Caroline R | 9/22/21
In Fall of 2020 I studied abroad in Kigali, Rwanda with SIT. During the last month of my program, I interned with the Ministry of Finance and Economics (MINECOFIN) in the office of Macroeconomic Policy. I worked with the tax policy team on a Medium-Term Revenue Strategy for Rwanda. Over the course of 2 months I got hands-on experience with a homegrown development solution expanding on what I learned in my study abroad classes about Rwanda’s focus on adapting international best practice to fit Rwanda’s culture and goals to create more successful development programs. I even extended my time in Rwanda by a month to continue working with MINECOFIN while living independently and immersing myself in Rwandan culture away from my program. Below I have highlighted my main takeaways from my experience and advice for students interested in pursuing an internship abroad:
- Learn from coworkers: At MINECOFIN my Rwandan coworkers taught me a lot about Rwandan work culture and local customs. For example, no one works on Friday afternoons and meetings are essential and often go on for 4 or more hours. I also met other internationals who were in Rwanda through a post-graduate program called ODI. Through them, I learned more about international graduate opportunities in my field and got a sense of what it is like to live in Rwanda as an expat and young professional. Doing an internship overseas allowed me to critically examine the US political structure and how our government is run in comparison to another country. My internship stretched my skills by using them in a different context building important communication skills across languages and backgrounds. Overcoming communication and cultural challenges that come with living and working in a foreign country also made me more confident and independent which will be essential for life after graduation.
- Put coursework in context: learning about development and policy is very different from experiencing it first-hand. In class I learned about the structure of the Rwandan government and its main priorities but over the course of my internship I saw how those policies are decided, how stakeholders are involved, and the steps for implementation. Classroom learning gives an essential foundation but applications in professional settings offer more ways to stretch your knowledge into different and unexpected areas. Internships give an opportunity to test what you have learned and apply it to new contexts to give more depth and breadth to your abroad program.
- Get out of your bubble: Cohort programs can feel isolated from the city they operate in. Interning with a local organization offers opportunities to branch out independently and meet locals to get more understanding of the host country. While the bubble may feel more comfortable, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone will lead to more immersive and memorable experiences. This will connect you to the place you are living and help with language acquisition, while boosting confidence and independence. Internships give structure to move out of your comfort zone because you still have resources and mentors while experiencing a new environment that will allow you to practice intercultural skills.
- Take advantage of unique aspects of where you are studying whether that’s language, access to certain resources, or a particular area of focus: find something that is unique to the place you are living that you couldn’t recreate at home to take full advantage of the opportunity. For Rwanda, its small size and the relative newness of the government gave me an opportunity to intern in a government department that I would have never have access to in a larger country.
- Remember you are a guest in the organization and there to help in a capacity you are qualified for. You can provide a unique perspective and skills but remember that locals and employees are highly skilled in their cultural context and you have a lot you can learn from them. As an American university student you have lots of opportunities available to you, so take advantage of learning, networking, and career opportunities while abroad.
- Schedule a career appointment when you get back to add it to your resume and discuss how best to translate your new skills in an interview!