Student Spotlight: Luka’s Study + Internship Experience Abroad in Sydney

A study abroad program can be a life-changing experience, and even more so when you add an international internship into the mix! Just ask Luka, a college student from Fairfield University who is majoring in International Business and Finance. He has been spending his spring semester doing a Study + Internship program in the dynamic city of Sydney, Australia through AIFS Abroad.

Like many college students, Luka didn’t realize studying or interning abroad was a possibility when he entered his undergraduate career — let alone doing both during the same semester. But by taking a leap of faith to attend an on-campus fair on a whim, his life was forever changed.

“If I was ever asked as a first-year college student if I planned to study or intern in a country on the other side of the planet, I would have probably laughed at you as if you told me a joke. The idea would seem radical, both financially and logistically. It wasn’t until my sophomore year Study Abroad Fair at Fairfield University that this formerly ‘radical’ idea was now a possible reality. I heard the words ‘internship’ and ‘business classes’ from a AIFS representative. Let’s say my interest in studying abroad across the planet was piqued to an all-time high.

Following this epiphany of sorts, I called my parents and told them, ‘Forget Florence. Forget London and Barcelona. I want to go to that place where the Men at Work are from.’ Now I am here, writing to you on why my decision was monumental to not only my academic career but my business trajectory as well.”

Read along to hear from Luka about his internship experience at a start-up financial firm while also taking courses at the University of Sydney through AIFS Abroad.

Preparing for Takeoff

Many college students who are embarking on a study abroad or international internship journey set goals and expectations for themselves, and Luka is no exception.

“As I prepared to leave my friends and family behind for a semester abroad, I kept in mind my objectives while I ventured across the world. I reminded myself that I was coming to Australia to get a feel for Australian culture, to benefit my understanding of finance and international business, to gain working experience to help with my career trajectory, and to make memories every step of the way.”

Balancing Interning and Studying Abroad

Doing a Study + Internship program typically means that you take classes abroad while doing a part-time international internship simultaneously. In Sydney, we offer an alternative option — and Luka embraced it. Instead of interning and taking coursework at the same time, he kicked off his experience down under as a Marketing & Community Management intern in the weeks before his course load officially began at the University of Sydney.

“The University of Sydney offers a spring-friendly program for incoming exchange students to accommodate for the difference in semester schedules between the US and Australia. Seasons are reversed and so this internship counted as a summer course for me. As an international business student, an internship abroad provides me with credits towards graduation, so this was a win-win scenario.”

aifs abroad student luka speaking on a panel at the university of sydney as a social media ambassador
Luka speaking on a panel while serving as a Social Media Ambassador for the University of Sydney during his semester abroad in Australia

Life as an Intern in Sydney

Luka’s international internship placement in Australia has been with a financial start-up that offers fractional CFO services to its clients — a perfect fit for his career goals as an International Business and Finance major. But, he decided to branch out and expand his horizons, choosing an internship placement that focused more on Marketing within the Finance industry.

“I decided to undergo a marketing internship even though it is not one of my majors. I had an interest and I saw it as a sign to try it out and give it a chance. Given the office is based in Melbourne and not Sydney, I worked remotely but this honestly did not take away from the internship, as I had three other interns within my accommodation to work with. I met three times a week over Zoom with my supervisors.”

But what about actual internship tasks? Luka breaks down his responsibilities and what he was involved with during his time as an intern abroad in Sydney, as well as details on a co-curricular, pre-professional experience he took part in through his host university.

“My first weeks served as a foundation for the projects I was to soon be given. My final projects included creating a customer map journey for its clients, creating LinkedIn and Instagram mock posts, and designing an investor’s pitch deck for prospective clients. The projects were feasible but demanded enough of my attention that I was kept busy.

It is important to mention that every week I had an internship course at the university – ARTS2600 – that aided students in their ability to understand Australian work culture and self-reflection. Altogether, it was beneficial to my success as an intern.”

aifs abroad student traveling in australia
Luka traveling during his semester abroad in Australia

Work Life in Australia vs. USA

One of the most interesting parts of interning abroad is learning firsthand about work culture in a new city or country and comparing it to what you’re used to back home. Luka’s internship allowed him to gain a better understanding of what professional and office dynamics are like in Australia as compared to the United States.

“Three words: Work. Life. Balance. This was surely the first aspect that was clear to me once I commenced my internship journey. As a non-Aussie, I expected to work long hours and handle daunting tasks. This was not the case whatsoever and I was able to complete my work diligently, on time, and with enough space in my schedule to enjoy myself. Don’t be afraid to be overworked. Not a single individual I met has had this experience.

Secondly, communication is much more lax between bosses and their employees. Having worked both in a corporate and retail environment, it was interesting to see how down-to-earth my supervisors were and this made me feel relaxed and confident throughout my internship journey. Just be yourself and ask questions! Your managers want to learn more about you as much as you want to learn about them.

Although I was not exposed to life in an office environment, I have other friends who have. A sense of community was a common theme throughout their internships and there were many times when co-workers, including their managers, would go for a drink or have food after work. The Australian workforce is very diverse and curiosity flourishes within these circumstances!”

Life as a Business Student at the University of Sydney

After the internship component of his Study + Internship program concluded, Luka transitioned into focusing solely on taking classes at the University of Sydney, Australia’s oldest university which was founded in 1850. With over 70,000 students, the university prides itself on producing leaders with qualities that will enable them to serve communities. It is recognized as a top university for fields like International Relations, Asia-Pacific related studies, Engineering, STEM, Environmental Topics and Liberal Arts. The business school has the prestigious triple accreditation from AACSB, AMBA and EQUIS, putting it in the top 1% of business schools worldwide — perfect for Luka’s academic and career trajectory.

Luka was in awe of the University of Sydney’s campus, sharing:

“First thing’s first. The campus is absolutely stunning. Just Google search ‘USYD Quadrangle.’ That’s all you need to see to get an idea of what it is like to walk around campus. The Abercrombie School of Business is architecturally modern, but I would argue, just as alluring.”

the university of sydney in australia
Architecture at the University of Sydney

As for his coursework, Luka has focused on taking a few Business courses while abroad to align with his International Business and Finance majors back at Fairfield University, as well as an elective.

“I am currently taking three courses during the semester, two business-related and one religion class. Every class takes up three hours of your week with one chunk dedicated to lectures and another with a tutorial. The class size varies depending on the course you’re taking and I would say the average is about fifty students. My classes are all intellectually challenging. They require enough attention to pass but in the end, they all assimilate with a degree of study and help me on the path to graduate on time. 

As a business student, I am most definitely sharpening my spreadsheet skills, and my ability to work in teams, while gaining knowledge of the international business world as a whole. In my Ethical Decisions in International Business class, we are working on a semester-long project that will be judged by IBM professionals in the Call for Code competition. This requires my team and I to analyze an ethical issue associated with an international enterprise and then ascertain a technological solution to prevent the dilemma from worsening. This requires diligent teamwork and an ability to critically think about international issues both analytically and socially. I cannot wait to see the final product!”

As a study abroad student, it’s natural to compare the academic landscape at home to what you’re experiencing at your host institution overseas. Course formats, teaching styles, and professor-student communications won’t be a carbon copy — so it may take some adjustment! Luka breaks down a few differences he’s experienced in Sydney, and shares some tips:

“Coming from a competitive business school at Fairfield University, I felt well-prepared for the academic rigor I was going to experience. School is my number one priority while here, which it should be for any student, but I have admired some of the differences associated with studying at the University of Sydney. 

You’re going to be challenged as I forementioned. Getting A’s at USYD is quite a remarkable achievement and it’s coined as ‘High Distinction.’ Most students are on a pass/fail system with their respective schools back at home so no sweat. However, there are many resources you can utilize here to help you out. For one, you have a dedicated tutorial with a tutor to answer all your questions. This is quite different when compared to traditional US college systems as you usually need to seek out a tutor rather than be given one. I recommend anyone to take advantage of this. Your professor also has a dedicated office hour and all of my professors are very open to conversations. Network as much as possible! 

Furthermore, given Sydney is a cosmopolitan city, there is a range of diversity on campus. You will meet people from all over the world. This is a great time to group up with people with varying sets of knowledge with different cultural backgrounds. There might not be another time back in the US when you will be surrounded by such diversity so take full advantage of this. I recommend joining business clubs and societies while you’re here and attending their many events during the semester.”

Growth through Education Abroad

There’s no shortage of growth that happens when you study or intern abroad. Whether you choose to study abroad for a full semester like Luka or for just a few weeks on a short-term program, you’ll see an immense change in yourself academically, personally, and professionally.

On a personal level, Luka has seen incredible growth as a student and young adult by taking on a Study + Internship experience in Sydney with AIFS Abroad.

“Something I learned while on my program here in Australia is that maturity and independence grows alongside one another. To be so far away from home and your university is no easy task. It takes courage to travel anywhere for a prolonged period of time, perseverance to adapt to your new surroundings, and responsibility to stay on task with all your academic endeavors. While I have been here, I have felt a newfound sense of independence given these circumstances. My internship during the Australian summer and the three courses I take now during the semester require ample time management and an ability to do work to a high degree independently. I am more mindful of my strengths and weaknesses here in Australia and this is surely a blessing in disguise. “

Exploring Cultural Differences

No matter where you choose to study abroad or do an international internship, you’ll discover new cultures, traditions, and ways of life that may be different from your own. Luka’s semester in Sydney allowed him to learn more about Australian locals and their customs.

“I can see a general difference between Americans and Aussies when it comes to interacting with strangers. I find that American culture is very much fast-paced and this can interfere with the way we interact with people. I have found Australians, especially students, to live more in the moment and worry less about future deadlines. I’d also characterize them as being very curious as I have had many conversations with them after class when they come to find out I am from the United States. I have met a few Aussie friends from these rather simple interactions. It was quite a surprise to me at first and I thought I came off as more superficial in conversations. However, it was through these repeated interchanges that I became more comfortable with opening up to new people. 

This truly has opened my eyes to a culture shock that I was not prepared for prior to arriving in Australia. Yet, it is a cultural difference that I will remember for the rest of my life as I reminisce on the many interesting experiences that have come forth from these interactions.”

Final Thoughts

And so, as he embraces the journey, Luka reflects on how much he’s been impacted by his Study + Internship experience in Sydney this spring semester.

“Don’t be fooled by the ‘radicality’ of studying so far away from home. Whether you decide to study abroad in Sydney or elsewhere, the experience of being away from home will be monumental to your growth as a person. […] I have felt my independence and cultural competency be enriched by my experiences thus far. I feel myself morphing from a non-Aussie to a ‘want to be Aussie’ and I see nothing wrong with that! Trust me. It won’t be all about hitting the books and attending your internship. You will have all the fun you’ve ever imagined and more. I’d rather tease that than spoil all the experiences you will receive if you do decide to come study at USYD through AIFS. Maybe you are in the same boat that I was in my sophomore year. Maybe it is also time to sail away!”

Are you a student who’s ready to take the leap and do a Study + Internship program in Sydney like Luka did with AIFS Abroad? We’d love to help you start your journey!

Here at AIFS Abroad, we know a thing or two about helping college students and pre-professionals study and intern abroad. Our programs are incredibly inclusive, which takes a lot of the stress out of planning. From coordinating your housing to providing things like cultural and social activities, excursions, comprehensive insurance, 24/7 emergency support, on-site staff, and more, you’ll take comfort in knowing you’ll have support throughout your entire experience abroad.

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