Columns

Mitra ’18: What about international internships?

By
Staff Columnist
Tuesday, April 19, 2016

When I started scrolling through BrownConnect and other online portals for summer internships in the United States, the first thing I looked for wasn’t the pay or hours per week. I was just on the hunt for a single phrase: “International applicants are welcome to apply.” The line came up quite often, but for all the internships I desperately wanted? You guessed it — I wasn’t eligible.

This story is an increasingly common one for international students. As The Herald recently reported, the internship search is especially precarious for students from outside the United States. Many positions, particularly ones in the humanities and social sciences, are designated for American students. And even if companies are technically open to hiring foreigners, they tend to prefer U.S. citizens to avoid visa complications and related hassles. The result: Approximately 10 percent of our student body faces an almost Sisyphean task of finding a fulfilling summer internship every year.

Of course, many of these barriers are institutional and unavoidable. One of the most frustrating is the unfathomable concept of Curricular Practical Training. Essentially, the only way international students are able to legally accept paid internships in the United States during their undergraduate years is to use the CPT, a temporary visa authorization. To be eligible for CPT, students have to find internships that are “integral to your major” and “part of your program of study.” This seems straightforward on paper, but in reality the standard is painfully tedious. For an internship to be truly deemed “integral,” international students at Brown have to create independent studies based on their internships and under their declared concentrations for the fall semester. It is no surprise that this is generally thought to be more trouble than a regular internship is worth.

But aside from the institutional immigration obstacles facing international students, there are other difficulties closer to campus. Brown’s CareerLAB and Office of International Student and Scholar Services both do a great job of reaching out to international students and alerting them of special considerations. I, for one, would have completely forgotten about CPT restrictions (and tax forms!) if not for a timely email from the Office of International Student and Scholar Services last month. That being said, a lot more can be done to make the international internship hunt less of an Everest and more of a Kilimanjaro.

The most obvious solution would be to increase the quantity and diversity of international internship opportunities offered to students on BrownConnect or other platforms. As anyone who has used BrownConnect can attest to, the resource is great for finding internships in New York City, Washington D.C. and the Bay Area. But for most other locations, it can be little more than a smoke screen. Likewise, its international opportunities are generally limited and linked to only a few areas of study. While there are numerous development and finance positions listed, there are very few for students interested in fields like journalism and the arts. Though international companies might be less aware of university-specific resources like BrownConnect, there is another massive untapped network available: international alumni associations. Many local alumni networks find internships for students they know, but these opportunities should be brought onto mainstream platforms so that they are available to all.

Brown should also expand its international summer programs to create global opportunities similar to iProv and Careers in the Common Good in New York City. Programs like these have been successfully implemented for business, entrepreneurship and organization concentrators, creating specialized international internships with partner organizations in Hong Kong, India and Madrid. Though it might not be practical to see this conducted on a university-wide scale, other departments should consider following its lead and providing international exposure to concentrators.

Finally, Brown can undertake a range of minor changes to increase support for international students during the frenzied internship search. I would love to see more focused information and preparation sessions for international applications and interviews, since the majority of career events are understandably tailored to the American process. It is also incomprehensible that the LINK Award due dates for international internships are in mid-March, when many international opportunities are finalized much closer to the summer. Pushing the deadline back by even a couple of weeks could make a world of difference.

Whether we like it or not, summer internships have become as important as grades and coursework in securing future careers. It is time for all qualified students — including international ones — to have access to the full suite of options because, quite frankly, the quest for an internship is enough of a nightmare as it is.

Mili Mitra ’18 can be reached at mili_mitra@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.