Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Fee for placement internship opportunities?!? I am shocked. Shocked, I tell you!!

The now defunct NPR program, Day to Day, recently ran a story on the practice of paying for summer internship placements, Really Want That Internship? Pay Up.

Now, to anyone who has looked for international internships over the last few years this will come as no great surprise. Third-party providers have come to dominate international placements; and the results of a Google search for international placements of any sort are clogged with them.

It can be a mind-numbing, frustrating, and more than a little discouraging experience. "Pay to play" seems to be the order of the day.

There is assistance available. Here at UW-Madison the Letters & Science Career Services office coordinates the Henderson-Reznick Family and Shinners Family Summer Internship Scholarships -- a $5,000 award (deadline this year is 31 March 2009). Since that link might disappear after the deadline an archived copy of the application is available on Go Global! servers.

As seems to be implied in the Day to Day piece (and as many of the comments on the story explicitly assert) the idea of paying for an internship (let alone a volunteer placement -- as is the norm now for international placements) is an uncomfortable one: and as it becomes commonplace, these very limited -- albeit generous -- financial assistance packages do little to address the larger questions of access and equity.

This is, by far, the most pressing question and concern of the students interested in working internationally who come by for advising. And there's just not a lot that can be done. It's a fact of life: money buys access.

There has been some pushback and there are some resources available -- with a focus on volunteer opportunities (though in my experience, the distinction between "intern" and "volunteer" is more of historical interest than significant nowadays). Interestingly, much of it has been focused in Latin America, where there are a few websites that emphasize low to no-cost opportunities:
There are, of course, the old work horses such as World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) though here you're getting more into the realm of short-term work opportunities, something I'll be tackling in more detail later (with WWOOF too, as with Volunteer Latin America and others, you buy access to information for a small fee).

There are also new social media sites that are worth exploring -- such as SE7EN and TrekShare. Whether either of these will have legs is anyone's guess at the moment.

I would say "the more the merrier" but with the raw, ham-fisted power of Google and the rather limited ability to sift and winnow and focus both of existing tools and many of those looking for opportunities, it will continue, I think, to be a question of finding those live bodies who can direct you to the better, "hidden" treasures.

Or just buy your way in.

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