Remote Internships-Biggest Pandemic Success Story in Global Education

Emily Merson

A little more than a year ago, the Global Experiences team was challenged to move its spring semester global interns from in-person to remote internships.

Many students required credits from the internship to graduate and we worked with hundreds of our partner employers to move to remote supervision to ensure academic continuity.

While we rushed to reorient our participants and partners, I challenged our whole team to work together to build a new virtual internship program from scratch. How could we create a virtual program as successful as on-location programs we had been refining for almost 20 years?

We had no idea at the time what the biggest issues or opportunities would be, and whether the experience would measure up to the benefits of interning abroad, in-person.

On April 6th, 2020, we launched GE Virtuoso: Virtual International Internships, a herculean effort of innovation and teamwork, that has exceeded all expectations. Most importantly it has revolutionized how we regard key components of our work: What is global education? What is international work experience? How do we meet the challenges of building a more equitable and sustainable future for our field?

On March 25th 2021, IIE released the first research assessment of remote global internships, “The Rise of Remote Global Internships.”

The research showed that not only was a remote global internship as beneficial to both student and employer as its in-person counterpart, but it also offered many new elements that expanded the idea of global education to make it more comparative and reflective.

In terms of outcomes, students were gaining greater levels of key NACE competencies such as critical thinking and problem-solving.

For Global Experiences Virtuoso students, those taking virtual internships lead to more paid opportunities post-program, and satisfaction levels in many areas that exceeded the data from on-the-ground programs.

While we continue to learn and understand the various dynamics in play, we do have some initial thoughts as to why these experiences are proving so powerful.

  • Self-awareness is a key outcome for any global program, but in a remote global internship to be a success it is supercharged and becomes the focus for much of the complimentary educational framework we developed to support our virtual interns.

  • At GE we leveraged our existing Strengths-Based approach to help our participants become more conscious of themselves, their patterns of behavior, and how to use those to be successful in creating a professional work at home experience.

  • Without the travel element the GE team became career mentors on a journey in a more focused way, further supporting some of the data points that showed that career gains were intensified during the virtual experience.

  • Leveraging technology platforms like Zoom created the opportunity for new cross-cultural conversations. Discussions were staged with interns working in a variety of different countries, allowing for greater awareness of their home culture, their internship host’s culture, and the experience of others working in other countries.

  • Remote global interns also benefited from the chance to meet virtually within professional interest areas, giving students a cohort to network with and to discuss topics specific to their field of interest. Examining careers, across various global cultures allowed students to be more aware and analytical of their own experiences and more conscious of the skills they were developing.

As we look ahead, one of the most promising elements of the virtual or remote internship is the opportunity to provide greater access to those for whom an abroad experience was previously limited by financial constraints, mobility issues, or other accessibility concerns. Remote and virtual internships are also a more green and sustainable option than the physical movement overseas.

As we continue to expand conversations around innovation with our global partners, we regard this as a new building block in creative program design. A remote global internship could be one course during a semester taught on campus, or an element of a traveling faculty-led program, or a local option for a global degree program to ensure that all participants have a way of including a global experience even when travel is impossible or restricted.

The virtual and remote internship has offered students a solution. During a crisis that limited the option for abroad experiences, these internships ensured they could continue to gain career experience while businesses around the world went online.

There is still no replacement for the true cultural immersion of living, studying, and working abroad, and the character-building challenges of leaving the safety-net of home for new and uncertain environments. But as we have all had to adapt and to find ways to thrive where we are, we feel confident that remote global internships will have an important role to play in the future of international education.

Ready to put international work experience on your resume? Apply for a virtual internship today!

Apply for a virtual internship today

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