CIS Abroad Blog

How Virtual Internships Actually Work

While virtual internships (sometimes called remote internships) are a bit of a new concept, they are growing in popularity both domestically and internationally.  Students are able to work for companies around the world that they might never have had access to before.  Employers are finding that this internship model provides them with the ability to tap into even more great talent than ever before.  Looks like virtual internships are here to stay!  But how do they actually work and how might you prepare yourself for such an experience?

“Another skill I have developed has been time management and structuring my own goals. Working virtually forced me to make my own schedule and small project deadlines in order to accomplish larger tasks.”

Engineering intern in Ecuador, Summer 2020.

Just like with on-site internships, your CIS abroad placement team will work with you to identify your preferred internship field, host organization location, and your goals and objectives for the internship - then match you with your internship and host organization abroad.  At this point, though, the process starts to differ.  You’ll kick off your internship with an online meeting with your internship supervisor and an in-country member of your placement team.  You’ll talk over your internship project and the anticipated deliverables, ask questions and set up the ways that you and your supervisor will plan to communicate over the course of your internship.  Then it’s time to get started!

As you embark on this exciting new adventure, there are a few key considerations you will want to keep in mind to ensure your success:

#1: Communication

Because you won’t be on-site and meeting face to face with your supervisor every day, establishing from the start when and how you will communicate is essential!  We anticipate that you'll have a 1-1 meeting with your supervisor, online, once a week to formally review your work, seek feedback, and get direction.  However, inevitably you will have questions in between those meetings.  Typically, interns arrange to use email or a text platform like WhatsApp to communicate informally and more frequently.  Which leads us to…

#2: Time Zone Management

The “when” of communication is important, too.  Chances are, you and your supervisor will be in different time zones.  Maybe there will only be a one hour difference - but if you are doing an internship “in” South Africa or New Zealand, your morning might be your supervisor’s late night (or the next day)!  You'll need to plan ahead, making sure you send questions to your supervisor in advance of when you need the answer because the response might not be immediate.  And, be prepared for a possible late night staff meeting!

#3: Proactivity

Given your new role as a professional (not a student), don’t expect your supervisor to give you specific instructions every step of the way.  She will be relying on you to direct your work, ask for help or clarification when you need it, and “manage up” (a concept we will talk about during the internship seminar!).  If you wait to be told what to do, and don’t take initiative, you might find yourself at the four-week mark not having done much and coming up short on your goals.

#4: Cultural Differences

The concept of time is very culturally bound, and this is something you will experience during your virtual internship (around things like meeting start times, response times, deadlines, etc.).  Just because you are not physically in-country doesn’t mean that you won’t experience cultural differences, and some of the challenges that come with working across cultures.  But this is also why you chose to do a virtual global internship - to experience a new culture and develop a higher level of cultural competency.  And with challenge comes professional and personal growth (and we support you every step of the way)!

With the shift to remote work happening across the globe, gaining experience as a virtual intern will provide you with not only work experience in your intended career field but also the remote work skills employers will be looking for in future employees.  To get started on the path to enhancing your employability, check out the array of virtual global internship options available to you.  Want to hear what past virtual interns have said about their experience and the skills they acquired?  Check out their blogs: