It is not always easy to find a work experience placement and this may require a certain amount of planning. This naturally also applies when looking for a placement abroad. Here you will find important information and valuable tips to make your search a success. Your placement should be related to your area of study. If a work experience placement is a requirement for your programme of study, please make sure beforehand that your department will recognise your work experience and find out what requirements need to be met. To ensure the quality of the work experience placement, an agreement has been made as part of the EU’s Erasmus programme that defines the aims of work experience placements. These can also be used as a good foundation for non-European countries. Your international office can supply you with the version used by your institution. When you start planning, get in touch with your student advice service, international office and/or careers service.
The country you choose may be dependent on which languages you can speak. In countries with less common languages (e.g. Scandinavia) you will be able to get by in English. Knowledge of Spanish or Portuguese also opens up South America as an option. French is also spoken in many places around the world, such as several African countries, Haiti and Madagascar. English-speaking countries also include Ireland, Malta, India, New Zealand, Australia and a few African states. The USA, France and the United Kingdom are the most popular choices for work experience placements abroad.
Going to a country where the language is not so widely known and learning some of this language whilst there will certainly make your CV stand out from the crowd when you later come to applying for jobs. Eastern Europe, in particular, can be recommended in this regard, as its close cooperation with the EU offers many opportunities.
When planning your overseas work experience you should consider your financial resources, personal goals, interests and future plans. Valuable practical experience and intercultural knowledge can be gained in various ways. Work experience placements in companies, (international) organisations or institutes offer the best opportunities to put your classroom knowledge into practice. You might also consider voluntary work and take part in social or environmental projects on any of the five continents. Experiences such as these can also provide you with knowledge and skills that will help you in your future career.
Having some practical experience will make it much easier to find your first job. Gaining this experience abroad is even better as most businesses today operate globally and therefore actively seek candidates for positions such as engineers who can speak other languages and have intercultural awareness. The more time you spend abroad, the better your chances of receiving financial recognition from an employer. Doing a longer duration placement is the only way that the employer will be able to get you more actively involved with their work and want to integrate you into their team. Short-term placements lasting less than three months will also look less impressive on your CV.
Volunteering abroad also provides you with valuable experience, particularly if you do something related to your studies. Depending on your field (e.g. ecology, care, languages), a voluntary placement may be considered equal to work experience.
A huge variety of activities are available. You could work in a national park in the USA, support disadvantaged children in Asia, do unpaid work for farmers in New Zealand or assist on archaeological digs. You can apply for such opportunities through charitable organisations and commercial providers, or even organise them yourself. Some programmes provide a small amount of financial support. When choosing an organisation to arrange your placement, ensure to choose one which is respectable and check prices carefully. You can find more information and helpful links in the FAQs under volunteering and placement organisations.
Examination regulations aside, you should plan to do your work experience at a point during your studies when you will have gained enough relevant knowledge to be able to put it into practice. This will allow you and your employer to get the most out of your work experience. The earliest you should consider is the end of your third semester and no later than when doing your Bachelor’s or Master’s dissertation. You should also consider when the best time is for you personally, e.g. with regard to when you wish to take your exams.
The longer you plan, the better. You will need time to acclimatise and integrate into a different lifestyle and business culture. In our experience, students generally feel “settled in” after one semester abroad. Spending an entire year doing your work experience will give you the best insights, although this is not possible for everyone. You can do your work experience abroad during your compulsory practical semester. Longer duration placements will help you to develop your language skills better. Lastly, it is worth mentioning that employers will be more inclined to offer financial remuneration if you are available for a longer period of time. You can, of course, also do a shorter placement. However, bear in mind that the longer you stay, the better.
Searching for a work experience placement abroad is often time-consuming so you should start planning about a year in advance. At the very least you must have started actively sending applications no later than six months before you intend to go. Placement organisers and grant providers have a long application period, too. The earlier you start to organise things, the better. Employers are interested in you because you are a student and therefore fit into the rhythm of the academic year. This is particularly true if they take on new work experience students every year. Placements that come with a good level of supervision can therefore have long application processes. This is even truer if you need to apply for a visa.
You should first decide on your aims. Do you want to work for an international organisation, a global business or a local company? Are you looking to do voluntary or compulsory work experience?
Before going ahead and giving money to a private placement agency, you should first get advice from whoever is responsible for work experience in your faculty as well as the international office and/or careers service at your university. Your advisor should be able to answer any questions you have about doing work experience abroad and to help you to achieve your objectives on your own. You will get:
• personal advice from experienced staff with experience of living abroad
• contact information for any overseas business partners or other partners your institution has
• reports written by other students about their placement
• tips for updating your application documents and, where necessary, adapting them for the target country
• information about how your placement will be recognised in your field
• personal face-to-face advice
Only once you have had a look around and are familiar with what is on offer at your university will you know whether you should use the services of a private agency. And if so, you must be absolutely certain that you will be getting serious advice in exchange for your money. You can find out more about quality criteria on the impartial and public Wege ins Ausland website and in the FAQs. As well as the jobs board on our website and the international office/careers service at your university, there are also international student organisations where you can look to find a placement:
Students studying for a Bachelor’s degree in natural sciences, life sciences and engineering who are looking for a summer placement lasting up to 3 months using English should take a close look at the DAAD programme RISE weltweit. It will find you an exciting research placement anywhere in the world.
Further links and more information about placement agencies can be found in the FAQs. You will also find tips for writing your application and making contact with businesses.
Gaining work experience abroad increases your chances when trying to find your first job. It will improve your foreign language skills, provide you with intercultural awareness, give you experience of a different working culture and build your professional network, among other things. It is possible, for example, that the corporate headquarters in Bavaria may later hire you.
In addition, you benefit from gaining valuable personal experiences and broadening your horizons, making you more proactive and independent. Despite this, many students have doubts. Let us take a look at these:
Cost is a matter of organisation. By doing a placement somewhere with a low cost of living, securing a bursary and receiving a small amount of pay mean you can put any financial concerns into perspective. Furthermore, your experience abroad may make it easier to get a job and, under certain circumstances, higher pay, so it is a worthwhile investment!
If you are not required to do a work experience placement, then doing one can delay your graduation by one or two semesters. But it is worth remembering that you will gain valuable work experience whilst demonstrating organisational skills and independence. You will not want to miss out on the many personal experiences. During the semesters that you take away from your studies you may still be able to draw upon the Federal Education and Trainings Assistance Act AND have your support period extended. Once you have started your career and have a family, spending time abroad becomes quite difficult. There is great demand from Bavarian businesses for graduates with international and intercultural experience. The year or semester that you spend abroad can reduce the time it takes you to find a job and kick-start your career.
The Study & Work International project and the careers service/international office at your university can provide you with support when organising your placement abroad. Many students have already done it. Why not you? Your future employer will be looking for people who can rise to a challenge and be able to achieve!
As soon as you arrive in a country you are surrounded by the language. Jumping in at the deep end whilst also taking a language course will work wonders. The working language in many global businesses is English. This means that even your colleagues will be communicating in a language which is not their own. We do, of course, recommend taking language courses at your home university beforehand to make integration and daily life easier. Unlike when you travel, a work experience placement will let you experience the culture and language of a country up close, as it will become part of your daily life. Bavarian industry operates globally so there is a high demand for graduates who can demonstrate knowledge of at least two foreign languages and intercultural experience.