As a recent graduate of the Master of Art Conservation Program at Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada, I’m currently living the transition between being a student and the ‘real world’. The Program at Queen’s University is a two-year program in which students focus on a particular treatment stream (objects, painting, or paper) from their first day. I learned during my studies that varied work experience is extremely important. So as I neared the Program’s completion, I began a hunt for post-graduate internship and fellowship opportunities that would allow me to further my education in conservation and give me a chance to be involved in a wide range of projects. I was flexible and prepared to travel any distance.
I had several objectives for seeking international experience: 1) on account of my interest in archaeological and ethnographic objects, I wanted to have the chance to work with a range of material culture; 2) I wanted to be exposed to different conservation philosophies; and 3) I wanted to expand my tool box of practical techniques.
Preparations for venturing abroad to gain work experience can be stressful and time-consuming. To be able to complete an internship in the U.S., it was necessary for me (a citizen of the Czech Republic and permanent resident of Canada) to obtain J-1 Research Scholar status. The process consisted of filling out and submitting specific documents, paying SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) and visa fees, and attending a pre-booked interview at the U.S. Embassy or nearest consulate. In my experience, if one is prepared and has submitted all of the required documents, one should be able to obtain a U.S. visa within a week following the interview.
My time in the U.S. as a summer intern during my studies and currently as a post-graduate intern has been extremely enriching. The experience has without a doubt exceeded my original objectives. Learning about different cultures – their traditions, values, and perspectives – has been invaluable in giving me a better understanding of how to care for objects. One of the greatest lessons that working abroad has taught me is the importance of flexibility; every geographical area provides its own challenges. In addition to many professional benefits, working abroad gives one the chance to see new places, meet new people, try new things, and simply enjoy the adventures that a foreign country has to offer.
Personal tips for preparing for a work experience abroad:
1) When contacting individuals or institutions with whom you’d like to work abroad, don’t be afraid of asking about available opportunities and the possibility for financial assistance. I’ve had the pleasure of finding conservators who had been extremely supportive and helpful beyond guiding me through the paperwork for the internship. Even if you are not offered any additional assistance, never hesitate to ask for information.
2) Regarding visas, I would advise that you review any visa requirements as soon as possible. Once you’ve made an agreement with the host institution, it’s important to start completing the paperwork immediately as the documents have to be processed and approved by a number of individuals at the host institution. You should also obtain the visa a good time in advance before your scheduled departure. This will ensure that if any unexpected set-backs should occur – for example, if it becomes necessary to provide additional documents – that there will be sufficient time to take care of the matter. I’ve learned that an invitation letter from the host institution is a vital document.
3) I’ve found it extremely helpful to get in touch with other students, who are travelling to the same institution to complete internships or other requirements, prior to departure.