Are Virtual Internships worth it? Feedback from Kaya participants

With travel restrictions still firmly in place, this summer has seen students adapt and seek out alternatives for their global experiences, with many taking up online internships abroad. But what are virtual internships, what is involved, and are they worth it?​

At Kaya we worked with our project partners to develop online internship placements and built a cultural program around these. Students from North America and Europe have been participating in our Kaya remote internships since the start of June and were eager to share their experiences so far.

Kaya summer virtual interns have been working on projects in Morocco, South Africa, Ecuador and Vietnam. Their placements were matched to their areas of personal or academic interests and include some fascinating projects such as;

Public health internships in Ecuador and Vietnam: One placement works on sexual and reproductive health, training and research; another conducts research and provides clinical help to improve the well-being of children with developmental issues.

A women’s empowerment initiative for indiginous minorities in Morocco: Here one student is using her marketing skills to assist with producing reports and guidelines, managing projects on the organization’s website and developing funding projects.

A human rights internship in South Africa. Working on an initiative supporting victims of human rights violations students are engaged in many projects to advance social, political, and economic rights, and provide support to women’s shelters, refugee and migration centers.

LGBTQ+ rights advocacy in Vietnam: A program with a leading Vietnamese group focusing on policy development with students working on research about access to, and quaility of, health services and mental health support for transgender individuals.

Architecture and sustainability in Ecuador: In this unique placement, one student is interning with a local NGO focused on land management, improving access for the communities to drinkable water and sanitation systems.

Journalism in Morocco: One student is working at a news organization across various communication projects.

Empowerment through sport in South Africa: With a focus on empowering and improving the lives of girls in high-risk areas two interns are doing very different placements. One, with a focus on International Development and Gender studies, is designing reproductive health education programs, while another is using their soccer knowledge, on program development to build resilience and confidence amongst the vulnerable members.

Weekly Check-ins

Students meet with their project supervisor each week to discuss the progress and direction of their projects, which they work on throughout the week. They shared with us their experiences of the placements and the work they are doing;

“I love the non-profit organization that I am working with! My ultimate goal is to be a practicing physician, and this has been a perfect mix of observing/learning about clinical care while also learning much more about public health education! I think my greatest achievement so far has been my completion of a funding proposal for the organization.” Olivia – Public Health intern in Ecuador

“My placement was a perfect fit for my interests and am so happy to be able to help!” Alexandra – Women’s empowerment intern in South Africa

“The placement is better than anything I would ever be able to find on my own.” Stewart – Business development and entrepreneurship intern in South Africa

One concern we had, when considering remote internships was how we would help students engage in local culture when they are not in those physical locations. So, in addition to the placements, we developed a series of workshops, led by our local teams, that could help students understand various elements of the local culture. Each week all the virtual interns working within a location get together on a Zoom call and are involved in weekly workshops addressing various interesting topics.

  • A taste of the country: Ecuador interns learned how to cooking llapingachos, took a virtual tour of the market and discussed meals at home versus eating out.
  • Relationships: South African interns learned about daily relationships and had a great discussion on what dating looks like.
  • Modern Culture: In Morocco interns discovered what traditions are still strong for modern youth and what they like to do in their free time.
  • Business Etiquette: In Vietnam, interns compared formal and informal interactions and how people behave in work settings.

Cultural Workshops

These Cultural workshops have been a great hit to help participants really engage with the host culture. Here is what our interns had to say:

“The cultural workshops have been great and very informative. It’s nice to be with more interns from the whole program and hear a range of viewpoints.” Juliet, Morocco intern

“The workshops are really interesting and the site team are very enthusiastic. They responded to our feedback really well. They are really creative even through the virtual setting.” Kiara, Ecuador intern

Alexandra and Alexis, working on South African placements told us;

“I have really enjoyed learning about South Africa’s culture, and I adore how welcoming the site team are – their personalities make the workshops that much more enjoyable. I also enjoy that the workshops are interactive.” Alexandra

“Amazing workshops! Love learning about South Africa in a way that is both informative and interactive.” Alexis

And in Vietnam, Sarah feels the connections are her favorite part of the program;

“The relationships I’ve built. The Vietnam team and local buddies are phenomenal and I hope I can meet them in person someday. They’ve already taught me so much about Vietnamese culture and have really made it a point to get to know me. We speak every day and they always show so much love and support.” Sarah

Buddy Chats

As Sarah mentioned, the local buddies are another element of the Kaya remote internship program and these have given the participants one more connection to the local culture. Buddies are local students who can share their personal experiences of what it is to be a young person in that location. In some locations the local buddies are also getting credit from their institutions for taking part in this cultural exchange, making it mutually beneficial and engaging for everyone!

For Alexandra, in South Africa, this is her favorite part of her week

“My favourite element is definitely buddy chats! I love talking to my new friend..” Alexandra

And Matt agrees;

“I look forward to these every week; I wish that they could happen more often.” Matt

Miranda explains why these are so valuable

“It is great to be able to have one on one conversations to get a better understanding of South Africa’s culture and to discuss some points further.” Miranda

So you can see that our virtual interns are getting so much out of their placements already.

What are the benefits of joining a remote internship?

If you are considering joining an online program, there are so many benefits of participating in a remote internship.

  • Develop remote work skills – 2020 has pushed the global workforce online and employers, more than ever, will be looking for employees who will be able to work in virtual environments and can collaborate from their homes and offices worldwide.
  • Gain international work experience – Work with an organization overseas and get experience working with different cultures and communication styles.
  • Build a global network – Gain instant personal and professional connections with locals in your field of interest from your host country.
  • Cultural connections – Experience the culture with local people through workshops and informal chats with local buddies eager to share their culture with you.
  • You can be anywhere! The greatest benefit a virtual internship can provide is the ability to explore any number of interesting new locations and culture without having to worry about safety, logistics or large financial investment. The barriers that may have prevented you traveling are removed. And if you enjoy the experience, it will give you the confidence and insight to visit that country in person at a later time.
  • Enjoy flexibility: Whatever your home commitments, or personal situation, a remote internship provides the flexibility for you to participate in your own time – so you can take other classes, hold down a job or continue to carry out your other responsibilities back at home.
  • Stand out: Participating in an online internship can help you to stand out from the crowd – especially at a time when many people are not achieving many exciting things to talk about!


But what are the challenges?

There are, of course, also some challenges presented when participating in online internships.

Time zone differences mean that interns and projects have to find mutually-convenient times that may be outside of the typical 9-5 day. Miranda told us – The only notable challenge has been getting used to working with a very different timezone, but this has gotten much easier as time progresses.

Without constant oversight, challenges with time management and staying focussed on project work is something that many interns note, but they also recognize that developing their skills in this area is a big part of what they are building. These are some of the more difficult skills that employers really value!

As Ecuador intern, Kiara points out;

“Be prepared for challenges but don’t be scared away from them. I think doing things virtually means one has to be much more intentional about meeting people and asking questions so that you get the most out of the experience. ” Kiara

So if you want to do something interesting this Fall, consider joining a Kaya remote internship. If you need any more persuading, here is what our current participants wanted to tell future interns;

“If you come into it only looking for work experience and forget that it takes engaging with people, it would be really hard to get anything out of it. Wanting to get to know Morocco and the organization I am with has made this a super enjoyable experience so far!” Grace

“Be prepared for challenges but don’t be scared away from them. I think doing things virtually means one has to be much more intentional about meeting people and asking questions so that you get the most out of the experience.” Kiara

“Although I would have liked to visit Cape Town in person, I have still been able to meet some incredible people and truly experience the South African culture within the comfort of my own home. I feel I am making a difference in these girls lives whilst they are changing mine. I have been participating in fun cultural workshops and weekly buddy chats with my new friend in South Africa! This experience has helped me gain perspective, think creatively, and explore my interests. I have had a great experience with Kaya Volunteer from the very beginning on my program and I would definitely recommend this internship!” Alexandra

“I love the independence and freedom I have with this internship due to it being virtual. It has really pushed me to manage my time and put my capabilities to the test. DO IT!!! You will learn a lot about yourself and your capabilities. A virtual internship forces you to be motivated, manage your time and to push yourself. It’s been a great experience so far and something I am very excited to talk about in my future interviews.” Alexis

Join a remote internship

So if you are inspired to take part in a Kaya remote internship this Fall, we would love to hear from you. You can arrange a call with a Kaya placement advisor here, or submit an application for us to find you the perfect placement using the button opposite.

Whether you are a gap year student (especially if you are deferring from starting college this Fall) , a university students looking to get global experience in your academic field, or someone who wants to use their skills to work on a meaningful project, while learning about a new country, we have a great program for you! What are you waiting for? Make something great happen in 2020!


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