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Latin America tempts interns

By Brian Byrnes, CNN
updated 10:46 AM EST, Thu December 22, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • International graduates and students look to Latin America for internship experience to bolster their resumes
  • They say they are being lured here by the regionĀ“s relatively strong and stable economies
  • Intern and law graduate Mary Bonsor: It's just a great experience to try and learn as much as I can here

Buenos Aires, Argentina (CNN) -- Mary Bonsor graduated from law school in London last June and is now navigating her way around the labyrinth-like offices of Marval, O'Farrell & Mairal, Argentina's largest law firm.

Bonsor, 24, is spending two months interning at the firm in Buenos Aires with hopes of learning more about Argentine law, while also honing her Spanish-speaking skills.

"It is very interesting to compare the English system to the Argentinean system. It's just great experience to see how another judicial system works," says Bonsor.

Bonsor is one of a growing number of international graduates and students looking to Latin America for internship experience to bolster their resumes. They say they are being lured here by the regionĀ“s relatively strong and stable economies, low costs, and the chance to work alongside top business, scientific and creative minds.

According to student travel company STA, the international internship market is the fastest growing trend in travel right now. Historically, cities like New York, London and Hong Kong were top choices for interns, but now Buenos Aires, Bogota and Santiago are seeing an influx.

"There's been an increase of interest in the region, and you see a lot of students...with a strong interest in visiting Latin America, and getting to know the culture," says Sebastian Iribarne, a partner at Marval, O'Farrell & Mairal.

A new company called Intern Latin America (ILA) placed Bonsor in her Buenos Aires internship. ILA was founded this year with the aim of arranging internships for foreign students throughout the region.

The company had immediate success with its first venture, when it received more than 100 applications for positions it had arranged with FIFA during the Under-20 World Cup. Ten students from Russia, Germany, the UK and U.S. worked during the three-week tournament in July and August in Medellin, Colombia.

The idea for Intern Latin America came to British co-founder David Lloyd, 27, after he had a hard time securing an internship for himself while living in Buenos Aires in 2006. Other internship placement companies have been operating in the region for years, but Lloyd felt a comprehensive program with connections to blue-chip companies and competitive private-sector and government posts didn't exist. He quit his job on the trading floor at Merrill Lynch in London to pursue the initiative.

"I realized there was a lot of demand from the company side and a lot of demand from the student side, but for reasons of language difference and bureaucracy...there was no way for them to realize the mutual benefit," says Lloyd.

Now the benefits are being recognized throughout the region. The government of Chile recently awarded Intern Latin America a $40,000 grant and office space in Santiago. Soon, ILA will be placing interns at businesses, hospitals and NGOs throughout Chile, something it has already done for more than 50 interns - from countries like China, India, Sweden and Switzerland -- in Argentina and Colombia. ILA next plans to concentrate on entering Brazil and Mexico, and have already launched an office in London, which will bring interns to the British capital.

"Internships abroad are a global phenomenon. In Latin America, the growth is mainly due to the fact that it's a region in rapid development and people want to experience that, and develop language skills," says Lloyd.

Mary Bonsor is developing her Spanish with daily, two-hour intensive classes. She is confident her time in Argentina will serve her well when she returns home to join the workforce.

"Here it is very similar to how I will work back in England. It's a similar-sized law firm, and so it's just a great experience to try and learn as much as I can here," she says.

Most internships are unpaid, and interns have to cover their own costs, however, more scholarships are becoming available.

The LIV Fund is a new initiative that offers two $500 scholarships per month to international students looking to intern, study or volunteer in Latin America.

"We want to provide a structure to the living abroad experience so that potential participants can have more of an idea of what it will entail," says LIV Fund founder David Garrett.

With the eurozone in crisis, ongoing economic woes in the U.S., political unrest in the Middle East and Brazil's growing importance, Latin America is looking to expand its role on the global stage. As a result, many are predicting that more and more anxious interns from across the globe will be arriving soon in Latin America.

"We don't want this to be only for the well-heeled and well-connected. We firmly believe that these opportunities should be open to any young person who wants to intern in Latin America. We're working to make that happen," says Lloyd.

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