Global internships program marks 15 years

When University of Oregon students go looking for real-world experience, it’s hard to beat going abroad and doing real work in the real world.

The IE3 Global Internships Program has been helping students do just that for the past 15 years, sending students from Oregon and other Northwest universities to work for organizations around the world.

Students earn credits and perhaps more important, gain invaluable professional and cultural experience.

“I think it was crucial,” said Justine Jensen, a UO senior who spent a year in Senegal working for a non-governmental organization called Tostan. “It gave me so much insight into what development work is like and what opportunities there are for careers.”

Founded in 1996, IE3 has sent more than 2,000 students to more than 90 countries, including 750 from the UO to 72 countries. About 180 students from 14 colleges in the Northwest participate in the global internships each year, including 50 to 60 from the UO.

The internship program provides a different experience than Study Abroad programs, said Chris Bennett, IE3 regional director for Africa and the Middle East. The global interns work independently and get immersed in the local culture. Students earn six to 12 credits while working full-time abroad. The academic credit means students can seek financial aid, grants and scholarships.

Students are placed with organizations around the world, often non-profits, in fields such as business, social service, environmental protection, marketing and journalism.

Justine Jensen

Students who want to succeed in the program need to be able to manage in a professional environment and adjust to cross cultural situations, Bennett said.

Getting accustomed to Senegalese culture took time for Jensen, 23, who expects to graduate this month with a degree in international studies.

“You have to be open and willing to learn,” she said. “The things that make you uncomfortable are the things that help you grow the most.”

She had signed up for a six-month internship with Tostan, which gives villages in Senegal the tools to manage their own development. But after three months, she realized six months wouldn’t be enough time, so she extended her internship to a full year.

“By the time you get used to everything, it’s over,” she said. “In the first six months, I was just getting in the swing of things. In the second six months, I started feeling like I was learning the culture.”

After spending the first part her internship assisting Tostan’s executive director, Jensen was allowed to manage her own project, in partnership with a British charity, Sponsor a Mum. The project involved constructing a community health center and establishing a micro-credit loan program to generate revenue to support the center.

Jensen has obtained a Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholarship, enabling her to pursue a master’s degree in development studies at the Graduate Institute in Geneva. 

“I don’t think I could have made decisions about where I want to go or what I wanted without having this experience,” she said.

Tim Christie