Language skills and cultural awareness

If you want to make the most of your internship or work experience overseas, advance preparation can be of great benefit. By spending a bit of time researching you can fit in and not feel like a fish out of water.

We’ve identified here some of the things that you may want to consider. Once you’ve looked through the list, you may find it helpful to write a checklist of everything that is important for you and to tick off things as you research them.

Tailoring your CV for overseas applications

The University of Birmingham’s Careers Network can provide you with tailored CV assistance to help you present yourself to employers in the best possible way (visit www.intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/careers for more information). However, you may find that employers in different countries have different expectations with regard to the information that they expect to see, or the style in which it is presented.

Language

Many overseas work experience opportunities take place in countries where the first language is not English. Whilst many business people may speak fluent English, others in your work area may not and it is unlikely that all the clients or members of the public whom you meet will speak it. Whilst it may not be realistic for you to become fluent in the local dialect, taking time in advance of your trip to learn at least a few key words and phrases will make a very good impression and will help to demonstrate that you are committed to the work that you are undertaking.

Culture and customs

Wherever you’re going, there are likely to be some differences compared with the culture you come from. The differences may be major, or they may be subtle. An awareness of some of the key differences can really help you to integrate quickly into the workplace environment and can help you to make a good impression with your colleagues and clients. Don’t forget as well that culture doesn’t simply mean observing what others do. Consider before you go if the clothing that you plan to wear is appropriate for the culture. Also, if you’re planning to stay with a host family whilst overseas, check what the expectations may be regarding hospitality, gifts that hosts might normally expect and any rules of etiquette that should be observed.

Other considerations

As well as researching languages, culture and customs, it can be helpful to have a good awareness of the key information about the country to which you intend to travel. This might include:

Medical requirements

Some countries have prevalent diseases or advise that there may be risks of contracting particular illnesses and so recommend that travellers take appropriate precautions, such as taking vaccinations before travelling, or taking medication or treatments in your luggage.

Money

Think about:

  • Whilst most countries have their own currency, in some cases it is not possible to purchase this overseas, or if it is, you may not wish to carry large amounts of currency on your person. 
  • Some countries recommend taking US dollars, whilst others may recommend travellers cheques. 
  • If you are planning to use an ATM to access funds whilst abroad, make sure that your card will be compatible with the machines in the country to which you’re travelling (and check that there will be machines available where you will be – particularly if you’re going to a remote location). Many high street banks are part of international banking groups. Check if yours is. Whilst some such as HSBC might have the same name overseas, others may not. 
  • If you plan to use a card to pay for things whilst overseas, check beforehand that this is widely accepted where you’re going. Just because a card might be accepted in all the shops on your high street doesn’t mean that it will be where you’re going. 
  • If you will be earning money abroad, your employer may require you to open a local bank account. Often ID such as your passport, in combination with documentation from your employer will suffice. However, you may wish to check in advance that the banks have no additional requirements.

Internal travel and places to stay

When you plan your journey away, if you’re applying for a University of Birmingham Work Experience Bursary, you’ll need to plan for the costs of your accommodation and travel overseas and back again. However, don’t forget that when you travel abroad, you may be travelling over several days to reach your ultimate destination, where you will be working. If that’s the case you will need to consider where you will be staying during those periods and what transport will be available. If you’re planning on using public transport, you may need to reserve a place before you travel.

Time difference

Time difference compared to your country of origin (useful particularly if you have to call someone there or if you need to phone home whilst you’re there).

Mobile coverage

If you intend to take your mobile phone with you, you will need to check:

  • Does it work on the country’s cell network (has it got the appropriate band coverage)? 
  • Does your current contract include the country to which you’re travelling, or do you need to request an upgrade?
  • What are the costs both of making mobile calls / texting from the country and receiving incoming calls and texts? 
  • If you intend to use data services on your phone, check what the costs may be – they can mount up very quickly if you aren’t careful! 
  • Coverage in the area where you will be based. Remote or rural locations sometimes may not have full coverage for mobile phones. Check in advance if this is the case where you will be (you may want to let people have an alternative means of reaching you, if they can’t reach you on your mobile).
  • If mobile coverage is likely to be limited where you will be, or if you aren’t planning to take a mobile, consider checking what provision the country has for telephone boxes and make sure that you have some change or a phone card for emergencies.

Electricity

Remember that although your UK device might run on 240 volts and use a three-mains pin plug, the country in which you’ll be working is unlikely to have the same standard. Whilst you may not be planning to take many electrical items with you, this might affect your mobile phone charger, razor or mp3 player charger. You can normally buy plug converters at the airport before you travel – however, you will need to know what sort you need to purchase.

Tools and materials to help you

University of Birmingham international collaborations

The University of Birmingham has extensive links with universities overseas through the Universitas 21 group. Students can engage with U21 members through activities such as Undergraduate Travel Bursaries and several overseas Summer Schools hosted by U21 partners. The International Office advertise and recruit to these over the course of the academic year. For more information, visit the University’s International web pages

Languages For All

The University of Birmingham’s Centre for Modern Languages offers “Languages For All” courses to students with a basic grounding on both languages and culture. The languages available are:

  • Chinese 
  • French 
  • German 
  • Italian 
  • Japanese
  • Spanish 
  • Russian and Polish to be offered in the coming year.

For more information, visit: www.birmingham.ac.uk/lfa 

Other language courses

If the language that you want is not covered by the “Languages For All” course, you may wish to consider local adult education courses. Birmingham City Council offers a range of language courses at its Brasshouse Language Centre, located off Broad Street, close to the centre of Birmingham. For more information, visit http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/brasshouse  

Student societies

The University of Birmingham has a huge range of different societies, many of which are administered through the Student Development department of the Guild of Students. Several societies are dedicated to specific countries’ cultures and languages – such as the Portuguese Society, the Russian & Eastern European Society, and the Japanese, Arabic & Mandarin Society. The societies will be happy to provide you with information and to signpost you to additional sources of information. For more information about student societies, visit: http://www.guildofstudents.com/content/788953/

Country profiles

Country guides for international students

Phrase books, dictionaries and apps

It may seem obvious, but a small phrase book or dictionary can be a life-saver. Some travel guides (such as the Lonely Planet series - www.lonelyplanet.com) include a language section and are available in traditional book format, as PDFs or e-books and also as iPhone or Android apps. The most popular guides are updated regularly and it is always recommended to get the latest version.

iPhone / iPad and Android phone users can also make use of a vast range of different applications that are designed to make travel easier – ranging from maps and transport itineraries to translators and dictionaries.

Online resources

The Internet contains a wealth of websites and resources, some of which may be more useful than others. Many links have been provided already in these pages and many, many more are available through the other web pages on Careers Network's website. However, if you’re looking to travel abroad you may find it helpful to visit the Going Global website (http://www.goinglobal.com/), which provides helpful information on many of the topics that have been identified including country profiles, information about CVs and application letters on a country-by-country basis, interview advice, information about visas and work permits and more.