George Göddard began studying German when he was 11 years old. But it wasn't until the Michigan native started at university that he was able to really put his German language skills to the test by working with native speakers. Göddard spent the summer between his sophomore and junior year interning at the robotics company Kuka Systems in Augsburg in the Bavarian region. He learned a lot on that first trip to Germany, he said.
“Working at Kuka was my first job,” he said. “I went into the internship with a blank slate—I had no expectations and no idea what I was getting myself into. My biggest fear was that they would make me get coffee for them but it turned out to be a really wonderful internship.”
George was a managerial accounting intern. He worked on budget projects and did some translation help. He also practiced his German and made friends with colleagues.
The experience was so positive George decided to intern again in Germany while pursuing his master's degree in information science. This time with the IT and project development teams at Robert Bosch Automotive Steering GmbH in Schwäbisch Gmünd in Baden-Württemberg. During this internship, George expected to do a lot of computer programming and to meet a few nice coworkers who could show him around. He said the professional and social experiences have surpassed his expectations.
“My coworkers have recommended places for me to eat and invited me to birthday parties. Everyone has really welcomed me with open arms,” he said.
Finding an Internship
George found both of his internships through the nonprofit exchange organization Cultural Vistas. Cultural Vistas is one of many organizations that offer help to international students looking for internships in Germany.
George said Cultural Vistas was very helpful. The staff used their network of contacts to find relevant internships and they sent him frequent updates on their search. He felt like going through the organization made it easier to connect with companies while living an ocean away and increased his credibility.
Students interested in interning in Germany don't have to go through placement agencies or nonprofit organizations. Websites like Der Praktikant or Berufsstart do offer listings. However, the internship search can be complicated by doing it from a distance and usually requires solid German skills to navigate the application process.
Most organizations charge application and placement fees. George found Cultural Vistas' costs to be reasonable—under 100 euro for the application and under 1000 euro for the placement fee. He liked that the Cultural Vistas offered to refund the placement fee if the staff could not find him an internship.
Housing is another cost to consider. Most internship placement will offer applicants help finding a place to live. During the first internship in Augsburg, George hired a housing agency to find him a furnished apartment. The agency charged him a percentage of his first month's rent as a finder's fee. Now on his second internship in Germany, George has decided to live in a seven-person Wohngemeinschaft or WG. These shared apartments can be found on websites like WG Gesucht. The living situation can be more chaotic than renting a single apartment but the rent is usually affordable and the experience is great for strengthening language skills.
Some internships, especially those at larger companies, do provide a stipend, but it's not a given that interns will get paid. It's best to discuss all financial arrangements before arriving in Germany.
EU citizens do not need work permits. Those outside of the EU are required to organize a work permit before starting an internship. More information can be found at the information websites Germany Visa and Welcome Center Germany.
Ideally applicants have spent some time studying German before beginning an internship. This makes connecting with coworkers and navigating daily life in Germany much easier. For those who need a refresher course or want more practice before jumping into the working world, many placement organizations offer pre-internship language classes. George, for instance, was able to do a language course in Berlin and a homestay with a family before starting his internship at Kuka.
But applicants without top-notch German skills should not be discouraged from applying. It is possible to find internships where the working language is English and not German. Also many companies are happy to have interns who are native speakers of languages like English so they can help with translations and proofreading.
You can learn German anywhere in the world in online courses. In addition to the Goethe-Institut there are many other providers of online language courses, for example the e-learning portal, available in the German language, “Deutsch-Uni Online” (DUO). Deutsche Welle also offers an online German course, which is even free.
The internship duration depends on the company and type of internship. Most placements last between a minimum of eight weeks and a maximum of 12 months.
Safety Nets and Support Networks
Living and interning abroad can be challenging for a variety of reasons—homesickness, health issues and safety concerns are tough to sort out alone. There are a variety of ways people can reach out to get information and help. The organizations that place students in internships usually have numbers to call and primary contact people to reach out to with questions.
George said that Cultural Vistas has been very transparent anytime something has happened in Germany that may be a cause for concern. The staff sent out Facebook messages and emails to remind participants to contact them if they are worried or to call 110 in any emergency. Cultural Vistas also asked that program participants notify the organization and provide contact information if going on holiday.
George said he did consider whether he felt comfortable interning so far away from his friends and family but he decided to take a chance.
“I could not risk anything and stay at home or I could take some risk and have an opportunity to make professional connections internationally. When I did the calculus, I decided the experience was worth it.”
Want more details about interning in Germany? Check out our article about interning basics here.