Despite busy schedules filled with lectures, exams and deadlines, some students are choosing to add to their commitments by participating in internships abroad. Such programs are attracting increasing numbers of university students from Arab countries, and helping students develop a variety of practical skills.
One of the best-known providers of international internships is AIESEC, which says it is the world’s largest youth-run nonprofit organization. It is active at more than 2,400 universities in 126 countries. In Arab countries, where local internships can be hard to find and students worry that securing one can be dependent on who you know, the organization has relatively open doors.
In Egypt, for example, 17,000 students from public and private universities have traveled abroad on AIESEC programs. The organization connects directly with students and alumni at organizing booths on university campuses and at public events.
AIESEC offers internships for young people between the ages of 18 and 30. It works in cooperation with the United Nations to provide opportunities on projects that work toward one of the 17 goals described in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
“It was a life-changing experience for me,” said Ahmed Naser, a student in the engineering faculty at Cairo University and a former vice president of the university’s AIESEC group. “This cultural exposure prepared me for practical life in effective ways that go beyond mere academic success.”
Naser says his internship helped him make connections, deal with different mindsets, and much more. “As a vice president, I traveled to India to supervise the AIESECers there. I learned how to be a leader and how to be responsible. I learned a variety of soft skills that I could not have learned elsewhere,” he said.
“I discovered that we, the young people worldwide, share the same goals. Our mindsets are not that different,” Naser said.
Some internships require specific skills, such as marketing and graphic design, depending on the internship’s goals.
Women students have shown considerable interest in the program. Sara Yassin, from the German University at Cairo (GUC), decided to take up the challenge and traveled to India to teach the basics of English and math to children aged 6 to 12.
“It was very challenging. I faced a lot of tough moments where I had to take the decisions on my own,” Yassin recalled.
Yassin spent seven weeks in India, interacting with more than 20 international students from Brazil, Turkey, Italy and Morocco. “I never imagined that I could deal with these different mindsets. It was a life-transforming experience,” she said.
Hassan Shehata, a professor at Ain Shams University, said such cultural-exchange programs expose university students to an invaluable experience without high costs. (Students only have to pay contract fees, which are usually about $80.)
“Higher education is not just a lecture hall, a professor and students. It is more than that,” he said.
But he was concerned that the program overlooked the academic aspect. “The internship should include academic trips based on the volunteer’s field of study. For instance, students from a faculty of medicine should visit hospitals and exchange expertise,” he suggested. “In this way, the internship would be useful both on academic and practical levels.”
In a related context, the professor said he noticed that the majority of students taking part in the program are from Cairo and Giza. “There should be more efforts to reach students in Upper Egypt and remote areas,” he said.
(To learn about available internships and volunteering opportunities and how to apply for them, students can visit the organization’s website. The internships vary from 6 to 8 weeks in length. Applicants are required to pass an interview, conducted by AIESEC, that assesses the applicant’s flexibility, language, and other soft skills. These are the key criteria for selecting students.)