A montage of notes, designs and intern applications on an agency desk


Chukster Stories


Mathilde Hay


Securing a Design Internship Abroad - the intern's POV



Two years ago, I sent my first application and it got me an internship in a design studio abroad. That’s not fair. Or maybe it is? 

I remember those dozens and dozens of applications sent to companies in the years leading up to 2022. Most of them didn’t reply but I always appreciated the effort of the ones answering a no. It definitely helps to keep students motivated. We know that our work, desire and aspirations have been read, heard and understood. 

I remember being a graphic design intern at an architecture and design agency in Paris. Wow, that sounds cool! In reality, I was working from 9 to 8, making keynote presentations all day, paid 3€/hour. If you find yourself in that kind of situation you must talk about it. Whether it is with a professor, a best friend or a parent, people on the outside will be able to help you understand what is ok and what isn’t.

I remember my first internship in an event management agency, setting up an outdoor VIP tent at a festival somewhere under the rainy and stormy skies of Normandie. It was a pretty chaotic experience but these are also important to live, so you know exactly what you are not made for.

I remember this cosmetic company asking me to create 3 concepts for their digital channels as an exercise to access the 3rd round of interviews. Of course I saw my concept unveiled a few months after they told me that they had chosen another applicant. 

I heard so many bad stories about internships from my classmates at uni. I also heard the good ones, the ones that make people around jealous. Maybe it’s not fair that this girl in my class got her dream internship thanks to dad’s best friend. Maybe she deserves it, maybe not, but in the end, we don’t really care. The most important thing is your own experience and the steps you have overcome to be where you are. You must allow yourself to feel proud and get some confidence, to find the internship you deserve. 

Finding an internship abroad is not easy and in the creative industry, it is even worse. A lot of young people want to work in communication and design, so you need to stand out from the crowd. Trust me, you can. We are all unique thanks to our diverse backgrounds and we all have something to contribute. 


Here are some practical recommendations to secure a design internship abroad: 

The first important element and not the least tricky one : the language. If you want to move to a country where English is not the main language, it will considerably decrease the range of companies to reach out to. But keep focus, use your best friend Google and look for studios with international teams. English is an intuitive language to learn, but it can still be a challenge if language learning is not promoted in your country. Things don’t sound natural and you feel frustrated at not being able to express your opinions correctly. You feel like losing a part of yourself and not being as natural, funny, expressive. These frustrations improve with time and once you see the progress and how far you have come, you will feel proud. 

Are you looking to absorb a lot of knowledge and carry a set of new skills on your back? I take that as a yes. Then, you must apply for smaller businesses. Startups, small studios are where I feel you will best understand how the field you operate in works. You will get involved in all the processes and participate in way more steps than if you are a graphic designer in a big agency - doing only the execution part. It sounds impressive to be an intern at a gigantic advertising agency but the amount of useful things you’ll learn for your future will be limited compared to a smaller business. There’s nothing more exciting than learning how to become a jack-of-all-trades. 

Do not feel forced to write a mega long cover letter, I think this is a waste of time and companies don’t even open it most of the time. However, I find it so important to catch their attention either with a call, a visit to their workplace, or an honest, positive and personalised email if you are more comfortable with writing words. It takes time to write customised emails but it is the first thing the company will look at. Show them who you are, tell them why you are writing to them and what you like about their company. They need to understand you have a real interest in joining their team and that you are YOU enough to bring something new to the table. I would say it’s better to send less applications but really work on them - instead of sending a lot of impersonal ones. Quality before quantity. To find my first internship abroad, I wrote an email and explained why Denmark was a country I wanted to live in, why this company, why now? Those are the questions you need to answer before they come to the mind of the one reading your email. 

My last piece of advice would be to dare look for the unknown. You could end up in an internship you didn’t plan at all but the unexpected is always the most exciting. After one month doing this chaotic Parisian internship, I decided to leave and I ended up being a graphic designer at a Trail Running company. The irony of the situation is that I hate running, I have always hated running, I will always hate it. Because I hate it so much and find it so challenging, I felt a massive fascination for the ones practicing this sport. I got to know a field I felt so unfamiliar with - and I truly loved it. Of course, it was still fundamental for me to share some of the most important trail running values. Among them, the connection with nature, the perseverance, the taste for exploration, inclusivity and community life. So, if you feel too far away from a new job proposal or do not even dare to contact businesses operating in certain fields, please go explore! Take the risk to learn the realities that are not the ones you feel comfortable with. That’s how you will grow and refine your professional personality. 

In the end, I’m not gonna lie, things can be very random. Sometimes, you just need to knock on the right door, at the right moment. When things happen and you finally find your dream internship - you can call that being lucky, believing stars were aligned or really consider it  karma coming after lots of effortful moves. Since I was very young, my mom always told me that work pays off. Until now, she has always been right.