A year ago I went to Portugal, a country of elaborate azul tiles, ochre rooftops, soft sun, and melting custard tarts. The country of the magic, earthquakes, and first explorers, made me almost forget my mission of working on a more connected world - but I never forget it for too long! In addition to exploring Portugal as a tourist, I interviewed the man behind Europe's largest networks for student internships named PRAXIS.
Professor Nuno Escudeiro works at Instituto Politécnico do Porto and is leading PRAXIS, a network assembling opportunities for the students to work at companies and universities. Professor Escudeiro teaches computer science, but for the past five years, he has been dedicating most of his energy to PRAXIS. PRAXIS is a network that helps connect students in Europe to internship opportunities. Professor Escudeiro started PRAXIS in 2011, because at the time he was a coordinator of student programs at IPP. He firsthand witnessed how many times his students wanted to go abroad for the internship, but how finding places for these students was challenging; he came up with an idea to create a portal to help students find internships.
Following a successful application for the European funds, PRAXIS was born. Forty four European universities originally participated; the network of partnerships is still growing, and now includes over 120 universities around Europe. They are expanding to India, are about to sign a contract with Nepal, and plan expansion to the United States.
In addition to higher education, PRAXIS is planning to provide opportunities to students of secondary education as well. Currently the Praxis team is developing a portal for Vocational education and training (VET). It should be launched at the beginning of 2017. The schools are very well connected with the industry, and many students want to go for an internship abroad to apply their hard-earned skills. Internships range in timing from 3 months to a full year, but the majority last about 6 months.
Initially, PRAXIS was offering opportunities for the engineering students, but now the network has grown to encompass the opportunities from many different fields. Among the forty four original partner universities, many were from the technical area, and the majority of offers came from the technical companies. These days, now that PRAXIS has grown, there are still a lot of technical opportunities, but many more - including marketing, hotel services, tourism, in addition to traditionally technical opportunities in mechanical, electrical engineering, and even aerospace and space engineering.
I spoke with Ivana Slafkovska and Ugo Bresolin, students that found their own opportunities through PRAXIS. Ivana is originally from Slovakia, and was looking for marketing opportunities around Europe. She has been considering either an internship in Portugal, as she has already been familiar with the country, or the Baltic States. She considered a number of opportunities, some of them paid and some offering volunteering work, and settled to work with Professor Escudeiro himself, managing the marketing and social media for PRAXIS.
PRAXIS is not only offering internship offers but also practical information for students, companies and academics. For instance, students can find a guide in order to secure their dream internship. The tips start with the obvious, such as practicalities ("understand where you live", "determine industry sector") but move on quickly to the nitty-gritty details of applying for the internships and end with tips how to deal with reverse cultural shock after returning home. At the core of PRAXIS recommendations, students must take initiative in their own hands, and reach out to the companies that they love. Here are some of my favorite tips:
1. Polish your Social Media Presence
Before applying for an internship, check out your social network presence, facebook, etc.. You may think this is your private space but unless you have set the security and visibility settings very carefully and actively manage them your internship company may be able to see your presence. Be careful what you post - think about what is there from the perspective of a future employer!
2. Test to Win
If you have a few companies you are interested in, or for that matter only one, try sending a letter to not your first choice first - try a dummy run, see what response you get and adjust your approach based on what happens. But don't give up on your quest - just remember door to door salespeople have a success rate (and it is not 100%), their strategy is along the lines of every failure is one step nearer the next success.
3. Prepare for Adventure.
International internships require you to do everything for a domestic one plus a whole new set of considerations. An international internship requires a big personal investment in research and planning time. For instance, you must consider your budget (travel, accomodation, and commuting expenses), legal requirements (such as VISA), dress code of the workplace, insurances, and other legal details. Do your research.
4. Write Things Down!
• On your first day, take a notepad and pen/pencil with you so you can note anything important, you will receive a lot of information on your first day and during your induction, great if you have a really good memory, if not keep brief notes. You can also use a tablet pc or phone but we suggest you don't use anything that does not come to life almost immediately so it does not look as though you are doing something else while someone is talking to you.
In conclusion of our meeting, PRAXIS has set up a partnership with my own research initiative Project Lever, where we pledged to work together to help students find opportunities worldwide. We will work hard to collect the best internships for you, and we look forward to receiving the best inquiries from the students committed to building their future!