Dawei “Tom” Li is a Chinese student studying Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at Mizzou. He shares his experience on how he found out about internships and work opportunities in the USA as an international student, on-campus resources he used to navigate the internship process, and his advice on how international students can maximize their chances of finding an internship in America. Upon his graduation, Tom will continue his studies at Mizzou by pursuing a graduate degree and hopefully continue work with his newly found employer.
Many opportunities are available for international students looking for internships in America. You just need to know where to look and how to navigate the process. Mizzou is keenly aware of the challenges international students face and has resources in place, designed specifically for these students to use. The MU Career Center and International Students’ Career Services (ISCS) has knowledgeable staff that are trained and experienced at helping students find and prepare for internships in America. Tom Li is one of those students who took advantage of the resources offered and found great success in being hired for an internship in his chosen field of study.
“We found out about the ISCS during orientation. We were guided here. They told us the Student Success Center works on your study projects, helps you study, gets a tutor for you. And also downstairs in the Career Center, they basically help you with career success and give you tips for getting a job and an internship,” Tom said. Since first learning about the resources the ISCS offers to international students, Tom has been actively seeking out their expertise, “I think the ISCS has helped me a lot. I talk to the people there a lot on how to write resumes, how to behave in the interview, and what I should do to follow-up, all those kinds of questions…they have cultural knowledge and knowledge of the field I want to work in. It’s been essential in me getting the internship.”
Internships are an important part of the educational experience as they offer students the opportunity to learn by doing. For Tom, the experience he gains could someday lead to opening his own small company. “I’ll start work at J2 Scientific which is a mechanical equipment company. It’s a small company, but basically I’ll do the work of a Mechanical Engineering Assistant. I’ll read their drawings, analyze them, and do some modifications. Later on I might design my own drawings. And someday I might want to own my own mechanical analysis company. Since I’ll do mechanical analysis at this company it gives me the opportunity to see what a mechanical engineer needs to do and what kind of analysis a company needs to do. So it gets me hands on experience.”
While the process of finding an internship may be similar- competitive no matter where you go, the expectations of what potential employers look for in a candidate are different. “I worked an internship when I was in my own country and basically I found the process is the same and the chance is the same too. The difference is that the internships here require really good skills and knowledge and the internship back home is like you can do whatever. If you are a high school graduate they will teach you- like on the job training. But it’s like here they will teach you, but if you are not capable with the skills and knowledge it will be hard for you to get into the internship.”
Yet it goes beyond just having the skills for the job, employers want to know about YOU. What makes you unique and different from all the other candidates? Tom advises that in addition to using resources like the ISCS, students should also take advantage of joining and participating in clubs and activities that are of interest to them. “I think international students need to get more involved because most of them are really good at what they learn, I mean they are really skillful in their major, but seldom do they go out to participate in activities. But it is kind of required experience here. I am the Treasurer of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, a member of the Engineering Student Council, I work with a doctor in the Industrial Assessment Center, and I used to be in the Mizzou Baja Racing Team.” Activities like these are a great way to meet students from different cultures, but according to Tom, also gives participants a unique edge, “I love to participate in all kinds of social clubs and activities. It gives me a strong advantage in the interview, because the interviewer loves to know more about you. What you do. It helps them decide whether they will hire you or not.”
- Check to see if the college you attend offers career services for international students.
- Curricular practical training (CPT) is an employment authorization that allows F-1 students to work off-campus in internships or work/study programs. However, you must fill out an application and meet certain requirements. Learn more about CPT here.
- Some academic programs require internships, others do not, however they are great opportunities to get hands-on experience in your chosen field
- Finding an internship is a competitive process but there are several things you can do to increase your chances:
- Doing well in your classes
- Being involved in campus activities
- Using campus career service resources (ie interview tips, finding possible internships, resume writing)
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