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International internships are vital

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By Brett Ley
Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

When college graduates apply for jobs, John Houston, the senior vice president of MTG Consulting, says he looks for “generalists” with a broad background in many fields. And an excellent way for students to show their versatility is to have international experience, he says.

As American companies invest in Asia and Europe, universities have taken note. It is not uncommon to find study-abroad programs. But American universities also often require their students to take part in an internship because it provides valuable work experience.

Like football, international internships are filled with many head fakes — skills learned indirectly — that not only demonstrate a graduate's familiarity with cultural mores and folkways but also impress employers. International interns obviously learn concrete skills from their internship. The hidden skills, however — innovative problem-solving, resilience and adaptability — are far more important.

An international internship is a 24-hour job with constant barriers. In a country where the language and currency might be foreign to a U.S. student, even going to the grocery store can be a daunting task. Making a new form of sign language or relying on Google Translate to complete a thought might seem goofy at first but there is something to be said for overcoming such difficulties.

Students on international internships need to adapt to a brand-new culture, which requires good listening. And that means not just hearing the sounds but comprehending their content in context. It's exactly the kind of skill American companies need when entering foreign markets.

Thousands of students graduate from American universities each year with many of the same degrees. Of course grade-point average, a numerical measure of performance, says something about a person's work ethic. But it has nothing to do with creative potential.

John Houston, the MTG vice president, says universities should offer more international internships.

Operating in the global market requires students who are familiar with international businesses. An international internship is a win-win because not only do students flourish from actively working in a different country, American businesses can capitalize on what those students have learned.

Brett Ley, a Lehigh University student, is an intern with Worldwide News Ukraine in Kyiv, Ukraine. He is a native of Bridgeville.

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