Skip to main content

How Internships Matter

by Tracee Tibbitts

Brian Anderson, an international relations and Russian major, did not imagine the opportunities he would be presented with when he interned with the Slavic Center for Law and Justice in Moscow, Russia. After a few weeks of translating reports and managing social media, Anderson was given the opportunity to also intern at the Center for Strategic Research, a Russian think tank organized by Vladimir Putin, where he researched the report “Will Russia see full democracy in the future?” “This report is published and distributed to diplomats from all over the world and to all who have an active interest in Russian politics,” Anderson said. “I am listed not only as an editor but as an author as well. I had no idea my work would be seen by so many people. The world will know of my predictions of the future of Russian democracy.”

For many students like Anderson, internships have become an essential step to connect in the workforce. Scott Sprenger, associate dean of humanities and professor of French studies, noted that “especially for liberal arts majors and humanities majors, students need to demonstrate to a future employer that they have some sort of hard skill. One of the most convincing ways is through an internship. The experience is absolutely crucial.”

In the Past

Internships were not always as vital to students as they are now. How did they become so important? “A lot of it is the economy—the international nature of the economy has changed enough, especially with the crash, and the market has become far more competitive,” said Dave Waddell, assistant dean of humanities. “You need to have some experience to get into the workforce after graduation. There were so many more students applying for a smaller number of jobs—it became really essential to have the experience.”

Ralph Brown, sociology professor and international development minor director, commented, “Anytime you have a market tightening up, you have to substantiate yourself. Higher education has always been a ticket to better opportunities in the labor market, particularly during times of recession. More and more Americans are earning college degrees—about 30 percent now—and it used to be only about 24 percent. That additional 6 percent does not seem like a huge difference, but it is a lot more people.”

“The internship is the stepping stone,” said Anna Ortiz, advisement supervisor and domestic internship coordinator for the Kennedy Center. “When jobs became more competitive, it became harder and harder to get a job and that is where internships played a role. An internship is another way an employer can evaluate a student, and it is something that makes a resume stand out.”

Current and Future Benefits

Employers are not the only ones to benefit from students receiving real work experience. Students have a lot to gain from internships. “I think it helps students understand what they like and do not like,” said Sprenger. “They discover in themselves the skills they have learned. Students need to articulate the skills they have to an employer. It is an opportunity for students to distinguish themselves from the crowd.”

Waddell pointed to an internship as the most valuable experience a student can have. “Internships are rated the number one thing a student can be involved in by employers,” he said. “They find it more important than research with a faculty member, study abroad, leadership, volunteer work—all those things are important, but employers tend to view an internship as something they recognize more completely than other activities students are involved in.”

“For many students, the internship is a job interview,” said Sprenger. “And if it is not that particular job, it is the connections made in an internship. Students rub shoulders with important people, and if they stand out, the connections made can open doors.”

Waddell agreed, and said, “The internship is essentially the entry-level job. About 42 percent of employers say students are career-ready when they leave college. An internship is a step that prepares students for life after BYU. The majority of employers will only hire students who have had internships—it is the experience gained.”

Recalling his experience, Anderson said his internship opportunity “was truly once in a lifetime. It provided me with experience that will not only be valuable to me as a student and in law school applications, but, more importantly, it provided me with confidence I can have a positive impact on the world.”

Matt Martin, a Middle Eastern studies major and Arabic minor, also found unique opportunities and benefits through his internship with the Al Jazeera English show Fault Lines. Between assisting producers, researching topics, planning and shooting interviews, and managing social media, Martin had the opportunity to meet international newsmakers like Ralph Nader and Grover Norquist. “This would be a great internship for people interested in documentary film making, journalism, or someone who has a general curiosity about the world,” he recommended.

Andee Gempeler visits monks at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Andee Gempeler
St. George, Utah
Public health major/international development minor
Graduated April 2013

I interned with the Reproductive and Child Health Alliance (RACHA), a large nongovernmental organization (NGO). Based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, RACHA focuses its efforts on community health programming to improve the quality and utilization of local public health service. RACHA is regarded as an emergent authority on localized approaches to reproductive and child health issues and is well respected by the Royal Cambodian Government and USAID.

As an intern, I created and directed a survey regarding the phasing out of a joint United Nations World Food Program and RACHA project titled the “Support for Maternal and Child Health Project.” The research for this project required me to interview women in distant villages about the impact of the program on their health and their family’s health in three provinces in Cambodia. After analyzing the data, I authored a report and presented my findings to the executive director and team leaders of the RACHA organization regarding the impact of the project.

When I was not traveling to the provinces, I spent time with my host family. This gave me a great opportunity to immerse myself in the culture and gain greater insight into their beliefs, perspectives, and experiences. I also became great friends with the other people in my program as we traveled around the country together, visiting historical sites like Angkor Wat and the Killing Fields.

Some of my favorite memories of living in Cambodia came from everyday experiences: riding my bike around the city in the rain, playing hacky sack with locals in front of Independence Monument, talking to Buddhist monks at the Royal Palace, participating in an aerobics class on the Tonle Sap river front, etc.

This internship would be perfect for anyone interested in public health and/or international development with a desire to be involved in meaningful field work.

International Options

The Kennedy Center offers a variety of options of international internships, where students can gain real-world work experience while experiencing another culture and earning school credit.

South America

The Bolivia Music Teaching Internship offers students the opportunity to live and work in Cochabamba, Bolivia, teaching small groups or private music lessons as well as working under the direction of the Fundacion Sinfonica Cochabamba.

The LDS Employment Services Internship also provides students the opportunity to work at Church employment centers in a variety of locations across South America.


A new addition this year, the LDS Public Affairs Internship takes place in the Church office in Frankfurt, Germany, as interns improve their public relations, journalism, and international relations skills while facilitating the Church in Europe.

The European Internship Program allows students opportunities to work in European governments, think tanks, UN and EU organizations, and NGOs. Internships are located in Brussels, Edinburgh, Geneva, and Paris, where students will receive personal training in their selected field.

The German Internship Program allows students to intern in the industry of their choice in Heidelberg or Schwäbish Hall and Tuebingen, while the Italy program transports students to Siena, where they intern in a wide variety of choices from the social sciences or medicine to museum support or gastronomy.

The Paris Internship allows students to complete internships in a variety of fields while experiencing Parisian culture in “the city of lights.”

In Romania, students intern in orphanages and hospitals, aiding children with physical and psychological disabilities.

Adam Turville visits the Schönbrunn palace in Vienna.

Adam Turville
Salt Lake City, UT
International relations/German studies double major
Graduated April 2013

I interned in the office of the U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna. This office comprises the U.S. ambassador and delegation to the UN offices in Vienna, Austria, which includes the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and the Preparatory Commission to the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty Organization. As the assistant to the public affairs officer, I worked closely with the senior diplomats and U.S. Ambassador Glyn Davies and had responsibility for reporting all media activity in relevant topics to the ambassador and other diplomats. I participated in many meetings with government officials including Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, attended many receptions, mingling with state heads and ambassadors from across the globe, as well as special delegations from Washington, D.C., including Goodwill Ambassador for Global Justice for the UNODC Nicholas Cage.

I helped coordinate with local and international members of the press in preparation for press conferences and issuing media releases from the office of the U.S. Ambassador and participated in many meetings where negotiations took place and resolutions were debated during the annual conference of the IAEA.

This internship was great exposure to the life of a Foreign Service officer. Interns were regularly invited to receptions with delegations from other countries, where we interacted personally with many of the U.S. delegation. In addition to allowing me to acquire a “secret level” security clearance, this internship proved to be a great networking experience and provided me with opportunities to be mentored by several Foreign Service officers who are living in the field. My internship with the U.S. Department of State has opened many doors for me and has added credibility to my resume. My semester in Vienna also included weekend trips to surrounding cities including Munich, Rome, Budapest, Copenhagen, and Berlin.


For experience in business, the Japan Internship allows students the opportunity to intern in finance and administration or to teach English.

An internship in South Korea can provide work in companies such as Hyundai, LG, Marriott, and others through the Korea Internship program.

For students seeking experience in China, several internships options are available. Through the Chinese Flagship Program, students enroll in Nanjing University where they are instructed on media, current events, and culture. For their second semester, students are dispersed to internship locations across the country.

The International Student Teaching Internship allows students to complete their student teaching at the Clifford School, a bilingual school located in Guangzhou, China.

During the Engineering Manufacturing Internship, students work to complete a significant project in five weeks, at the conclusion of which they present their work and a final report.

In Vietnam, interns participate in the Vietnam National Opera and Ballet, and may give private lessons and performances. As part of the Moscow Internship, students will enroll at the Russian Academy of National Economy (RANE) while completing various internships across the city.

International Development Internships

Each internship focuses on a different approach to development—Thailand focuses on small-scale NGOs; Cambodia on public health and human rights; Malawi on food science and nutrition; and Jordan on social development. Brown noted the internships do not emphasize the place: “The emphasis is on learning an approach to how development is done.”

The Project Evaluation and Assessment Team, or PEAT, is another way for students to gain international internship experience through this joint internship program between BYU’s sociology department and international development minor. Students are trained in evaluation and assessment techniques and assess the world of NGO’s.

Brown says these opportunities help differentiate students. “If I am an employer, and I see someone has been to Cambodia and worked there, that is impressive.” The internships force students to see issues in different ways and to expand their horizons. “I hope they leave recognizing there are multiple ways in which issues can be conceived and addressed,” said Brown.

Luis Alberto Tello Espinosa, Abigail Wells, Ashley Dymock, and Selina Miller overlook Guanajuato, Mexico.

Ashley Dymock
Paradise, UT
International relations major/international development minor
Graduated April 2013

As a PEAT intern, I evaluated CHOICE Humanitarian in Mexico, which works in rural villages surrounding Irapuato, Guanajuato, Mexico, in several capacities (including constructing dry latrines, cisterns, filters, aiding community projects such as building schools and churches, running an animal loan program, establishing goat cheese factories and Internet cafes, and teaching non-formal education classes.)

My evaluation involved analyzing the current state of education in the rural villages (dropout rates, access, quality, etc.) and determining the appropriate role CHOICE can, or does, play in improving the state of education for rural villagers. This also included an in-depth evaluation of CHOICE’s past non-formal education classes and an assessment of future non-formal education classes CHOICE could offer in the communities.

CHOICE also asked our team to perform an evaluation of a solar energy project recently proposed by a company wishing to partner with CHOICE. We adapted our studies to better evaluate the solar project. One interesting finding from the study is the most successful non-formal education classes have been those conducted on a one-on-one basis in the villagers’ homes. Thus, for such a large-scale endeavor as the solar project, in-depth training would be most effective if conducted in the home of each villager investing in the project.

I now understand better the context in which development takes place. And because of our research, I will now be working with the solar company we evaluated.

When and How Many?

Most students complete internships during their junior or senior years, although they can and should be undertaken at any time. Peterson recommends students not wait to complete an internship: “Maybe a freshman or a sophomore will do an on-campus internship, where they are working for a company but doing it in the context of a class with a faculty mentor. That gets students started and gives them one type of experience that will help juniors and seniors get better internships. Many students complete prestigious paid internships their junior or senior year, because they had already accumulated useful real-life skills as freshmen and sophomores.”

Waddell would like students to leave BYU with multiple internships, but he knows it does not always happen. “It is my professional opinion that less than half of students will graduate with two internships, maybe a little less than half with one, but that may be a little over-optimistic,” he said. “An internship today really should not be an option—it is a requirement in today’s work world.” He added, “Graduating seniors who have not had experience continue to add to underemployment and unemployment. Students who do internships—which every one of them should do—have far better options and career opportunities than students who do not complete an internship. It should become an integrated part of the university experience for all students.”

Paid vs. Unpaid

Internships may not always seem like the most cost-convenient option, as college students who already struggle with expenses may feel they cannot accept an unpaid internship. “We recognize it is expensive if the internship is unpaid. The argument we use with students is they need to look at it as an investment in their future. We understand their short-term needs, but we have all kinds of evidence this will help them launch a career,” counseled Sprenger. “Consider it part of your tuition,” said Brown. “There are certain things that do not take place in the classroom that round out, hone, and exemplify an educational experience; internships are one of those things.”

There are resources for students to gain help with internship expenses. The College of Humanities provides students a $2,000 stipend for international internships, $1,000 for Washington seminar internships, and $500 for local internships. “I try to get students to understand the value of an internship, and to help support them financially, so we distribute funds to students in the college so they can participate in an international, national, or local internship,” Waddell remarked.



Aaron Rose, an international study programs coordinator, shared a personal story about his neighbors in American Fork, Utah. One neighbor, who was born and raised in Utah Valley, is intimidated that his company has assigned him to oversee Chinese operations, meanwhile another neighbor questions the importance of her children enrolling in foreign language programs, with the thought her child will stay in Utah Valley for the rest of his life. “She had no idea I had this conversation with this man on the other side of the street who was basically her son fast-forwarded forty years,” said Rose. “Even if you do not plan on a career outside of the U.S., your employer may send you abroad. It is important to have international experience if you want to represent your employer well in a global market.” Rose also emphasized international experience is impressive to employers. “Employers want to see students have global experience—they have done something challenging and worthwhile outside of Provo. They want to see a student who has done something different.”

Alumni seeking connections to BYU student interns should contact Aaron Rose at More student experiences are also available online at