Tips I wish I had been given before applying to my first international internship

Hello everyone! My name is Heleena De Oliveira, and I am a recipient of the Susan Casey Brown Fund for McGill, McGill International Experience Awards, and an MIEA Ambassador.

Over the summer I participated in an internship at Synergos Institute, a non-profit philanthropic organization based in New York. Synergos’ mandate is to use a methodology called ‘bridging leadership’ to bring together governments, locals, and philanthropists across the world to solve complex global issues. My role in this internship was to assist the Global Philanthropy Circle in their endeavors between the months of May and August. Some of my tasks included undertaking prospect and philanthropic research, copyediting, writing newsletters, marketing and online programming support, participation in working groups, assembling working groups, and other staff meetings.

Throughout my internship I was given the opportunity to network with a multitude of people, many of whom had interests which aligned with mine, and who were kind enough to discuss with me my personal and career goals (to work in Human Rights Law). Speaking with them helped me consolidate an understanding of how I could make my internship at Synergos conducive to my goals. I found that my experience at Synergos was particularly useful in helping me cultivate a better understanding of the complexity of dealing with human rights issues that are taking place across the world, and the barriers, notably at government and local levels, which often exacerbate these issues.

My internship allowed me the opportunity to broaden my career horizons and my general knowledge by work independently and spear-heading projects and research which addressed issues, such as sustainable agriculture, which I had previously had little exposure to. This exposure was one of the great strengths of my internship, as through it I have developed new interests which I will continue to explore beyond my university education, and which also add new dimensions to my interest in human rights.

Here are some tips that I wish I had been given before I applied for my first international internship:

1. Speak to students who have already participated in the international internship you are interested in! It is so easy to identify and contact students through McGill’s ION (Internship Office Network), or through the MIEA website, where you can see which internships students participated in and contact these students via LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. This is a great way to receive candid feedback about a student’s experience working for a specific organization, and it can be really useful in informing your decision on where to apply, or what to expect once you are accepted. Most students who participate in these internships are more than happy to connect with interested applicants to discuss, so don’t hesitate!2. Everyone has some kind of experience. I remember feeling like I was so underqualified the first year that I applied for internships through McGill, because I didn’t have a lot of previous internship experience. This is a normal feeling, and I promise that a lot of students are in your same predicament. ‘Experience’ is not just limited to working in big firms or NGOs, experience happens in your day-to-day. Think about clubs you have joined during, or even before, your time at McGill; interesting projects you have contributed to or spear-headed; articles you have written; research you have been involved in; even the majors you study at university (the list is endless!). These are all critical experiences you should use, both to inform the internships you choose to apply to, but also to convince the organization that you end up applying to that you have interests which strongly align to the mission of that organization.

3. On that note, Google is (literally) your friend! Doing some thorough background research on the organization you are interested in will make your applications so much stronger by showing that you have a genuine interest in the internship you apply to!4. You don’t have to go through the application process alone. One of the best things about McGill is the resources the Internship Office Network provides to facilitate your application process; from providing informative internship sessions, to reviewing your CV, to helping you create a cover letter. They are here for you (I cannot stress this enough!), so use them.

Please feel free to contact me if you are interested in applying to Synergos Institute (or other organizations) for an internship and would like some guidance, or if you are interested in discussing the fields of politics or human rights!

Back to top