Hosting an international intern or trainee can be hard work. Training, mentoring, and overcoming cultural barriers requires U.S. host businesses to commit significant time and resources. Even so, a just-released study shows that the businesses participating in the Department of State's Intern and Trainee Programs believe it is worth the investment.
"[An international intern] is somebody who brings in new perspectives, new ideas…that we otherwise wouldn't have," a Chief Innovation Officer at an NYC nonprofit reported. "That brings real value to our business."
Three out of four U.S. host businesses surveyed in the new study, conducted by the research firm EurekaFacts, believe that international talent helps their workplaces thrive. These young professionals from around the world diversify staff, spur innovation, and open up access to new markets.
"I love the fact that I know people in different countries," a product manufacturing CEO in Illinois reported. "If I want to expand my business…I now have people I know based on working with them, I have contacts that can help me explore those avenues. I love that about this internship program. If I'm going to expand, I'm going to start with [my interns]."
The U.S. economy as a whole also gets a significant boost by the presence of interns and trainees from abroad. In 2017, international interns and trainees spent approximately $662.6 million in the U.S. during their stays, the report calculated.
For the interns and trainees themselves, the experience is life and career-changing. Nearly all intern and trainee participants (95%) feel that their programs provided them with practical skills and expertise that will help them advance in their careers. These skills include improved English language and specific field-related abilities, as well as professional connections and networks.
Having managed InterExchange's Career Training USA for more than ten years, I've read thousands of evaluations that align very closely with these results. These economic and business-related benefits are very important.
But perhaps more important to me – and what I see as the true value of the Intern and Trainee Programs – are the long-term diplomatic and cultural exchange benefits. Our participants invariably comment on the friendliness and openness of the Americans they meet, and how interning and training in the U.S. not only has a major impact on their career prospects, but also allows them to form lifelong friendships with Americans. The report supports this, indicating that more than 70% of participants end their programs with an improved opinion of U.S. culture, the American people, and the American way of doing business.
Creating this kind of mutual understanding isn't just good for business; it's good for American safety and security as well.
Another host business quote from the report has really stuck with me:
"One of the things I love about the program is that I get [interns] really wanting to prove themselves. It takes a lot to leave a family and comfort zone and country and come to some place completely new… when you get out of your comfort zone, that's when true growth happens."
This idea encapsulates another profound part of the Intern and Trainee Programs. It pushes everyone involved, participants and hosts, to stretch outside their comfort zones. And when that happens, both economic and diplomatic growth begins to happen.