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Virtual internships with overseas companies help students gain exposure but come with new challenges

SINGAPORE — Interning in a foreign country already poses challenges in the best of times but the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has presented additional hurdles for university students hoping to gain overseas exposure.

Undergraduates who have taken up virtual internships with overseas companies include (clockwise from top left)  Jess Tan, Stanley Ho, Shanice Koh, Claudia Lim, Tan Huei Suen and Tammie Koh.

Undergraduates who have taken up virtual internships with overseas companies include (clockwise from top left) Jess Tan, Stanley Ho, Shanice Koh, Claudia Lim, Tan Huei Suen and Tammie Koh.

 

  • University students are taking up virtual internships with companies to gain overseas exposure during the Covid-19 pandemic 
  • Time difference, language barriers and reduced job scope among the challenges
  • While virtual internships also limit exposure to overseas culture, reduced costs and stress of moving still made it worthwhile, said interns

 

 

SINGAPORE — Interning in a foreign country already poses challenges in the best of times but the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has presented additional hurdles for university students hoping to gain overseas exposure. 

With almost all overseas internships cancelled, universities are helping students secure virtual internships instead. 

Singapore Management University (SMU) is one that hopes to leverage on overseas virtual internships which allows students to have overseas work exposure while working from Singapore.

“Virtual internships offer valuable opportunities to work with international companies, and even more so in locations where physical travel can be expensive or restricted,” a spokesperson said.

Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) fellow Mr Timothy Liu said that there could be an increase in such internships offered as both students and businesses benefit.

Businesses gain international talent and students do not need to worry about the logistics of such a move including visa applications and looking for accommodation, said Mr Liu who owns a company in China that teaches Mandarin and coordinates internships for students.  

While the internships are available for students of various courses, the majority of virtual internships available are in the information technology or marketing fields as such work can be done remotely more easily. 

The interns TODAY spoke to, who are working at companies based in Indonesia  the United States and China among other countries, said that a virtual internship during this period helped to minimise the stress of being overseas and to reduce the cost of such a move. 

They said however that such internships come with a new set of challenges including a limited job scope, lack of face-to-face time with colleagues and working in a different time zone.  

TIME DIFFERENCE, NARROW JOB SCOPE A CHALLENGE

Miss Claudia Lim, 22, Queensland University of Technology student, for example, had to cut short her in-person internship in New York when the Covid-19 pandemic hit in May.

She had completed three of her six-month internship with start-up WOMANBOSS, which aims to create a centralised community for women entrepreneurs, when she decided to return to Singapore. 

The media and communications and public relations student said her job scope drastically changed and the 12-hour time difference affected her sleep hours.

“I was an adhoc intern, I did everything from inventory and stock taking to planning networking events,” said Miss Lim.

“So I was limited to work that can be done remotely and without supervision, mainly design work, and I had no work-life balance as our meetings were at 9pm. There’s this pressure to stay up late and do my work while everyone back in New York is up so I can get immediate feedback.

“I was also cut off from our communication and networking events, so it didn’t feel like the full internship experience I hoped for.”

SMU undergraduate Stanley Ho also found his overseas internship experience limited while working virtually from Singapore. 

The 23-year-old business management student had hopes of living in Jakarta, Indonesia from May to July after securing a marketing internship with Indonesian real estate company PT Genesis Indojaya. 

While he was able gain insights about the Indonesian market through his job of crafting digital marketing materials and conducting market analysis, his exposure to the country and its culture was limited to video calls with his colleagues.

His supervisor also told him that most interns travelled from Jakarta to Bali as part of the work exposure — a part of his internship he missed out on. 

Another SMU undergraduate Tan Huei Suen, 22, said it was mainly the language barrier that she found challenging during her recent summer virtual internship with Vietnam-based career platform 9CV9.

While this would still be a challenge in a real life internship, face-to-face interaction would have made it easier to clarify words or terms that she did not understand immediately. 

“English words could be interpreted differently by different people, so communicating effectively and making clarifications was crucial,” said the smart city management and technology student who said her colleagues were a mix of Vietnamese and Indonesians.

“We found different ways to communicate with each other outside of our weekly meetings, like taking pictures and circling areas we need to work on, or taking videos.”

SUSS undergraduate Jess Tan, 23, said it was the real life interaction with overseas colleagues that she feels she missed out on with a virtual experience. 

“While the experience has been good... I do wish I could experience the city life, culture and people more,” she said. 

The marketing major in her third year had been looking forward to an overseas stint since her first year. 

She said however that the two-month virtual internship that she had with Beijing-based Heart Oasis Health Management was still a “good alternative” and messages of support as well as cute stickers her supervisor sent her on WeChat helped her feel connected with the rest of the team. 

“My colleagues are very welcoming and heartwarming to me, and they take the extra effort to engage me in small talk,” said Miss Tan who has extended her internship for an additional four months till November.

VIRTUAL OVERSEAS STINTS STILL FULFILLING 

Interns said that despite the challenges they faced, virtual internships with overseas companies do provide a unique set of benefits. 

For some like SMU undergraduate Miss Tan, the virtual internship has helped her save some additional costs as the allowance provided for her would not have been enough and she may have had to dig through her own pockets. 

Meanwhile, third year strategic management and sustainability major Tammie Koh found the experience of working for the Thailand branch of The Minor Food Group still a fruitful one despite doing it virtually.

As an intern for the office of strategic management, the 21-year-old SMU undergraduate still managed to worked on international expansion strategies to different regions like Africa and conducted competitive case studies for the company and its brands. 

As for Nanyang Technological University undergraduate Shanice Koh, writing articles and building the brand image of her intern company, ChongQing RongJi Environmental Protection Engineering, during her eight-week marketing planner internship was something she was thankful for.

The 21-year-old Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information student liked the flexibility of assignment-based work rather than working fixed hours. 

Her supervisor, she said, helped her hone her writing skills while guiding her through the technical jargon in Mandarin. 

“Overseas exposure opportunities didn’t come easily even before Covid-19 and now it’s not easy to just fly over and live in another country, so I’m really thankful for this chance during this time,” said Miss Koh.

Related topics

universities Internship SUSS SMU Covid-19

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