Internship: the new risks

Your studies are coming to an end and it’s high time to think about the future. Will you gain some experience in a field related to your studies or go abroad and do something more exotic? Internships pave the way for your future career, but what if your studies get delayed due to your new responsibilities?

The most romanticized type of internship is definitely the one abroad. Mette Buiting found her perfect internship through AIESEC and spent seven weeks in Kenya during the summer, participating in a project
devoted to women with HIV/AIDS. Even though the internship is not related to her studies, she still found it very enriching. “I did it mainly for my personal development. Going on holiday to Africa wouldn’t be the same, and working at a local organization makes the experience more real,” says Mette. The most valuable thing she learnt, was that changing the world shouldn’t be the volunteers’ goal. “You can help people by showing them that you care, but you can’t change the whole situation. We can only tell people in Kenya what we think but it’s still their country,” she says.

Contrary to Mette, Pim Geurts’ priority was to stay in Tilburg for his internship. He is working at Interselling for six months. Managing and expanding the company’s social media strategy and improving its search engine operations. He was connected to the company through Integrand, a foundation that mediates in internships for university students. And even though some tasks are not tightly related to his International Business program, “it is good to learn something new that doesn’t correspond so closely
to your degree. It also provides for a more practical experience than the studies at the university,” says the intern.

Not serving coffee
Students need internships to gain experience and launch their careers. But do companies need interns just as much? Louis van Stralendorff is a director at Interselling, a company which is specialized in commercial training and consultancy. He sees student interns as a valuable source of new energy in the company: “Companies should be obliged to hire interns! The big ones usually recognize the advantages of hiring interns, but midsized companies tend to stick to their old agendas and therefore develop much slower. They should lose their egos and listen to young people more.” The owner admits that despite his experience he is always open to new impulses and ideas, especially as young people often prove to be more efficient in getting the company’s message across. This is why he delegated the task of managing social media to his intern, Pim. And it turns out that the image of an intern merely serving coffee is not accurate. “Other employers actually get me coffee more often than I do for them!” Pim laughs.

Long study fine
With the recently introduced long study fine, some students fear a delay in their studies and have their doubts about doing an internship. Van Stralendorff recognizes a long study fine as a threat to companies. “I was expecting about fifteen students to take an interest in doing an internship, but I only received three replies.” The reason might be that they fear lagging behind with their curriculum. Van Stralendorff thinks that the company should therefore be flexible enough to enable students to keep up with their studies. “Student interns should not be seen as a replacement for a vacancy, but as an extra employee. This
ensures that the company provides them with time to focus on their studies. Education is a priority and the internship should not conflict with it,” says the director. Pim doesn’t think that a long study fine is a problem, if one is ambitious enough. “You don’t have to do an internship during your studies at the university! It is not obligatory, and you can always do it after your graduation.” He also ensures us that doing an internship alongside your studies is possible. “It doesn’t necessarily make your study any longer. I am able to combine working three days a week with my two courses and writing a thesis. I know myself and I am confident that I will pass all the courses,” says Pim. Cathy de Waele, a student adviser at the Tilburg School of Humanities, also thinks that a long study fine doesn’t have a discouraging effect. “Students who are doing a voluntary internship are of a different category than the students whose studies get delayed. They seem more ambitious and make better plans, so they don’t fear the fine,” says De Waele.

But does this apply to all students? A long study fine might be quite problematic for those planning to do an internship abroad. Although a long study fine wasn’t decided upon at the moment Mette Buiting was looking for her internship, she had her doubts about her decision and didn’t want to do an extra semester. “That is why I decided to go during the summer. And I’m glad I did, because I managed to avoid the fine,” she says. She already has run up a delay in her studies, as she started studying in Leiden but moved to Tilburg after a year, so an extra semester would cost her €3000. She says that if students do their internship in the city where they live, they can easily combine it with their studies. But going abroad during an academic semester is not an option if they don’t want to run up a delay in their studies. Many students she knows, abandoned the idea of an internship abroad or a board year just because of the fine. “Especially because many of them changed their programs after their first year, and that leaves them with no time for additional activities abroad,” Mette points out.

Published: Univers no. 14, June 28, 2012