Before I left for my study abroad program in South Africa, I applied to several summer internship/fellowship opportunities. The process of applying was very straightforward. I submitted my applications before the deadline, tailored my resume and cover letters to the opportunity I was applying for, and gave my recommenders ample notice. The interview process became kind of tricky. Here are a few tips that I would like to share after doing a few interviews while studying abroad:
- Be mindful of time zone difference.
I’m currently studying abroad in South Africa which is 7 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time and 10 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time. I have found that interviewing in the early evening works best for me because of the time difference. I finish my day with my SIT program at 5pm and schedule interviews between 6:30pm and 8:30pm so that I also have time to eat dinner with my host family and change into professional dress if need be. Make sure to communicate with your main point of contact from the organization to let them know you are abroad and the time zone you are in if their available interview times do not work for you.
- Find a quiet place for video interviews.
There is a local Starbucks near my program’s office center that I visit regularly to study and do interviews. Starbucks is a great place to do interviews because there is outdoor and indoor seating, and it stays open until 10pm during the week. Not many people go to Starbucks in the evening time which allows me to have more privacy while I complete my interviews. Starbucks also has WiFi which makes video interviews easier because cellular data signals can be unreliable when you travel outside of the U.S.
- Only do phone calls if there are no other alternatives.
My phone company charges $0.20 per minute which can make international phone calls very expensive. If possible, I try to avoid doing phone calls and opt for audio calls through a third party platform such as Zoom. When I communicate this to the organization I am interviewing for they are generally understanding and make an effort to accomodate me. If I am unable to avoid using my cellular data, I try to minimize the time I talk on the phone by answering questions as succinctly as possible.
- Plan for power outages, network connection interruptions, etc.
In South Africa, power outages are quite common. The government reduces energy consumption across the country through load shedding. Load shedding can happen in different stages and sometimes without warning. Load shedding has a total duration of two hours, but depending on the severity of its stage, it can occur up to four times per day. I downloaded an app that citizens use to track load shedding announcements and unplanned power outages to make an informed decision when I schedule interviews. If there are unplanned power outages, I would communicate that to my main point of contact and try to reschedule the interview.
- Have a travel buddy if you are choosing a location away from your program centre or residence.
One of the main pieces of advice my program director gave my cohort was to always travel in groups. At night, some areas can be unsafe to wander alone, and it helps to have someone you trust with you. I have found that other people in my cohort go to Starbucks to study and do work, and I try to tag along when I can, especially when I have an interview. Since we all live near each other, we use group transportation to get home which makes traveling much safer.
I hope these tips are helpful to people doing interviews while they are studying abroad. I did not think of the potential challenges I would face with conducting interviews while studying abroad. Since the internet is not readily accessible in most places in South Africa, a lot of planning goes into my interviews before I have them. I recommend people plan ahead and communicate with their contacts so that there is a mutual understanding between all parties involved.