Could companies running costly internship programmes be as unethical as unpaid internships?

Internships. You either love them or hate them, right? Well, luckily for me I have had the privilege of interning with some amazing companies over the years, learning some valuable industry knowledge along the way. Despite already having two different internships already lined up for the summer, I felt something was missing… and that’s when the email came through ‘Wildlife and Travel Journalism Internship Opportunity in South Africa.’ It was like all my prayers had been answered, and after reading through the brochures I knew it was perfect for me, minus one major factor – the price.

Fortunately, last year I was awarded with The Crispin Aubrey Bursary, which helps support aspiring journalists like myself to champion environmental issues. Without their funding, I would have never been able to have experience the wonderful, and also heartbreaking, moments, as well as write about them. However, a lot of the students I was interning with did not have this extra financial support, which in turn led them having to borrow funds, fundraise or even get into financial debt. Of course this factor was pushed to one side during our internship month, but when issues started to arise, I certainly wasn’t alone in questioning the ethics surrounding international internship programmes that cost. Could companies running costly internship programmes be as unethical as unpaid internships?

Okay I know what you’re thinking, how can anything be worse than working your butt off for free right? How about forking out a lot of money for a programme to find a lot of the stuff you paid to do was either free so long as we gave the place publicity via articles and social media, free in general or at a considerably cheaper price? And I’d like to say this just happened in my particular programme, but so many people are building companies to unfortunately profit from millennials eagerness to learn whilst exploring, and it’s very much under wraps.


So here are my tips on how to get valuable experience abroad without breaking the bank:

RESEARCH have plenty of information on interning/studying/volunteering overseas, as well as reviews from students that have been on each programme. There may be a lot of costly internship companies on there granted, but it will give you a place to compare each organisation, compare prices, what each one offers and ratings. This way you know you can make a well informed decision, rather than going in blind.

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Just like you would back in your homeland, go out and find your dream internship for yourself. Of course this is very useful when you have a specific company in mind or a certain field, i.e. a Parisian fashion house for a showroom assistant internship. Have a list of places you would like to possibly work in, make sure you fit the requirements (for example, don’t go applying to said fashion house if you don’t know French) and apply. With any luck you’ll get a positive response, and then you can organise your flights and accommodation without having to pay a fortune for a middle-man.


If you are after some more hands on experience then there are an abundance of free volunteering opportunities you can go for. So long as they are ethical, you don’t go in with the mindset that you’re going to change the world and it is with a company you’ve researched thoroughly into, then go for it. Plus, with the money you save, you can now use to donate to the place you’re volunteering for – even better!

Read about my time in South Africa in more depth here.


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