Alumni Profile: Jeremy O’Brien, Italy 2015

Jeremy O’Brien ’16 majored in Community & Non-Profit Leadership with certificates in Global Health and Gender & Women’s Studies. He was a Spring 2015 intern with the U.S. Department of State in Rome, Italy and now works as an Executive Office Associate for the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) in Geneva, Switzerland.

After some years to reflect, what were some highlights or key takeaways from your IIP internship?

The IIP internship delivered the following takeaways for me: Pursue your passion, commitment, and be adaptable. I was a U.S. Department of State Political and Economic Intern to the United Nations Agencies in Rome, Italy. Pursuing my passion through a professional setting overseas taught me vital skills I still use today as a full-time professional overseas and helped me gain relevant experience. I reflect a lot on my second takeaway, commitment. The internship was demanding. Now I work in demanding work environments. Commitment is vital never to lose sight of your passion and goals. The third key takeaway for me was to be adaptable. Learning to be adaptable takes a lot of reflection and self-discipline. Once you learn to be adaptable, you learn how to proactively and positively respond to new and/or unclear situations.   

How did you end up where you are now?

[My] internship was most definitely pivotal in helping me end up where I am today. The internship experience confirmed my passion for access to health commodities and services in low-and-middle-income settings. Thus, I moved on after my time as an undergraduate student at UW-Madison to complete my Master’s in Global Health and Development at University College London. Having already lived, worked, and studied overseas through the IIP experience, I felt equipped to pursue a graduate-level degree overseas. This decision also helped expand my international network. 

During my time as a graduate student, I completed an internship with The Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS and wrote my dissertation on global health partnerships. I soon moved on to work for the United Kingdom Department for International Trade. Then, I [worked for] the Foundation For Innovative New Diagnostics, supporting HIV/hepatitis diagnosis and treatment initiatives across three continents. I also spent some time as a consultant at the World Health Organization. Now, I am an Executive Office Associate for a Swiss Foundation called Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), an organization I’ve followed since completing my Master’s Degree! Each experience taught me new skills, how to identify what I would like to contribute to an organization, and how to never lose sight of the end goal of ensuring people everywhere have access to health commodities and services.  

Why should undergraduates consider interning abroad?

Interning abroad not only grants a student [the opportunity] to live overseas – it allows them to learn how people from different backgrounds, cultures, and countries do business. Living, studying, and working only in one country gives you a minuscule lens on the world. Once you have the opportunity to work with people from all backgrounds, your perspective on daily [life] and work life is forever changed because you learn how to think differently.

What message or advice do you have for students preparing to intern abroad?

Be adaptable. [This message] resonates through everything from what to pack, housing, all the way to job assignments. It is something I wish I embraced from the beginning of my internship, as I would have had fewer headaches working through expectations to reality. Once you learn to be adaptable, your world opens even more. 

What advice would you give to students returning abroad including how to use their experience to enhance their professional growth?

Marketing. You just completed an internship abroad – this is a challenging and rewarding experience. Despite how the experience turned out (hopefully positive!) you have developed a robust set of unique skills around being flexible, adaptable, and successful at working through stressful situations. Use this to your advantage in future interviews. 

Is there any custom, food, tradition from your host country that you still enjoy now?

Definitely the Italian Moka coffee [maker], I use this still. I also tend to frequent Napoli style pizzerias whenever I can! 

In honor of the International Internship Program’s 10th Anniversary, we will be bringing you profiles of IIP alumni who have interned all over the world! Find more alumni profiles here.