Though study abroad programs have been suspended for this academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, several undergraduate students are participating in online overseas internships for the fall semester. Students have been able to garner global business experience and make contacts in a wide array of industries—all without leaving home.
Joseph Rienti, Ph.D., director of the International and Study Abroad Programs, said his office works with Cultural Experiences Abroad (CEA), a firm that helps universities place students in academic programs and internships. For the internships, CEA employs an “individual placement model,” where students hold an in-depth conversation with a CEA placement agent to discuss their past experience and career objectives.
“We make sure that the student’s expectations are not a fixed idea,” said Rienti. “We want them stay open, because that’s what their career landscapes will look like.”
He said that even though the program is barely two months old, most of the interns have already expanded their professional networks.
‘Game’ for Global Networking—on Amsterdam Time
For Fordham College at Lincoln Center senior Samantha Hughes, the internship provided a respite from the isolation of quarantine. Hughes, who is majoring in digital technology and emerging media, landed an internship with an Amsterdam-based gaming company called Team Building Game Franchise.
“I’ve only traveled out of the country when I was much younger and I wasn’t thinking about going abroad for school,” she said. “I had no knowledge of Amsterdam or the Netherlands, just the beautiful canals. I was feeling so isolated and I wasn’t expecting to have an opportunity meet many new people this semester, much less meeting gamers in Amsterdam.”
Hughes said she has taken game theory and game design classes at Fordham. However, the firm challenges her to use her networking skills within the industry. She was tasked with finding gaming companies in the U.S. whose interests aligned with those of the Dutch firm. From there, she worked with the firm’s designers to create an email campaign to establish contacts and build partnerships with U.S. companies.
“At other internships I was handed a few projects and I was expected to do the work, hand it in, and that was it. With this I had so much control and freedom. My suggestions were always invited, used, and brought to the design team—and even higher. It made me go above and beyond what they asked for.”
She said another big distinction of working for a European company may seem obvious, but the implication may not be: the time difference.
“When I was doing work, it was midnight my supervisor’s time, if I ran into problems I had to come up with solutions on my own. I was overflowing with ideas,” she said.
She developed a workflow that included a daily email listing accomplished tasks, queries, and new ideas.
“It was a hybrid of emails, texts, and Zoom meetings,” she said.
Rienti said Hughes is a perfect example of the opportunities created by the program that may well outlast the crisis.
“The program grew out of our commitment to continue to find ways for students to engage with different cultures,” said Rienti. “What we didn’t expect was an interest from students who would have never considered studying or taking internships abroad.”
The internships have also given students a taste of remote work, he said, at a time when many companies are planning to keep aspects of the virtual experience in place after the pandemic.
Going Green with the UN
Dulles Hanula is a senior majoring in macroeconomics and political science at Fordham College at Rose Hill. He concurred with Hughes that the relative freedom of having a boss overseas actually put the onus on the students to be motivated.
“I’ve always been a self-starter, but for me this experience took that to an extreme,” said Hanula. “If you don’t create a schedule or if you’re not organized, you’re gonna fall behind.”
Hanula found an internship with a Barcelona-based firm that seeks to actualize the United Nations’ goals for green infrastructure at a neighborhood scale in the bustling Spanish city.
While he had held an internship last year in Australia through the overseas program, he was not planning on doing one this semester.
“You start off with these linear plans, but after an internship abroad you realize maybe there’s something more than finalizing everything you do in your life here in the U.S.,” he said. “I received the email and thought, ‘That’s ideal, I can still get international work experience and go to school at Fordham to finish my senior year.’”
Hanula was tasked with preparing grant materials in English that could help the firm. The new materials would help leadership at the firm expand the scope of their grant pool and help with pitches to an English-speaking donor base. He said he met with his boss twice a week, usually at 8:30 a.m. EST.
“Another thing that impressed me is how they were passionate about the mission; we’d have meetings two or three in the afternoon my time. I mean, who meets on Zoom with their intern at 8 p.m. with your children running around?”
Both students said they plan to visit their respective internship cities once the pandemic is over.
“It was kind of a bummer not to have amazing Spanish tapas,” said Hanula. “But they taught me a lot about the city, how people interact, and places in the city that I should visit. Once COVID is over, I’m going.”