In May 2016 Robert Swasey jumped at the chance to combine two loves: engineering and languages. An engineering student at BYU with a passion for foreign languages and cultures, he worked for the summer as a manufacturing engineering intern at a startup company in Lagos—sometimes called the San Diego of Portugal. The opportunity came when his Model United Nations instructor, Cory Leonard, approached him about the Global Opportunity program offered by Brigham Young University’s Kennedy Center. “This internship is the perfect opportunity to improve both my technical and language skills simultaneously,” he said.
Swasey values the real-world technical experience he gained on the internship. “I [went] to help set up a factory and start a company,” he remarked, “which means I [got] to wear lots of hats and try new things every day.” Two weeks into his stay in Portugal, Swasey, a fellow intern, and their boss traveled to Turin, Italy, to pick up a thermoforming machine (see photo). While there, they learned to use it and then took it apart and loaded it on a truck before returning to Lagos two days later.
“Your ability to empathize and communicate with other people deepens dramatically as you seek out foreign opportunities.” —Robert Swasey
Thanks to this internship, Swasey has gained “a deeper insight into how new companies move good ideas into the production and marketing of actual products.” He even thinks he might return to Portugal to work for the same company full-time.
The opportunity brought its share of stress though. “Because this [was] an internship that could lead to potential full-time employment,” he said, “there [was] noticeable pressure to perform well and work effectively. I had a lot of responsibility and very little experience, which can be difficult but also very rewarding as I learned and grew.”
Swasey graduated in April 2016 but took time to complete this internship. When he finished, he flew directly to China for another internship, which ended December 2016. “The reason I did these two internships after graduating instead of getting a full-time job immediately is because getting international experience is a very high priority for me,” he explained. “Sacrificing my first eight months of full-time work for two international internships will definitely pay off later on because of the technical and language skills I am developing. These internships will also expand my professional network and allow me to find full-time work abroad much more easily.”
The Global Opportunity Scholarship “made this chance feasible,” and it relieved financial burdens. Swasey is quick to recommend an international experience to anyone: “Studying, working, and living in a foreign country are beyond necessary. Even if you have no desire to live abroad long-term, your ability to empathize and communicate with other people deepens dramatically as you seek out foreign opportunities.”