“What do you mean ‘How hard can it be?’”

By Pauline Gitau

Why giving international students flak for not landing a summer internship is not okay.

The Slutzker Center for International Services at Syracuse University. Photo by Sonia Wee.

The Slutzker Center for International Services at Syracuse University. Photo by Sonia Wee.

Interning in a foreign country is definitely a rewarding experience that international students should try you get. However, for most international students the process is not as smooth as they may want it to be. The process to most international students is discouraging, stressful, and extremely difficult. Even those who manage to secure internships have to put comparatively much more effort to be successful. A quick Google search with the words ‘internships international students’ clearly illustrates the existence of such hardships. The top 8 search results are: 1) complete guide to internships for international students in the USA, 2) 10 hot internships in the USA for international students, 3) how international students can get an internship in the US, 4-8) more tips and guides for international students on how to find internships.

Imagine being a sophomore, junior, or senior. You decide it's time you got that on-site translation of your class work. You find all these opportunities in engineering, finance, analytics, or just about any field that excites you. You go through the requirements and realize you meet them all. You are in the required area of study, you have more than the required GPA, you practically are exactly what they are looking for and much more. You almost hit the apply button when you read eight words that change everything.

 "You must be a US Citizen to qualify."

If you are on the higher side of unfortunate, you’ve already applied to 2 of their positions before realizing they have this footnote that says “F-1 and other VISA holders are not eligible for positions at XYZ LLC.” This is the experience of some international students when seeking internships. In most cases, even when they qualify, they still don't technically qualify. Most international students are trying their best to get around the many qualifications that although they perfectly meet do not perfectly qualify them. As one Syracuse student pointed out, they have to make sure they apply to as many opportunities as they can just so they increase their chances at getting something.

A Quora post gives the following as top reasons for these difficulties:  that many international students have no experience and purely rely on good GPA which may not be the selection criteria for most employers, that there exists cultural challenges which may hinder the international students’ ability to network, that international students greatly rely on online submission of resumes which is not the best way to get hired.

It makes me wonder what the gap is. Do international students not receive enough information about these opportunities? Or do they just lack the required cultural agility to stand out? Or are the issues they face just normal everyday problems of any student seeking career experience and exposure? But as a friend of mine pointed out, international students need to – at some point – stop viewing their status as this great disadvantage and actually capitalize on it. Being an international student means that you bring diverse experiences from your home country -- remember that this is a unique element no one can take away from you.

If the Quora post I reference is anything to go by, international students need to be more agile in seeking opportunities in the countries they study. So, through my own experience, I’ve devised a list of handy-dandy tips for anyone who is down in the dumps this internship application season, and needs a bit of motivation.

Tips for Internship Success

  1. Network as much as possible.

  2. See your international students office for advice on VISA related issues.

  3. Look out for companies known to hire international applicants.

  4. Include your overseas experiences - every experience you’ve had is important.

  5. Work on the small-talk.

  6. Learn to properly articulate why company XYZ should hire you.

  7. Get to know about the company you are applying to. An enthusiastic applicant is a good thing.

  8. Be persistent.

  9. Make timely plans.

  10. Seek help. Talk to your professors and advisors. Use your career services offices. In most cases, the help you need is right there. You just need to open your mouth or pen an email.

Pauline Gitau is a sophomore studying computer science at Syracuse University.