Studying, interning abroad as freshman offers new possibilities

David Gerhold

Having an internship is becoming something that doesn’t have to be done locally anymore, as the opportunity to do an internship abroad boasts many benefits.

“Most students do not think about internships and going abroad when they start their freshman year at ISU, which is a mistake and a missed opportunity,” said Trevor Nelson, program manager of the Study Abroad Center. “Our research indicates that around 60 percent of incoming freshmen have great interest in studying abroad, but in the end only four to five percent of our senior graduates have actually studied abroad.”

One of the reasons might be that freshmen think they have to wait until their junior year Nelson said. 

Nelson said students shouldn’t wait too long if they want to make international experiences.

“I think that after a while, students get too comfortable here. They make lots of friends and enroll in various activities, so the thought of studying in an unknown environment becomes less attractive than it was when they first came here.”

Andrew Tjaden, sophomore in marketing, is a student who decided in his freshman year not to wait. He spent a month in China and interned at a Chinese marketing firm.

“For me, it was all about getting ahead of everyone,” Tjaden said. “How many students can say of themselves that they had an international internship? Not a lot.”

He said that it’s one thing to visit a country, but it is something completely different to actually work there and experience the Chinese economy first hand.

Because Tjaden has a dual citizenship in South Korea and the United States. and has lived in Asia for 11 years of his life, he said it was far easier for him to get in the mindset of getting abroad as soon and as often as possible.

“I just love the feel of the Asian culture, the food and the people I meet,” Tjaden said. “Everywhere I went, I heard a new story or learned something new about another culture. You don’t get that when you stay in Iowa all the time.”

Once he got accepted at Iowa State, Tjaden immediately started researching for international internships and opportunities for freshmen.

“I found Absolute Internship, a very resourceful company that helps students find internships all over the world,” Tjaden said.

His stay in China turned out to be much more affordable than he originally thought.

“All in all, I spent maybe $5,500, which I financed by working on a farm in Iowa beforehand,” Tjaden said. “Other programs have you pay $3,000 for five days in China.”

Spending time abroad has paid off for Tjaden, even in his everyday life. “When Chinese students talk about a class in Chinese, I sometimes chime in, which makes them extremely surprised.”

Nelson said the Study Abroad Center has developed a number of programs specifically aimed at freshmen.

“We offer short term programs that are one to three weeks long,” Nelson said. “It’s not a big commitment, it’s as affordable as possible and you get a taste of what it’s like to study abroad.”

Surprisingly, there is quite a lot of experience freshmen can get out of the short-term programs, even if they only stay abroad for seven days, Nelson said.

“Ultimately, programs like these make foreign countries lose much of their initial scariness and leads students to return abroad for a longer period of time later,” Nelson said.

Tjaden plans to return to China as soon as possible, his time as a program coordinator for Absolute Internship, the company that helped him find his first internship.

“Studying or interning abroad adds so much to your resume,” Tjaden said. “Also, you get memories that stay with you forever.”

In China, Tjaden barely spent any time in his room by himself. “I was out every night and hung out with new friends, heard their stories and simply had a blast.”

Tjaden said he advises students not to waste too much time in your comfort zone. “ISU has a lot of resources, why not take advantage of them as soon as possible?”