Mastering International Internships with Michelle Kern Hall

career in international education interviews

Waaaay back in May 2011 I did a bunch of interviews with some ridiculously interesting international educators and other world travel superfans. And I'm finally (woot woot!) getting around to editing and posting them. Today I feature Michelle Kern, a Japanophile through and through with considerable experience studying abroad and learning the language in the land of the rising sun. At the time of this interview, Michelle was serving as the Program Manager for the MIT-Japan program which administers research, study, and internship opportunities in Japan for MIT students. Pretty cool. However, back in December, Michelle took on a new position back in her home town of Madison, Wisconsin. She's now Assistant Director of the International Internship Program at UW-Madison. (Go Badgers!)

Here's a quick rundown of what Michelle and I chatted about:

Michelle graduate in May from Lesley University's master's degree in intercultural relations. What are the best and worst things about the program? Best: It's a great program for diversification as it doesn't pigeon hole you into higher education. You can also learn skills and theory related to intercultural training and development that can be used in the non-profit and corporate worlds. Sweet! Worst: All students are required to take a two-semester cultural exploration course. Not a bad thing in and of itself, requires students to study a local culture in-depth and conduct considerable research. For Michelle, her topic had nothing to do with her own professional goals or personal research interests. (Regardless, she was able to parlay an independent study opportunity to do her own research on a topic she loved.)

One of the many interesting things about Michelle is that she didn't start her career working in study abroad. She actually worked in the corporate world before transitioning to a position in higher ed.

As a bonafide Japan expert, here are three tips she has for any student (or traveler) planning to journey to Japan: 1. Study and learn the language as much as you can before you go. 2. Budget time and money for traveling around Japan - lots to see even in such a small space. 3. Consider places/programs that aren't in the typical cities most people have heard of. Get off the beaten path.

Beyond the Japanese language and culture, Michelle also knows her stuff when it comes to international internships. Her number one piece of advice for students ready to take the international internship leap: prepare to be shocked. Not only will there be technical business skills to learn and observe, but students will also have to navigate the cultural layer of the experience. The work experience in most countries is dramatically different from the US due to cultural differences in hierarchy, communication, and expectations. But, hey, that's what makes the experience! It's not SUPPOSED to be like the US!

Great talking with you Michelle!




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