Beware, Study Abroad Students: Your Internships May Not Be All They’re Cracked Up To Be

It wouldn’t be a Global Network University if you couldn’t intern abroad. New York is chock-full of gigs for interns, so why should our international campuses be any different?

The experience is a bit distinct in London, Madrid, and Paris, however, the three study abroad sites at which the university partners with EUSA. EUSA, a non-profit organization that places students and runs a comprehensive internship program, partnered with NYU in the fall of 2012. While we give serious props to an organization that convinces students that study abroad can be about about professional goals and not drunk foreigners, students that completed the program last semester have complaints.

Like many internship organizations, EUSA simplifies the application process. While still the in United States, each student meets with a EUSA placement manager to talk about career goals, possible placements, and international workplace culture. Following the meeting, each students receive a provisional placement that usually turn permanent at the start of the semester, after they interview with their direct supervisor.

For Leah Schultheis, a CAS junior who interned in Madrid, the placement process itself was frustrating. Initially, EUSA offerd her a placement she described as her “dream internship.” With her classes scheduled for Mondays and Wednesdays, she arranged to intern on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It wasn’t until three days into the semester that she received an email with unwelcome news: the university had finally scheduled the internship’s required academic component, and it would take place on her internship days. When they found out she wouldn’t be able to work two full days a week, her dream internship backed out and refused to take her.

For another student, a CAS junior who interned in London this past fall, the initial meeting proved less like being in Stern than she would have liked. The student, who asked to remain anonymous, signed up for the program thinking the organization would have the connections to help her land an internship at a respected international business. Yet when she gave her placement manager a list of the places she wanted to work, he told her she wasn’t qualified to work at any of them and assigned her to a small company with only six employees.

“I loved the people I worked with,” she said, “but couldn’t shake knowing that the places I wanted were a few blocks away from campus but out my reach.” She said other students in her NYU London program were also baffled by their placements. One student who wanted to work in banking was placed at an internationally recognized fashion house. An acting student was offered a lowly position at a theater box office. “EUSA’s connections seemed limited and scattered,” she said.

Aside from EUSA itself, students can also run into time-related conflicts like Schultheis’s. Policies vary by academic department, but students doing a four-credit internship in New York usually work eight to ten hours a week and take an accompanying class that meets only a few times over the semester. For the same four credits, students in the EUSA program spend fifteen hours a week at their internship and take a class that meets twice a week. While many complain that the accompanying class makes their schedules unnecessarily intense, Schultheis was more upset at how it kept her from securing her ideal placement. “It’s ironic,” she said “that the internship class ruined my internship.”

She was especially upset at how both EUSA and NYU Madrid administrators blamed each other instead of fixing the problem. “No party took fault,” she said of her attempts to resolve the scheduling conflict. “NYU Madrid blamed NYU New York. NYU New York blamed Madrid, and EUSA took the stance that they have nothing to do with the academic coordinating.” The bureaucracy left a bad taste in her mouth.

Both students also found the academic class had little relation to their professional work. The student who studied in London said, “The material was something you would find a weird-Gallatin seminar – learning about sociology and ‘perceptions of space.’” Students played professional development games and took personality quizzes. The grading was also difficult, she said.

In Madrid, EUSA interns took the Experiential Learning Class required for juniors in the Global Liberal Studies program. “It was apparent that this class was developed with GLS students in mind — not EUSA interns,” Schultheis said. “It seemed we were pushed into it out of convenience–[it was] one less class for Madrid to develop.”

Samantha LaCroix, EUSA’s University Relations Director, stressed in an interview with NYU Local that most students have positive internship experiences. “We have robust procedures in place to address concerns and issues that may arise over the course of an internship placement,” she said, “and this is reflected in the over 95% satisfaction rating among NYU students who participated in an academic internship with EUSA in 2013.”

Throughout the semester, EUSA solicits feedback from both the student and employer and does its best to rectify any concerns. While they prefer to help students work through challenges with their placement, they’ll find alternate workplaces for students if the need arises.

Although Schultheis was unhappy with bureaucracy, she did attest to the organization’s willingness to come up with an alternate placement: after her dream internship site backed out, EUSA sent her on a horrendous interview where the interviewer grilled her on her religious beliefs and then belittled her. When she complained to EUSA, the organization found her another placement.

Janet Alperstein, the Senior Director of Academic Support at NYU’s Office of Global Programs, said she couldn’t comment on any individual case but noted that her office received positive feedback from the majority of students enrolled in the EUSA program. (Over 100 NYU students have participated in the program.) When asked about for-credit internships outside of the EUSA framework, she said that wouldn’t be an option for students studying at sites with a EUSA partnership.

“Students in London, Madrid, and Paris may identify internships on their own, and earn credit for them — however, EUSA would still administer their internships and provide a host of important services associated with the position, including ensuring that local labor and immigration requirements are being followed,” she said.

In the end, it’s up to each student to decide whether he or she will participate in a program like EUSA. For some, internships are essential, and it’s out of the question that they wouldn’t take on one abroad. For others it’s more of a non-issue. Whatever your situation is, however, it’s worth looking into the program carefully, because interning abroad can be difficult enough without the added stresses that some students ran into.

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2 Comments

  • Amy B
    February 6, 2014

    I think it’s important to note here that every country has a different internship culture and that can have a heavy impact on the kind of internships available to us through EUSA or not. What might constitute a legitimate and useful internship to people in the countries mentioned above may not seem that way to us as students from an American university.

  • Cara S.
    February 12, 2014

    Though it wasn’t through EUSA, I had an amazing internship experience while abroad in Buenos Aires. Their system for placement was clear and functional. I ended up in an extremely interesting and challenging internship that ended up being exactly what I had been hoping for. The accompanying Internship Seminar, to my surprise, was also engaging and interesting. I would absolutely recommend the Buenos Aires internship program to anyone.

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