Before deciding to intern in Rome and finally arriving in Italy, I did a lot of research and planning. The unique opportunity to get professional experience abroad and the exciting challenges of being independent interning in Rome are what made my choice easy. I was very excited to gain professional experience abroad as well as expand my cultural horizons.
I didn’t know exactly what to expect, and I asked a ton of questions before I left. Even after all my questions were answered, there were still things I wish I would’ve known ahead of time. Let me share all the things I wish I would’ve known before interning in Rome.
1. Plan on investing in an Italian SIM card or a cheap phone
Yes, you can get by on WIFI for most things, but WIFI is hard to come by in Italy and usually you have to be in the restaurant/store to login and receive it. The train stations around the city also have free WIFI. But you have to make an account with the station and have a text sent to your phone which is not an option if you don’t have an international phone plan. Basically, Rome is not as WIFI friendly as you might think and this can make it difficult to communicate with your supervisor(s).
While getting an Italian number is not a requirement for most internships or for studying abroad in general, it does come in handy when trying to contact your supervisor(s). My internship requires me to leave the city at least twice a week to meet my supervisor as well as meeting her in various parts of the city for event prep and client meetings. Without my Italian phone I would not be able to contact her and specify meetings spots or communicate transit issues once I leave my apartment.
It is also helpful for her as she can tell me if she was running late or if she wants me to meet her in a slightly different location. These things do happen and they happen often enough that the phone/SIM card is worth it! If you are like me and have Verizon, or another carrier that doesn’t allow you to change your SIM card, then you can get a cheap pay-as-you-go phone for the summer! Mine cost me 20 euros for the phone, 20 euros for the plan, and 10 euros a month for activation. It seems like a pain, and it sometimes was, but it was absolutely worth every euro!
2. Know the dress code and pack smart
This may seem like a no brainer, but you would be surprised at how helpful it can be to know exactly how you are expected to dress for your internship! Many people in my internship group didn’t ask their supervisors or CISabroad what their dress code was or didn’t pay attention to the internship confirmation paper. They ended up packing a lot of business casual outfits because they assumed that is what they would be wearing. Well, they got here and their supervisor(s) said they can dress casual day to day and only need business wear for special events.
Knowing what you have to wear for your specific internship is crucial when preparing to leave home! My internship is a lot of planning and web work, so I don’t have to dress up day to day and can typically wear jeans and a top to work. I do however need dresses or semi-formal wear when attending weddings and most meetings. Knowing this allowed me to pack lighter on the formal wear, 2 dresses, and I could pack more casual day to day outfits (which are a lot easier to roll up and shove into a suitcase). It is always better to pack lighter and more efficiently!
3. Don’t be nervous or scared around your supervisor(s)!
Your supervisor is your boss and you should treat them as such. But you should not be nervous or scared to talk to them about your job or your travel plans. They understand that you are here for more than an internship experience, especially since they work with CISabroad. You should always give your internship priority and treat them like you would a job back home.
That being said, if you want to take a day off to travel for a long weekend they will, most likely, be more than happy to give you that time. You just need to ask! My roommates and I wanted to go to Paris and we all asked for a day off so we could leave on Thursday and all of our supervisors not only gave us permission but were very excited that we were traveling.
Similarly, if you feel like you aren’t doing enough, or too much, at your internship you should let them know! They will work with you to find you assignments that will be helpful for them as well as great professional development experience for you!
Overall, your internship supervisors are your allies when it comes to having the best experience possible with your internship. You just have to communicate with them!
4. There will probably be a language barrier
Communication comes with its own setbacks. Interning in a country where you don’t speak the language fluently is a challenge and will test your communication skills! Most likely your supervisor(s) will be native to the country you are interning in and, while they typically know English, they will not be able to understand you all the time and vice versa.
One of my on-site supervisors told me that in Italy they usually learn English from UK citizens and sometimes American English doesn’t translate well with what they were taught. Most Italians that speak English also understand English in its most formal form, similar to how we were taught languages in school, so they will not understand most slang terms or American names for certain things.
My best advice is to speak up, speak clearly, and speak with the intent of getting your point across. I have a bad habit of mumbling and speaking fast. My supervisor may not understand what I am saying and ask me to repeat it slower. Because of this, I will actually take a second and think about the best way to say something before speaking to my supervisor.
Once I started to do this she understood me way better! Also, don’t be scared to ask your supervisor(s) to repeat themselves, the language barrier goes both ways and they understand!
Please try to learn some Italian before coming! I did not take this suggestion seriously and I wish I would have! You won’t be fluent, but anything helps!
5. Public transit is your new best friend
Rome has a huge public transit system. This will be the easiest way to get around and the way to get to your internship. Understanding how different types of transports work will be VERY helpful. You can buy monthly passes and use the buses, the trams, the metro, and certain trains!
Keep in mind that you will have to schedule your commute and plan around public transit because it won’t plan itself around you. Your supervisor(s) is aware of this and will be flexible with you!
If you miss a train or something is canceled, don’t panic. Look for an employee at the train station and find out what you can do to get back on track. I find that asking the locals for help is also helpful. They understand the announcements at the smaller stations and will know what to do next. If you are on your way to your internship, make sure you contact your internship supervisor to let them know that you’ll be late.
6. This internship will be an entirely different experience
For all the reasons listed above, it should be clear that this experience is unlike previous any internship you may have had. You will experience challenges that are unique to interning in abroad that are less likely to happen at home, such as the language barrier. This is okay! Embrace these challenges and don’t avoid them! They are what will benefit your resume and future interviews the most because they will provide unique professional development experiences.
Similarly, if you are doing work that is completely new to you, don’t worry! This work will allow you to branch out and develop a wider variety of professional skills! That is what employers want!
7. Opportunities are everywhere! You just have to take them!
This is probably one of the most important things I have learned during my internship abroad. There are opportunities all around you! Some are within your internship and some are outside of it. You just have to be courageous and take them! This experience, especially the internship, is only as good as you make it. You have to make the best of your internship and work your hardest to get the most out of it. Same with your experience abroad, you have to take the opportunities around you and make the most of everything!
Don’t be afraid to ask your supervisor(s) if they need help on a big project. And if they are doing something that really interests you, you should try to get involved in it! Trust me, it never hurts to ask. And your supervisor(s) might even appreciate the extra effort and interest you are showing for the internship.
8. Embrace the unexpected!
Not everything is going to happen the way you expect it to. Things are going to mess up or turn a different direction than what you had anticipated. That is okay! Take those unexpected circumstances and turn them into learning experiences.
Your internship may not be what you had expected. And there may be a few times that your internship goes in a completely different direction than you thought it would. Just because things aren’t going the way you originally wanted doesn’t make the experience bad or a failure. In fact, these unexpected turns usually lead to a new opportunity. You just need to take it!
9. Be patient with EVERYTHING
Patience is truly a virtue, especially when traveling and interning abroad. In many ways, there are a lot of benefits to being flexible when you are interning abroad.
For example, my supervisor wants me to meet with her in various places around and outside of Rome. And she asked me to be flexible with times and scheduling because she is a smaller business with unique needs. This meant I had to go into my internship with an open mind and a willingness to be flexible or my internship experience would suffer.
There are also instances where you don’t have any other option but to be flexible. Take public transit for example. It runs on its own time and is not attentive to the needs of specific people. There are also countless delays, time/platform changes, cancelation, and transportation strikes that you have no choice but to work around. This is a pain sometimes. But it is so much nicer to deal with if you are prepared to be flexible and patient.
10. Have Fun!
I know this may sound cheesy, but I couldn’t leave it out because it is easy to forget when you are working. This opportunity is more than an internship. It is also about experiencing and immersing yourself in a new culture.
If you come to Italy but never venture to see all this amazing country has to offer, then you leave with half the experience you signed up for. Just like with school or any other job, you have to make time for yourself and to have fun. Or you’re really going to hate it.
So, go out on Saturday nights. Book a train to Florence or Venice or Salerno. Do whatever it is that will make this trip and internship worthwhile. Remember your supervisor(s) want you to experience Italy just as much, maybe even more, than you want to. Just go for it!
Learn more about the internship program that Emily went on in Rome.