For more than 20 years, Boston University Study Abroad has defined its international internship programs as follows:
An international internship program combines coursework in a particular academic area with a professional work experience. These two strategies—classroom (or theoretical) training, and professional (or practical) experience—complement each other. Together, they ground students in the reality of daily life in the host culture, and at the same time enable an increased understanding of international professional culture.
The internship placement is therefore a component of a larger, integrated academic experience, typically a 4-credit course in a 16-credit semester.
The internship itself exhibits these characteristics:
- It is academically-directed. The internship is a discrete course, supervised by faculty members, and carrying significant academic requirements.
- Its grades and academic credit are based on explicit requirements detailed in a course syllabus.
- It is embedded in other coursework completed by the student overseas, either implicitly through its thematic relationship to subjects studied during the semester abroad, or explicitly by means of a seminar or proseminar co-extensive with the internship and whose explicit subject matter is the internship experience.
- It is unpaid and for-credit. The internship placement itself cannot otherwise be conceived as part of an academic program.
- Whenever possible, its language (both in the work place and in the classroom) is the language of the host culture.
- Its scheduling is such as to allow the student to carry out projects of significance for his or her employer while allowing normal contact hours for the accompanying classroom-based courses.
Establishment of Resources & Support
In order to ensure consistent quality in an international, academically-directed internship program, it is critical to establish and maintain sufficient academic and professional resources.
- A regular faculty consisting of locally-sourced instructors should be maintained. These faculty members may teach courses as part of the program, or may be contracted separately to provide advising, grading, and other academic services to the internship.
- The academic products of the internship should be assessed by these qualified faculty members, including the resident director when that person has the appropriate qualifications.
- Since the internship experience, and especially the experience of the academically-directed internship, are unconventional in many of the countries where we operate, continuity of faculty is fundamental and essential.
- An internship program of any size requires an ongoing placement effort. Professional staff should be hired and dedicated to the internship component of the program.
- Professional internship staff should handle everything except the academic component. Their duties include developing placement sources, maintaining a detailed database of these, interviewing and actually placing students, maintaining contact with both students and employers throughout the placement period, and providing advice, counsel, and pastoral support as necessary throughout the semester.
Professional internship staff must be knowledgeable about and respected throughout the local business community.
It is impossible to provide a meaningful academic evaluation of an intern’s actual experience at the work placement, particularly in a cultural and professional environment that may be very different from anything the intern has experienced previously. Therefore, the evaluation provided by the intern’s work supervisor, while required in every case, will always play a subordinate role in the grading of the internship.
What can be evaluated appropriately in a for-credit context is the academic work carried out under the direction of the faculty. The exact formula for assessing the performance of each student in the internship will be determined by the resident director in consultation with his or her faculty members.
Assessment should consider factors including:
- Written work—a formal analytical paper, portfolio, or combination of these. Written work is the primary academic expectation placed on the student.
- Participation in internship seminar or other faculty-directed sessions
- Oral presentation and/or defense of work
- Internship supervisor’s evaluation
All assessment is performed by qualified teaching faculty, the resident director, or a qualified academic contracted specifically for this purpose.
Course Syllabus & Handbook
All academic requirements and assessment standards should be spelled out clearly in a course syllabus, part of a larger internship handbook. The handbook should cover, in addition to the academic expectations and requirements of the internship, such items as:
- The placement process
- Suggestions on how to prepare résumés and how to conduct oneself during an interview
- An introduction to daily work life in the host culture and the behavioral expectations placed on the student
- Other scheduling information
The handbook also presents an additional opportunity to manage some common student expectations. For example, the handbook can:
- Remind students that the specific location of the placement is not as important as what the student does with the internship. Many students come into the process convinced that the only valuable outcome of the internship is the ability to put a “big name” on their résumé. The handbook can remind them that the more pragmatic benefits of the academically-directed internship are less important than the student’s ability to intellectualize that experience.
- Stress that students be flexible throughout the placement process, that they consider the value of working for small or start-up organizations, and that insistence on landing a preconceived “best” or “right” internship is a misdirected focus.