Challenges with International Internships
Beyond securing an international internship and funding, there are a few other things to be mindful of. For the, the most important was understanding university restrictions and fellowship restrictions on travel and work in areas of hardship or unrest. Funding and internships associated with the University of Minnesota require a degree of ensured security. For countries on the US State Department's Travel Warning List, the university and university based fellowship require a petition for work, travel, and/or study. Often these petitions are successful, but they do require that students develop a secure evacuation plan in case of crisis.
Initially, due to funding deadlines, I accepted a position with the Foundation for Sustainable Development in Mombasa, Kenya. While it was not my first choice, the internship with FSD definitely provided a mutually beneficial opportunity for both me and the organization. Kenya was on the US Travel Warning List due to ongoing unrest. However, I knew of several students who had worked in the country previously, and also of several planning to intern there this coming summer. However, unrest in Kenya escalated in early spring. The faith-based nature of my internship was somewhat concerning in light of the unrest, so FSD cancelled my internship.
Hope had provided me with the opportunity to intern with them shortly before my internship with FSD was cancelled. I was able, through several petitions, to transfer my funding and ended up with the internship I had hoped for. Shortly after I accepted, the Ukranian President dissolved the Rada (Ukranian Parliament). For a period of about three weeks, the political climate seemed a bit tenuous. However, the Ukraine has remained off the travel warning list and the political crisis has been somewhat dissolved through ongoing negotiations and a commitment by both President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yanukovych to achieving a peaceful resolution. The conflict is not completely resolved, but is moving toward resolution. It proves to be an interesting time to work in the Ukraine.
All of this is not to dissuade students from working in areas of hardship. On the contrary, had FSD not cancelled my internship, I would have continued the work. However, for those interested in international internships, it is important to remain current on the political, economic, and social conditions of the country, as well as any organizational or university restrictions on travel and work in that area. Not only will this help you to be better prepared as an intern, but it will also provide you with back-up plans and opportunities, should an internship be cancelled as mine was.