Going into college I expected to take classes on a normal workday schedule while maintaining a part-time job to help cover some expenses. An internship was the last thing I was considering my freshman year. I thought I would start applying for internships that pertained to my field of studies during my senior year, if at all. I never considered a serious internship so soon because I have no idea what type of career field I wanted to go into, I wanted free time to spend getting to know my new city of Louisville and to hang out with friends, and I didn’t want to put all of my time and energy in both school and a demanding job.

Luckily, this is not the path I followed at all.

After my freshman year at the University of Louisville I studied abroad in Austria during the summer semester, and this is when I really learned that you have to start your internships early in order to obtain a desirable career when you graduate or to get in to a competitive graduate program. I knew I didn’t have much experience in the professional world, so when I got back home I jumped right into applying for internships that will impact my future career.

I was lucky enough to obtain a position at the Kentucky State Capitol working under Treasurer Ball. The State Treasury is responsible for budgeting and distributing all state government money, as well as collecting and distributing taxes. The State Treasurer is an elected government position, and I served as a personal assistant to her, accompanying her to court, preparing public communications, scheduling appearances, and any daily task she needed complete. This experience really opened my eyes to the political sphere and how much time and preparation goes in to everything they do. As I learned so much during my time with the State Treasury, one of the most important things I learned is that I do not want a career within politics. But this was absolutely not a wasted eight months! I was able to meet so many influential people that represented my state and I was able to mark one thing off of my many career options, so it was an experience that I am grateful for.

After the conclusion of my first internship with the State Treasurer and the beginning of my junior year, I wanted to obtain a position more in the business world where I would be able to use the skills of my majors, business marketing and management. After a lengthy interview process, I became a systems engineering intern with Northrop Grumman, the largest aerospace technology company in North America. During my time with NG I have been able to lean and understand how a private sector business works, and I think I really found a home doing something I enjoy within the private consulting world.

In March of my junior year I was accepted to a master’s program in international business at Hult University in Boston in 2019. Traveling and learning about new cultures has always been something that I am very passionate about, so I knew this was the right program for me. After talking to several alumni who had been through the program, I quickly realized that I needed more international work experience, not just international classroom experience. After grabbing coffee with a mentor who studied international social responsibility, she recommended that I apply for a Fulbright internship in Europe. I quickly made contact with the Fulbright Belgium office knowing little about the program or organization, and to my astonishment received a position as a summer intern.  Throughout my time in Belgium I have learned so much more than I expected relating to higher education, international organizations, and studying in other countries, and I am continuing to learn new things here every day.

Most U.S. colleges and universities have career centers that will help find and prepare students for internships, and it is so important for both American and international students to take advantage of those programs! Employers want to see that you have real world experience when you enter the job field, and there is no way you can do that without relative internships. Don’t be afraid to take a short position somewhere you’re unfamiliar with, or an unpaid position, or even a position in a different country, they’re all learning experiences that I promise you will take so much more away from than you ever could in a class room!

An intern at the Fulbright Commission in Brussels, Tara Dunaway is a rising senior at the University of Louisville majoring in Business Marketing with a minor in Management. The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect the views of the EducationUSA Advising Center or of the U.S. Department of State.