Volunteering abroad can take many forms: from building homes and teaching in schools to helping in the organization’s office and creating promotional videos. No matter what capacity you work in, your goal should be to do good work that will be beneficial to the organisation and that will you enable you to get some experience.

For some students, this work can be done in the form of an internship. You’ll benefit from honing your skills, while the organization you volunteer for gets to have you on-staff to further its mission.

More students are starting to realize the mutual benefits of international internships with nonprofit or volunteer organizations so the competition is hard. It’s always helpful is you have something extra to offer the organisation in exchange for the time and opportunity of international exposure they are providing you in the form of an internship.

Most volunteer abroad companies receive many internship requests from student all over the world, so we’ve pinpointed 2 secrets that will help you better achieve your goals of landing that great sought after international internship.

1) Think Small(er)

2-secrets-to-landing-international-internships-3Some international volunteer or non-profit organizations have hundreds of employees. While the work these groups are doing is still great, they are probably pursued by many students like you. The bigger the company you’re applying to, the greater the chance that you’re up against a big pool of applicants. While you shouldn’t just throw in the towel and say, “forget it,” you should ground yourself in realistic expectations when searching for a place to grow your talents and network.

Make a list of the experiences you want prioritized by what you need most. Now brainstorm qualities that your ideal company should have in order to get you those experiences. Your research should compile lists of possible places to apply that will really help you achieve your learning goals––no matter the size. For example, you might need video editing, social media, and press release-writing experience, and want to get it with an organization that gives back to the world.

The more intimate and attentive your colleagues can be to your learning, the more responsibilities you will be able to take on. This is especially true when you’re interning in a foreign country: the culture, language, and geography will most likely all be new to you, so you should place comfort over most other needs. Bonus: the smaller the organization, the more likely they could really use your help.

Bottom line, secret #1 is this: Unless it’s your absolute dream company and you have a personal connection to guide your application to the finish line, you’ll find more comfort and real responsibilities if you seek international internships with smaller volunteer organizations.

2) Show, Don't Tell

2-secrets-to-landing-international-internships-2An application is simply an explanation of the things you could do. There’s no guarantee for the volunteer organisation who receives it that you actually can do everything you’ve listed––or that you’re any good at it. International internships are competitive enough as it is because there’s a bigger barrier to entry than just walking in and introducing yourself to the volunteer abroad company or signing up online to give some of your time. You have to stand out on paper before you travel, which can be tough to do.

There’s an old adage that every journalism or writing major will hear within their first weeks of learning to report: “Show, don’t tell.” Newspaper readers and consumers around the world want to get a clear visual picture of the people they’re reading about from the letters on the page. They want the writer to show them why the story matters––not just tell them point-blank that it does. They want to be honestly convinced––not rudely shouted at.

Take note of this when applying to volunteer abroad as an intern. Instead of sending an average resume to apply for a graphic design internship, send a full portfolio of samples. Instead of listing your marketing skills in your cover letter, create a real campaign that you would pitch to your boss if you had already gotten the job. Reach out to the organization you want to work with, and ask them what problems they have. Solve one, and ask to solve more as part of an internship.

Bottom line, secret #2 is this: To really stand out when you apply for an intern position in another country, don’t just say that you have skills. Apply them in a way that is helpful to the organization you could potentially work for, and let the hiring coordinator see for themselves.


Landing international internships can be an intimidating process. But in reality, you’re just working and living abroad for a few months while you practice and learn skills that you’ll be able to apply to your soon-to-be career. Along the way, you’re working with a great organization that gives back to the community around it, whether that’s as a non-profit or a company with a service-based mission. Now get going on your research and application!

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