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Test Drive Your Major—Abroad

What does buying a car have to do with your future? According to Professor Tony Brown, a lot.

Buying a car can be stressful. With so many brands and models on the market, first-time buyers often feel overwhelmed by all the factors to consider: How long will the engine last? How many miles does it get per gallon? What if I don’t like it? To make sure they don’t commit to a car that doesn’t work for them, most buyers will do a test drive. Professor Tony Brown (Russian Language and Culture) often compares this scenario to the predicament students run into when deciding their future occupations. He explains that students can test drive their studies, much like they would a car, by participating in an internship as an undergraduate. To help students do this, Brown works closely with hundreds of organizations across Europe to set up international internships where BYU students can figure out what career works best for them.

Making Internships Part of BYU

Similar to studying abroad, interning abroad provides undergraduates experience with a new language, culture, and country. While both prove immensely valuable for undergraduates, Brown explains that “internships often reflect a student’s area of professional interest and their chosen discipline.” Today, these opportunities appear in large supply across campus; however, when Brown first joined the BYU faculty, he found that these internships weren’t so readily available.

Brown first became involved with internships shortly after joining the German & Russian Department back in 2004. Having seen so many talented, Russian-speaking undergrads in the department, he wanted to give them opportunities to apply their language in their future occupations. Where better to do that than Moscow, Russia?

To kickstart the program, Brown contacted a colleague working at the State Department in Moscow, and, working with his contacts around Eastern Europe, he created the Moscow Internship. He says, “I sent my first group over there to Moscow in 2007. And it was a small group—six students—but that quickly grew from being a summer program to year-round.” With the Moscow Internship up and running, Brown was recruited to help organize internships for a handful of other language departments; today, he helps students find internships in Germany, Latvia, Poland, Finland, Sweden, Copenhagen, London, and more.

Internships Can Be Personal

To help make each internship successful, Brown works with professors to provide preparatory courses for each student interning abroad. These courses often focus on how students can stay safe while in a new country, and more recently, how to gain greater endurance and stamina to face new—and often hard—things while abroad. To do this, Brown began teaming up with BYU’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) by inviting guest speakers from the organization to visit the preparation course in the fall and winter. In their visits, undergraduates receive training on how to take care of themselves while away from home to remain comfortable and confident. With these tools under their belt, Brown hopes that “when students arrive [in a new country], they can hit the ground running.”

Though many of these internships take place in countries where most people don’t speak English, Brown tries to make these programs accessible for all BYU students, not just those who speak a second language. Currently, he works with both students studying another language and those who only know English to help them intern in places such as Germany and Latvia.

For those with a specific tie to a country—whether it be the result of valuable mission experience, a pipe dream trip finally coming true, or years of diligent language studies—Brown works hard to help undergraduates find personalized internships in a country of their choosing. He says, “It doesn’t matter if you’re in microbiology, if you’re in editing, if you’re in physics, if you’re in astronomy, if you’re in engineering—you’re welcome to have a seat at the table. And I’ll do everything I can to find something that fits your interests.”

The Lifelong Impact of Internships

Successful internships don’t end when students’ planes land in the US. Brown explains that these experiences will benefit students’ careers beyond their graduation. After completing their internships, many undergraduates find that their time abroad can boost their career, sometimes even becoming a topic of discussion in interviews. While internships give beneficial experience in the job market, Brown notes that these opportunities serve an even greater purpose. He says, “These types of experiences, whether they’re domestic or whether they’re international, can have a profound impact on one’s overall character development.”

Since starting up these internship programs, Brown has seen the great impact internships abroad offer students, both personally and professionally. For some, this proves to be the exact experience they needed to return to BYU with a new-found confidence in the trajectory of their studies. He says, “I send as many students who come back and say, ‘Yes, this was exactly what I was hoping for’ as I have come back and say, ‘Wow, I’m really glad I did this because now I know that I want to switch my major’—both of those experiences are success stories.”

Check out the Kennedy Center’s International Study Program website or contact Professor Brown directly to find an internship that suits you.