If you´re in college, perhaps you have thought about travelling and experience abroad in another country. Through your research you may have come across the words study abroad and intern abroad at some point. Have you ever been curious how they are the same? Different? Here I compare and contrast between the two.

I had the opportunity to do both programs in college: I studied abroad in Peru for one month and interned abroad in Nicaragua for two months. Though both of these programs were long and exciting, I found a simple way to compare/contrast them using the three E´s: Education, Excursion, and Exposure. For the sake of this entry, Education is the learning goals to be achieved in the programs, Excursion is the vacation trips, and Exposure is the fieldwork aspect. So let´s get right to it!

Just a small disclaimer that I speak only from my experience, as every program may differ.


Compare: With travel, one expects to learn and indulge in a culture different from their own such as cuisine, music traditions, and religious practices. In the same manner, study and intern abroad programs have learning expectations for students. In both Peru and Nicaragua, I was expected to take courses, do fieldwork, and present a research paper. The courses would take place on a campus, research papers were due at the end, and fieldwork encompassed serving in a community for a week at a time. Despite both programs having similar educational expectations, they also differ in their expectations.

Contrast: Studying abroad is just what it means by the title: Studying a subject while abroad in another country. The priority is to advance knowledge in a target subject. While in Peru, I took intermediate-level Spanish courses. The courses focused on Spanish grammar and speaking. By the end, I advanced my level of Spanish.

With interning abroad, the learning expectations are higher. One is expected to already have the knowledge and/or experience in the subject(s) of interest. The priority is to share and apply it.  Some requirements to intern abroad in Nicaragua included having experience in a medical field or Public Health, with Spanish skills a plus. Classes focused on discussing abstract ideas rather than learning about them. The Spanish was also expected to be used in the field.


Compare: What would a fun trip be without sightseeing and beautiful monuments? In both programs, part of the trip included exploring common tourist destinations. At both countries, I had the opportunity to see wonders like Macchu Picchu in Peru or the Masaya volcano in Nicaragua. These excursions were all weekend trips. By Monday, I would return to hitting the books and work. There´s nothing that I can contrast personally about this, except that the excursions themselves differ.


Compare: The best part of studying/interning abroad is exposure in the field. It’s the true test of what was learned in the classroom and prior experiences. As per both programs, the requirement was to volunteer in a community for a week or more. The amount of exposure, however, is what made a difference.

Contrast: Studying abroad allowed for some exposure in the field. In Peru, I volunteered at a senior care home. I cleaned the dining room, helped elders get dressed, and transported them to their beds. Mainly I stayed in the metropolitan areas of Cusco, though made some brief bus stops at villages to donate clothes. The level of Spanish didn’t matter, it was just learning through exposure.

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(Images above are of the senior care)

In contrast, interning abroad provided more exposure. In Nicaragua, I worked in a few rural communities to examine residents’ water filters and yard conditions. The tasks were to either conduct surveys or observe the yard. The task depended on the level of Spanish. Those with little to none would observe the yard while those with more advanced skills did surveys.

So by now, one could consider the three E´s when deciding between studying and interning abroad. They are:

Education: Both programs have their own learning expections for students. While studying abroad is a learn-as-you-go experience, with interning abroad one is expected to have experience in the field of interest.

Excursion: Excursion trips would occur during the weekends. Nothing really differs, except for the excursions themselves.

Exposure: Both programs allow a real life experience beyond the classroom. However, with interning abroad one is exposed to more work than studying abroad.

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