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Mason Fitch ’12 at his internship at CNN International in Hong Kong.

Gaining Work Experience Abroad

The Center for Career Education provides international opportunities for College students. Each summer, the program sponsors about 60 students abroad.

Andrea Garcia-Vargas ’13 hoped to spend the summer traveling and interning at a magazine. Derek Turner ’12 wanted international business experience. And Mason Fitch ’12 wanted to combine his interests in journalism and China. While there were plenty of opportunities in New York, their sights were set abroad, and they all found internships on opposite sides of the globe through the Columbia Experience Overseas (CEO) program.

CEO is a summer internship program run through the Center for Career Education (CCE) that provides international opportunities for College students. Students travel abroad for eight weeks, gain valuable work experience in various industries, and have the opportunity to immerse themselves into new and exciting cultures. Each summer, the program sponsors about 60 students abroad.

Started in 2007 with two international locations in London and Hong Kong, CEO was founded to help students find, fund and secure their dream jobs overseas. Now into its sixth year, the program touts internships in seven international cities—Amman, Shanghai, London, Istanbul, Hong Kong, Beijing and Singapore. And program coordinators are always thinking about adding internship locations, listening to students’ feedback and their preferences about where they want to work abroad.

Garcia-Vargas was interested in finding an editorial internship during the summer of 2011, so she jumped at the opportunity to be an Editorial Assistant for Living Well Magazine. The fact that it was located in Amman, Jordan made it all the more appealing, she said.

“It was the year of the Arab Spring and nothing was more fascinating than going into a position situated in one of the hot spots for it,” said Garcia-Vargas, who is majoring in English and creative writing. “In addition to taking on an editorial position that expanded my resume, I was able to discover another country in the midst of political stirrings.”

Turner, a political science major, wanted to gain international business experience, and was particularly interested in cyber security because of its increasing political importance. So he was thrilled to get a Marketing Intern position in the summer of 2010 with ArcSight, a cyber security company based in Singapore.

“I enjoyed sitting down every day at lunch with my coworkers and picking their brains about living in Singapore,” said Turner. “Every day we would have some intercultural exchange and discussion of how the U.S. and its society differs from that of Singapore.”

A main goal of the program is to expose students to other cultures. CCE works with employers and alumni around the globe, secures housing for students, and arranges for alumni mentors in the various cities to provide personal and professional advice to students abroad.

While working as a Digital Media Intern at International in Hong Kong during the summer of 2010, Fitch stayed at Hong Kong Baptist University, where he lived with 10 other Columbia students, all interning at different positions around the city.

“It was really cool since we all lived right next to each other,” said Fitch, a political science major. “If I’d gone to Hong Kong by myself, I don’t know who I would have met. I was the only intern in my department and it would have been more lonely without the Columbia students.”

In Amman, Garcia-Vargas was hooked up with Lina Ejeilat J’08, who helped her navigate the country and gave her advice on a future career in journalism.

“She answered a lot of my questions about the few Jordanian uprisings and was able to provide me with in-depth information on her time at Columbia Journalism School, which is where I hope I will end up when I graduate,” Garcia-Vargas said.

The CEO program is open to sophomores and juniors. CEO Positions are tagged in LionSHARE, CCE’s online recruiting system, and students apply directly to employers. CCE supports students during the interview process by offering mock interviews and counseling sessions. When students are hired, they go through pre-program training, which includes an overview of the program, a goal-setting workshop and an opportunity to speak with those who previously participated. 

And the experiences don’t end at the end of the summer. When students return to campus after their internships, CEO encourages them to attend reflection sessions where students discuss their time abroad and ways they can use their experiences to market themselves in the future.

Fitch, for instance, used his experiences in Hong Kong to secure an internship with Anderson Cooper 360 at CNN in New York. 

“It was important to me that I seek a profession that was interesting to me, and not just a job,” he said. “After having a successful time at CNN, I was confident that I could intern just about anywhere.”

Garcia-Vargas enjoyed her experience so much that she plans to apply for another CEO internship for the summer of 2012.

“An international internship will always do so much more than give you the necessary job skills you need,” she said. “It will prove to future employers that you are highly adaptable to a variety of different situations and scenarios.”


Published Tuesday February 7, 2012

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