International Students Offer Advice About US Internships

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By Kate Sitarz
Last updated on December 5, 2023

Connecting international students with top US companies, the Career Accelerator helps students find opportunities to get hands-on experience. Several students share what it is like to have online and work-from-home internships.

A female international student participating in a Shorelight Career Accelerator internship stands next to her male colleague holding a laptop in front of potted trees in an office

An exclusive service for students attending Shorelight partner universities, the Career Accelerator is designed to help international students build their resumes, develop critical skills, and grow their professional networks. 

Even if you are currently studying remotely from your home country, you can still participate in internships with top US companies. Career Accelerator Premium connects students with employers and helps them through the application process, allowing students to work remotely from anywhere in the world and remain eligible for the full duration of optional practical training (OPT) and curricular practical training (CPT) work visas.

Additionally, both programs offer opportunities to build critical skills, such as refining your resume and perfecting your elevator pitch. 

“At the beginning, I had no idea about how to get my internship in the United States,” recalls Shan, a University of South Carolina International Accelerator student who is majoring in hospitality management. She says her career advisor helped her rewrite her resume, apply to jobs, and prepare for her interviews, which ultimately landed her an internship with Marriott Vacation Club in Hilton Head, South Carolina. 

I got more confident from this process.” – Shan, University of South Carolina International Accelerator student and Marriott Vacation Club intern

Shan is just one of many Career Accelerator students who have successfully completed internships. Read on for advice from Shan and other international students on why internships are so important and how you can gain professional experience at a top US company.

Internships Build Your Resume 

Internships allow you to apply what you learn in the classroom to real-world scenarios and help you gain valuable hands-on experience, which you can include on your resume. For students looking to get hired by US companies, having a resume with practical work experience is crucial. 

For Shanshan, a USC student studying business administration, that meant working at multiple internships. First, she developed her leadership skills as a peer tutor. Next, she participated in a two-year internship with AgFirst Farm Credit Bank, working in two different departments. 

She was then accepted to attend the Deloitte National Leadership Conference before being hired as a risk and financial advisory consultant within Deloitte’s IT Audit Department. 

Andrea, a civil engineering student also at USC, had a similar experience. She strengthened her leadership skills as a resident mentor before working as a field engineer intern at the USC Center for Applied Innovation and Advanced Research. She then served as a research assistant for a pavement performance data project with the USC Undergraduate Research department.

“I currently work as an entry-level engineer for the Site Development Department at Hussey Gay Bell, an engineering and consulting firm,” she shares. She helps prepare engineering calculations, reports, construction drawings, and permitting documents. “I also train under a South Carolina licensed professional engineer, which counts towards my four-year work requirements to get my professional license.”

Dari, an Adelphi University student who interned with the United Nations, had the opportunity to take on a variety of resume-building projects. Even though she started her internship in person and it went remote, she was still extremely busy writing articles about the UN’s Sustainable Development goals and moderating an event, packed with influential people in Russian-speaking countries, in Russian. “There was so much responsibility,” she recalls. “The speakers and participants were so welcoming, though.” 

Internships Help You Develop Critical Skills

Besides applying skills you learned in the classroom to actual work challenges, internships help you develop soft skills, too. Whereas hard skills are the knowledge and training you have gained from classroom or work experience, soft skills are how you operate in a workplace, and include communication, teamwork, and “due diligence,” as USC student Reynard recalls learning during his internship at Ernst & Young Indonesia.

Hard skills are easier to teach in a classroom setting. One of the few ways to work on soft skills is by role-playing scenarios or getting real experience. For Vy, a USC student, taking an on-campus job with dining services allowed her to work on her interpersonal and communication skills before she graduated. Strengthening her skills helped her land a job in the London office of the Omerta Group, a leader in executive search.

These skills are sometimes overlooked, as Shrikant, a Cleveland State University student, pointed out. Shrikant completed a virtual internship with Koch Disruptive Technologies and emphasizes how important both hard and soft skills are to landing a job. “International students only think … having the knowledge to a particular sector is important to landing a job. But what I realized is the more skills you have [and] the more knowledge you have, the better your chances are for employment.” 

For students who are worried about English being their second (or third, or fourth) language, an internship gives you an opportunity to improve your language skills. As Maoqin shared, his work-from-home internship at Facebook “offered a valuable chance for me to communicate with my manager and other students.” 

Maoqin, who studies at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, also worked on his research and presentation skills. “I built a robust understanding of new media ... I learned so much about how to develop and contribute research-based marketing insights critical to corporate growth.” 

Internships Grow Your Network

If your internship offers mentoring opportunities, be sure to participate! Mentors from your organization can share feedback for what you are doing well and what you need to work on, and can help you improve both your hard and soft skills. Additionally, working closely with a mentor who is an expert in your field can provide one-on-one guidance, both during your internship and after.

The people you work with at your internship also form a global network of individuals who can connect you with other experts in your industry. The introductions others can make will help you further expand your network, even beyond the company you are working with. 

“USC and [the] Career Accelerator gave me a lot of networking opportunities,” says Shanshan, citing on-campus recruitment and career fairs as a great way to connect with potential employers. 

“My advice for a student [who] wanted to come here to study is do not be shy, just be yourself and reach out to people,” emphasizes Vy. “People here are very friendly and they are eager to help you with anything you need.”

Regardless of what you want to pursue, your Career Accelerator advisors can connect you with the people and experiences that will help you move forward toward your dream job. “They made me more confident about myself on the possibilities that I could reach,” says Reynard.

Shanshan agrees: “I feel confident about my future career.”

Discover how Shorelight can help set you up for career success