Ruth Alfandary

Professionalizing the Study Abroad Experience for the 21st Century Global Economy

In the 21st century global economy and ever-increasingly competitive job market, international professional experience sets recent graduates apart from other candidates
Students at Herzliya's IDC. (Courtesy)
Students at Herzliya's IDC. (Courtesy)

Leading universities around the world have offered study abroad programs for decades. Less common, however, is these universities enabling international students to successfully link the overseas classroom experience with resources and professional development opportunities that exist off-campus.

In the 21st century global economy and ever-increasingly competitive job market, international professional experience sets recent graduates apart from other candidates.

Yet, despite college graduates having a more sophisticated, globally minded and achievement-oriented perspective than ever before, according to a 2014 study cited by NAFSA: Association of International Educators, nearly 40% of companies surveyed reported missed international business opportunities due to their lack of personnel with global professional experience.

Like domestic work experience, international internships allow students to develop professional skills like interpersonal communication and cross-organizational collaboration. However, navigating the workplace in another culture and language adds layers of complexity and nuance to the entire experience.

In Israel, start-ups, nonprofit organizations, tech companies, and the hospitality and tourism industry, among other sectors, rely on interns they are connected to through Masa Israel Journey programs to help them expand their businesses and break into global markets. Masa Israel is the go-to source for Israeli companies because it introduced the concept of the professional internship to the Israeli workplace.

At Israeli companies, interns are truly welcomed into the office, often treated as full team members, with the responsibilities and projects that come with such roles. As a result, former interns report acquiring professional skills and experiences incomparable to what they could have learned through a domestic internship. In a small country like Israel, it’s easy to find yourself rubbing elbows with leading entrepreneurs and public figures at professional events and when simply out and about meeting people.

In order to meet the needs of both Israeli businesses and international students, both Tel Aviv University and the University of Haifa now offer the opportunity for students to pursue professional internships as optional complements to traditional study abroad programs. Masa Israel’s partners at other major Israeli universities are working to develop similar semester and/or combined summer study and internship programs to meet career-driven students’ needs and ensure they are providing valuable experiences that truly add to students’ professional backgrounds.

Israel is home to more start-ups per capita than any other country in the world. This means students get the chance to work at tech companies, as well as in the sustainability sector learning about water conservation and alternative energy. Other students participate in internships that suit their political interests, going to the Knesset every day, doing research at think tanks, attending international conferences, and participating in investigative excursions. And for students committed to social change and activism, Tel Aviv and Haifa give them access to communities of change makers and social entrepreneurs, as well as nonprofit organizations.

Next spring, Tel Aviv University will partner with Yahel – Israel Service Learning, to premiere its new Community Action in Tel Aviv semester. Students study abroad part-time at Tel Aviv University and volunteer part-time at organizations engaging in bettering the community, by, for instance promoting women’s empowerment, working toward regional peace and coexistence, and providing services to African refugees and asylum seekers in Israel. In addition to their coursework and internships, students will participate in workshops and trainings in cultural sensitivity and cross-cultural communication, methods of community empowerment, and other topics relevant to creating social change.

Tel Aviv University and the University of Haifa also provide career counseling and mentoring for student interns and require students, in order to receive academic credit for their internships, take a career development course guiding them in applying a range of communication and management tools during their internships.

Whether exploring career options in tech, sustainability, diplomacy, or any other industry, an international internship broadens and deepens the academic, professional, personal and immersive experience that is a semester or year abroad. At the same time, these programs help to develop a more internationally experienced workforce as students, upon graduating, are in a position to work at companies and organizations that, often for the first time, now have the teams to pursue international business opportunities.

About the Author
Ruth Alfandary is the Executive Director of Global Marketing & Sales at Masa Israel Journey, the leader of long-term, immersive experiences in Israel, including gap year, study abroad, service-learning, and internship programs. Masa is a joint project of the Government of Israel and the Jewish Agency for Israel.
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