Internships are immersive educational experiences in which students spend time at a company or organization, learning about its operations, shadowing its employees and/or carrying out tasks. Internships for university students in Japan are often a few weeks in duration. In the United States, they are generally lengthier, following one of two models:
- carried out for a few hours each week, throughout a semester while also taking courses, or
- pursued full-time for a summer or semester while taking no courses.
No matter their length, internships are increasingly sought by students as a means of career preparation and increasingly used by colleges and universities as a way of linking study and work. Internships are a very special form of experiential learning, requiring the same guidance and reflection as other forms.
What distinguishes internships is their emphasis on preparing students for professional positions through actual work experience. They carry all the benefits of experiential learning in general: applying classroom knowledge, advancing self-awareness and self-confidence, taking charge of one’s learning, and developing skills in interacting and understanding others. They specifically direct these lessons, however, toward career preparation.
To put this another way, internships involve an exchange of services for experience. The student does something that is of value to the host organization, receiving experiences that enhance their own development in return. Sometimes interns carry out routine tasks; sometimes they are given special projects that his/her presence gives the organization sufficient staffing to pursue. Sometimes they are paid by the organization; sometimes they are paid by their university; sometimes they perform the internship on a voluntary basis.
In terms of career development, internships provide students with the following.
Deeper understanding of specific career possibilities
- What practitioners do on a daily basis
- The projects and opportunities that can be pursued
- The values and goals that drive this line of work
- Its benefits to society
- The fit (or lack of fit) with student goals and interests
Development of skills specific to that career
- Through carrying out entry-level tasks
- By shadowing professionals already in the field
- By identifying what additional coursework they might want to pursue to prepare for the career
Development of “soft skills” in such arenas as
- Communication, presentation, report writing
- Interpersonal interaction in a work setting
- Managing personnel
- Organizational leadership and decision-making
- Finding productive solutions to difficult problems
Networking with individuals who may eventually become colleagues or employers
Sometimes, of course, internships are carried out with organizations not directly related to the student’s career aspirations. Students may want to expand their general knowledge, do something of personal but not professional interest, or contribute to an organization they admire.
Whether directed toward specific career possibilities or broadened horizons, internships outside their own nations add another major dimension to what students gain: the ability to work internationally, and to thrive in situations of contact and cross-cultural collaboration.
As mentioned for experiential learning in general, strategic partnerships between U.S. and Japanese universities can provide students with internship possibilities that might otherwise be difficult to pursue. They also provide the guidance and conceptual framing that enable students to get the most out of these experiences.
In terms of visa regulations, this is relatively simple for Japanese universities to arrange for incoming U.S. students. It is more complex in the reverse direction. Here, however, U.S. colleges and universities have several options, including one only available to institutions of higher education. As discussed in detail in Difficulties Obtaining Visas, there are three ways in which U.S. partner institutions can develop internship possibilities for their Japanese partners:
- Visa Waiver Program. The partner college or university can assist in setting up short-term internships at nearby businesses or organizations, especially if no salary is being paid.
- J-1 Exchange Program. One category of this program enables approved U.S. colleges and universities to receive certain Japanese students for hands-on activities in their fields.
- F-1 Student Visa Program. Japanese students pursuing full-time study at a U.S. college or university can work on campus, pursue up to one year a of Optional Practical Training, and/or engage in non-paid internships or observations in organizations and companies.
Thus it is, for example, that a Japanese student in Waseda University’s Global Leaders Fellowship Program was able to pursue a summer internship in Silicon Valley. Thus it also is that Japanese students at Temple University in Philadelphia are able to participate in that campus’s robust internship program, just as both Japanese and U.S. students at Temple University-Japan can in Tokyo.
The Temple University-Japan internship program provides an excellent model of semester-long internships connected to student coursework. Another outstanding model is the Bergé International Talent program highlighted on this page. While it brought students from Hitotsubashi University to a company in Spain, it serves as an exemplar for the kind of program sought by Japanese students that might also be pursued in the U.S.
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