging from partner schools, research institutions, private companies, government institutions, NGOs and similar agencies. We explained to our would-be partners the purpose of the internship, what we expected them to provide to our students, what they can expect of our students, and all other logistical nuances of the placement. In some cases, our partners already have an existing internship program and that worked well for us; in other cases, we had to go through every detail of the program including providing an on-site supervisor to ensure that students would not be overlooked in the office. Once they agreed to work with us, they wrote a brief description of their institution/agency, the nature of the work, the skills students must possess, length and date of internship (anywhere from six to ten weeks depending upon the need and schedule of the place) and other details related to each site. The partnership agreement paper varies: depending upon the partner, we have Memorandum of Agreement with some that last for several years, or three-party contract (IWU, Asia partner, student intern). For a couple of internships in Japan, we worked with IES Customized Study Abroad program.

We then publicize the various internship opportunities – at one time, in more than a dozen places in five different East and Southeast Asian countries – using every possible venues (faculty meetings, career fest, study abroad fest, word-of-mouth, electronic monitors, classroom visits, information sessions, online information, etc.). Qualifications include a 3.0 GPA, being sophomore or junior (since we want students to return to campus and share their experiences with the campus community). Financial support includes airfare, lodging, placement and visa fees, and living allowance.

Internship in Asia is a study abroad experience that has academic merit and runs parallel to domestic internships. Thus, running the program require concerted efforts and coordination among the International Office/Study Abroad, the Career Center/Internship Office, Academic Affairs; all coordination being overseen by the program director. At the onset, we created a program that has academic integrity so students receive course credit, is synchronized with all the Study Abroad protocols and requirements, and fulfills all the requirements of the Career Center’s Internship Office.

Student Application and Selection

Students submit an application packet consisting of a resumé and two essays – one explaining why they are interested in the internship site chosen, what skills they bring, what they hope to learn; another one sharing their previous experience that would help them adjust to living in a culture very different from their own. They could choose up to three sites indicating their order of preference. They also ask faculty member to send recommendation letter directly through the application portal. A committee consisting of the Study Abroad Director, Internship Director, the Asian Studies Team coordinator and the Freeman Asia Internship Program Director reviews all applications and meet on the first week of February to match student interest with the need of the internship site. In cases where there are more qualified applicants for one site than slots available, the committee considers the applicants’ ranked choices. We always try to place as many qualified students as possible. The process could take a week or so with the students having to rewrite their essays specific to the site they are finally offered placement. Students are told that being offered an internship placement only guarantees financial support but they should still pass the scrutiny of our partner. We send the students’ dossiers to the various sites then our partners contact students for interview. Interviews and confirmation of placements are completed by the end of March. We normally send at least two students per site so the students can mutually support each other. No faculty member accompanies the students to Asia.

Placement Logistics

Upon confirmation of placement, we then find student housing depending upon the internship site; some have their own facility where students can stay; other partners would help us find lodging, others, especially NGOs that do not have staff to spare, would leave it upon us to find a place for the students. In this latter case, it is important to have a support person in the country who could assist in this matter. The support person is also responsible for picking the students from the airport upon arrival, taking them to their place of accommodation and to the internship site. In cases where there is a large group of students arriving at the same time, the support person also organizes a day-long country orientation to familiarize students with daily life and the nuances of the country’s culture. The support person provides additional safety net for students and is the go-to person on matters not related to the internship itself. Partners that have their own internship programs take care of airport pick-up and return, conduct their own orientation, and provide support staff as safety net for students.

The Study Abroad office works with the student in obtaining the proper visa when needed, conducts on-line orientation through a series of modules culminating with in-person general orientation session toward the end of the semester. Another site-specific orientation session is conducted to familiarize students with the country and their placement site, usually with the help of students who went the previous year. Since we need to stay within the cap of the grant, we work with a trusted travel agent in purchasing their plane tickets from/to Chicago O’Hare Airport. Deviations are allowed but students pay the difference in airfare. The university’s insurance covers the students while abroad.

Academic Integrity of the Internship

Students register and pay for summer credit; they receive one course credit for the internship either through their departmental rubric or in cases where the internship does not fulfill major or minor requirement, students receive elective credit toward graduation under a generic university course rubric. In order to ensure the academic integrity of the internship, a student needs to find a faculty supervisor who would monitor the student’s on site activity remotely. An on-site supervisor coordinates with the faculty supervisor about the assigned work and other requirements. As required by the Career Center’s Internship Office, students complete a Learning Contract with the two supervisors. The faculty supervisor outlines what the students need to accomplish, frequency of contact (usually once a week), reports to submit (usually at midterm and at the end). The on-site supervisor assigns work to the intern that would satisfy the objectives stated by the student and approved by the faculty supervisor. Every student is required to have a blog or vlog and post at least once a week. To give students some background on the country, the Asia Internship Library loan each of them a monograph about their country of destination. Some faculty supervisor would assign this as required reading; others would require other reading materials related to the topic that students would explore during the internship. Faculty supervisors receive a small stipend for the summer work; on-site supervisors are paid from the placement fee.

Toward the end of the internship, the Career Center’s Internship Office sends an evaluation form to the on-site supervisor and to the student. In addition, students write a reflection essay used as reference for the report to the Freeman Foundation. In addition to all the other requirements agreed to in the Learning Contract, the faculty supervisor considers the on-site supervisor’s evaluation in assigning the course grade of the student. Faculty supervisors also provide commentary about the student internship.

In the End

To cap the program and to provide students with a venue to share their experience with the campus community, students who were interns in the same site prepare a poster and present at a poster session open to the public. This gives an opportunity for other students to be familiar with the internship program and the internship sites. In addition, some departments require the students to make oral presentations about what they learned on-site as well as their overall experience in the country. Others were asked to share during classes, organization meetings and in informal venues. These word-of-mouth dissemination is most effective in getting other students interested in the program.

For further information, contact Teddy Amoloza at