A guide to internships in foreign countries

Internships in foreign countries sometimes confront you with cultural differences you were not aware of. It’s hard to prepare for those. There is however some stuff you can prepare for. Apart from the target language, you might consider some of the following questions.

What kind of money do they have?

A map of the Eurozone and the status of the surrounding countries and territories.
   EU member states using the euro (Eurozone)
   ERM II member states
   Other EU member states
   States using the euro as a result of a treaty with the EU
   States which have unilaterally adopted the euro

Now with the Euro in large parts of Europe, it has become easier to travel or even work abroad. Your german Euro is just as good as the Euro in Spain, Greece or Austria. This is exactly why I forgot that Norway and has a completely different currency. I am aware that Norway is not even part of the European Union, it’s just somehow the Euro gives you some sort of self-conception.
Now this isn’t bad in particular, since you can always exchange money in your destination. This is also what banks suggest and what has worked in my personal experience. The best exchange rates will always be in your destination, when buying the local currency.
It might be hard setting up a bank account, but banks are always happy to exchange your money for “a small fee”. So if you do want to exchange it, take a heap of cash. That way you will get the best deal sometimes even without an extra exchange fee and just the currency spread.

What kind of outlets are there?

Outlet distribution in Europe
  •  Euroflatplug (Typ C)
  •  French system (Typ E)
  •  Schuko-System (Typ F)
  •  British System (Typ G)
  •  Swiss System (Typ J)
  •  Danish System (Typ K)
  •  Italian System (Typ L)
  • Wikimedia Commons: BlankEurope.png;BlankEurope.png: Happenstance, Hoshie, Avala, Quilbert; derivative work: Nameless23

Now this is a tricky one, I did not forget about in Norway but they have a system compatible to Euro outlets. Then it got me cold in the United Kingdom.
Which basically led me to ordering about 7 converters from Amazon. In all honesty I still have one in the original packaging, but I just didn’t want to bother switching one converter around for everything I do.

Left right left, or the other way around?

In Germany we teach children crossing the street to first look for cars coming from the left side, then right and re-check left side. Now you get pretty good at screening the street when you get older. That is the problem, the more you get used to it, the harder it will be to get used to left-sided traffic as in the UK.
My very first encounter was trying to get into a car and finding myself on the driver side of the vehicle. That was a little embarrassing at first, but also made it very clear to me that I should really be alert when in traffic.
Additionally, I really haven’t made it any easier on myself by visiting Germany every other week-end. The first week-end back home I felt like I was starting all over again. The only way to really get along in this changing environment is constant awareness. So when I cross the street, I check if I see any cars and can get the direction of travel from that. Then I start the children approach left-right-left or right-left-right. Eventually, this results in me checking both sides several times, which might make me look like a paranoid nutcase crossing the street, but well, I survived, right?!

Left vs Right side driving
  •  ?? Drives on right
  •  ?? Drives on left
  •   No Information

Sweat the small stuff

You’re probably flying to your internship. Do you know how to get to your temporary place? Do you have all the emergency numbers written down? Remember that Internet Roaming can be very expensive, so you will not be able to get information from your e-mail without paying for it.
Get your directions to the office before your first day. I myself got terribly lost, because I just followed the road we took by car the first day.
Two tips that helped me fit in with the company a lot, were asking for the dress code and asking for the time to start on the first day.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

You’re arriving at an airport. It’s a microcosm that probably has everything you need. Here in Gatwick it’s no problem to find an internet terminal, get cold medicine, exchange money, get a coffee or go to the pub and buy milk for the next morning, without leaving the terminal. Just don’t freak out, if everything fails, there are hotels around where you can get settled and also have internet and phones to connect to your company. Believe me, my first day in London was pure chaos, but it all worked out in the end.
Don’t worry you are still an intern and in the end no one will really care if you came in blue jeans. (Don’t push it, I have never seen a place where cargo shorts were fine…)

In the end, you are there to learn something and if it is just about the company culture.
This list is everything but exhaustive, so if you have encountered some other challenges, leave them in the comments!

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... is a geophysicist by heart. He works at the intersection of machine learning and geoscience. He is the founder of The Way of the Geophysicist and a deep learning enthusiast. Writing mostly about computational geoscience and interesting bits and pieces relevant to post-grad life.

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