Unless you’re living self-sufficiently off-the-grid with the ability to apparate around the world, you’re probably just as tangled up with juggling student finances as the rest of us, determined to make the smartest moves for future success. The question is not how you can secure an international internship at no expense. Even if you’re able to land a scholarship or whatever else for free, usually a lot of time, effort and hard work is poured into obtaining these advantages. Let’s be real… the only thing I’ve received for free this year has been a tiny piece of cheese on a toothpick at the supermarket (delicious!). But I still had to cover the costs of driving to the supermarket. And I didn’t exactly offset the carbon emissions produced from driving there (or from eating the cheese). So let’s put “free” in context. The real question is more strategic and personal: How can internship expenses be minimized and value maximised, so that your investment is personally and professionally worthwhile?

The Truth about “Free” Internship Opportunities

Get real about money!
This is the most boring, eye-rolling piece of advice, but suck it up, because it’s the most important. Critically evaluate your current spending habits - this is the best, most immediately actionable step, that’ll put wind in your sails and get you moving forward. Look at how much cash you routinely burn through on a weekly basis. Have you ever stopped to think about how much is being eaten up through online subscriptions, gym membership, coffees, booze, brought lunches, hair/manicure/pedicure appointments, driving (to places within walking distance), spontaneous purchases… the list goes on!

  • Are you using a credit card that provides the best travel incentives?
  • Are you utilizing student discounts wisely?
  • Can your mobile phone plan be downgraded?
  • Can you sell anything you’re not using to kick-start a travel savings account?

If you make some short-term sacrifices over a realistic timeline, you’ll not only find that it’s possible to save what you need to cover program fees and associated travel costs. You’ll also find that you can choose a program destination that may have a cheaper daily cost of living than what you’re currently spending at home (ka-ching!)

Start to work your freelance magic!
I’m prone to take things with a cynical grain of salt, but freelancing works if you’re determined to make it happen. Just Google “freelance work” or “upwork” to check out options. What skills can you leverage? Photography, graphic design, social media wizardry, accounting, software design, blogging, editing, videography, virtual language lessons, translating? Start by managing your time and setting reasonable rates. Unless you’ve mastered the art of passive income, you don’t need all the clients in the world - you just need enough to fill the amount of time that you’re willing to commit.

Don’t rule out scholarships, grants, awards, fellowships and competitions!
Don’t think “I’m not scholarship material” because criteria are not always based on study plans, study fields and academic achievement. Other criteria may be focused on community service or involvement, your region, ethnicity, financial hardship, sports, industry or trade, essay submission on a specific topic, or leadership. Therefore, use a search engine to see what’s out there (beyond your university’s website). Fellowships are pretty competitive… but if you are a high flyer, get stuck into applications. You don’t know what you don’t know, so look into this and you might be surprised with what you find.

Don’t let the cost of flights ruin you!
Consider destinations that are geographically closer to you (as opposed to on the other side of the world) if you don’t have a huge budget for flights. Utilize airpoints schemes and speak to your bank about the best travel credit cards. Think about the destinations you’re most interested in, and sign up for airline alerts that will notify you when special rates are available. Always check what’s included though - it’s no use getting cheap flights, if hidden fees pile up in transit (e.g. having to pay extra to check your luggage, expensive food and drink charges).

Save on tuition money and use your internship as a platform for course credit instead!
Intern Abroad HQ programs are non-credit bearing, which means that the program fees are significantly cheaper than alternative internship programs that provide a certain number of credits. However, this does not mean that Intern Abroad HQ programs cannot act as a platform from which course credits can successfully be obtained - it simply means that the onus is on you. In fact, the programs foster suitable conditions and many program participants have used the internship structure to source credit. Each academic institution has a unique policy for granting internship credit, so you will be responsible for discussing the options with your school in advance and independently ascertaining eligibility and the steps to take. Talk to your advisor - it takes a little effort but it could actually save you big bucks.

You actually can invest in yourself for free!
It doesn’t cost anything to take the above suggestions on board. Exploring your options, saving your money, and thinking outside the box actually are free (at least… at the time of this writing!) So if you’re a little bit strategic, capitalize on your free time, and leverage the resources that are already at your fingertips - you’ll find that everything else you want becomes significantly easier to reach.

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