Saying NO to FOMO: Why Miss Out on Interning Abroad?

Kelly Holland

An entire semester in another country; how did she survive? 14 weeks, 98 days, 2300 hours away from campus. It’s a tough job, but she chose to do it. Who would sign up for something like this? A smart undergraduate, that’s who.


Many students fear being away from what is comfortable, and familiar, for a semester or a summer abroad. In fact it is so prevalent that there’s an acronym for it: FOMO. Its not a neighborhood in Manhattan, but a true psychological phenomenon. Oxford’s online dictionary defines FOMO (abbreviation of fear of missing out) as, “Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media.”

In 2013, Pew Internet started to measure FOMO. How? Through social media. They reasoned that “the more active your friends, the more likely you will check social networks each day.” At the time, Pew reported that more than one-third of users checked social sites more than once every day. In November 2016 as Pew continued to follow the trend they reported, “Roughly three-quarters (76%) of Facebook users report that they visit the site daily (55% visit several times a day, and 22% visit about once per day).”


That’s a whole lot of pictures of the Eiffel Tower (see above), and yes, a lot of pictures about what you might be missing out on, on-campus.

When I see our students post a beautiful meal in Florence, a sunset in Barcelona (see below), or their first photo with Big Ben in London, I feel it, too! FOMO isn’t exclusive to college students. Here at GE we talk to hundreds of students in the process of deciding if they want to intern abroad. Many of these students cite fears of being away from home, family, and their campus. We appreciate a good college football team, and understand how valuable it is to be on campus when the team is fighting for the championship. We also appreciate viewing a sport you’ve never seen before, in a country you’ve never visited, with friends you haven’t met yet. Basically, we’re pros at combating FOMO, and we can help you.

Barcelona Sunset

Instead of focusing on what you might be missing out on at your own campus, look at it from the opposite side: what are you missing out on if you don’t take advantage of an international internship? An internship abroad is an investment in your future career, and in yourself. Consider the statistics:

According to the AAC&U LEAP Challenge:

  • 73% of employers believe that college graduates’ preparation for careers would improve if they were required to complete a significant applied learning project.
  • 91% of employers say that, whatever their major, all students should have experiences in solving problems with people whose views are different than their own.
  • 94% of of employers say they are more likely to hire college graduates who have completed an internship.

Students who intern abroad are in the minority. Even if Facebook makes you feel like everyone else is doing it, the fact is that the percentage is still quite small. The addition of a unique experience like this serves to make you more competitive in the eyes of employers.


According to the 2016 Open Doors report published by the Institute of International Education, 22,400 students participated in non-credit work, internships, and volunteering abroad. Sound like a lot? Less than you think, when there were reportedly 20.5 million students studying in the United States in Fall 2016. Do the math; less than 1% of college students are participating in experiential activities abroad including internships.

Studies tell us that employers are definitely paying attention to these kinds of experiences in their future employees. In one recent survey of 318 companies, 93% of employers cared more about “critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills” than any undergraduate’s concentration. They need hires who can take multiple responsibilities, which requires flexibility and a plethora of skills. “We need to stop worrying about trying to make them experts in very narrow fields,” says Miller. “Instead, let's focus on teaching them the process of learning itself.”

What do employers want? We turned to The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) to review their latest Job Outlook from 2016. They surveyed over 200+ NACE member employers and the results indicated that employers are looking for skills like critical thinking and problem solving, teamwork / collaboration, and oral and written communication, among others.

Barcelona Internship

Good news! Deciding to embark on a personal and professional journey of interning abroad will result in a great deal of those very skills, talents, and experiences that you might not otherwise uncover.

  1. Personal growth. One of my favorite quotes about being abroad is by American writer James Baldwin. He said, “I met a lot of people in Europe. I even encountered myself.” This is a true statement that illustrates how much one person can gain from being somewhere they have not been before.
  2. Increased confidence. I always considered myself to a be a confident person, and that included my prowess in Spanish. That changed when I first sat at my señora’s table in Granada, Spain and listened to a rapid-fire volley of a language I thought I knew. It was humbling, and it resulted in my determination to practice daily, and become a more confident speaker.
  3. Real world work experience. We’ve all had the part-time gig in college where we tended bar, waited tables, or delivered pizzas. While this experience is valuable and important, it also offers only a sliver of what a 9-to-5 job looks and feels like. Getting the jump on this kind of experience will change your perspective on work, and may also update your career path.
  4. Plugging into a global network. Your ability to meet people on a college campus is endless, its true. From the lacrosse team to the French club, you connect with people on a daily basis. Interning abroad allows you to do that with your roommates, co-workers, employer, and friends you don’t yet have from countries you haven’t yet explored.
  5. Seeing things from a new perspective. Maybe you grew up in a small town, and you have always wondered what its like to live in a big city. Maybe the opposite is true. Either way, when you examine your own knowledge with a different lens, you’ll learn a thing or two.
  6. Putting yourself in the shoes of the “other.” Empathy is not something we learn in the classroom, but through experience. As an intern you have a unique opportunity to ask many questions of people who have a role you may one day like to have. So ask away! Learn what its like to do their work, and live in their country.
  7. Increased independence. I didn’t grow up in an area that had robust public transportation so when I moved to Spain and had access to the metro, the train, and a great bus network - I was floored, and also intimidated. Being able to navigate a foreign city on your own is an important experience, one that may translate into an interview with a future employer.
  8. Critical thinking and problem solving. If I take the 8 am flight to Paris, I have to wake up at 5:30 am to catch the 6 am bus and be through security by 6:45 am. This isn’t an SAT question about two trains passing in the night, this could be your life! Just one example of critical thinking that applies to not only your personal life but your professional one.
  9. Cultural Awareness. It pays to pay attention, and you will need to relate to people both in and outside of your workplace. Being aware of culture and customs will strengthen not only your knowledge of a location but also contribute to your relationship building skills.
  10. Adaptability. Nothing makes you learn faster than immersing yourself in a new country. Just the same way you adapted to life at university, you’ll also adapt to the schedules, language, and workplace norms of your new location. Employers love someone who can be flexible in a fast-paced environment.


We don’t want you to miss out. But we’re not talking about missing out on a football game (there will be another one) or your cousin’s birthday (she’ll have another one, too.) We’re talking about missing out on the chance to focus on your career, your experience, and yourself.


 The photo above is my (high-quality) proof I chose Fearless over FOMO years ago, and never looked back. Fun Fact: Studying abroad when I was 20 in Granada, Spain was the first time that I had ever traveled internationally. I had stepped foot on a plane for the first time three years earlier!

 Is it time to shape your future by Interning Abroad? 

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