When searching for an internship opportunity in the USA, the first cities you might think of are New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. These cities are very popular, seen in Hollywood movies, in the news, and in pop-culture. For newcomers to the U.S., these cities look like THE destination to go to for an internship.
Big cities, bright lights, and all of the infamous attractions you have grown up with reading and watching about are wonderful. BUT … there is a big difference between visiting these places shortly as a tourist and actually live and work there. In other words, living there is completely different than what the Broadway show business or Hollywood tell you. There are many other things to consider for you such as the price of living, internship compensation, location of internship site, public transportation, and much more.
New York is the opposite of cheap – rent, food, transportation are all very expensive. Many students cannot afford to have an unpaid internship in NYC. This article focuses on the majority of students and young professionals who want the American internship experience at a lower cost without sacrificing quality.
According to data provided by the NYC Department of City Planning, since 2016 NYC has seen a decrease in its population. This is most likely due to an increase in rent prices and overcrowdedness, among other factors. But where do these people go? Well, there is a clear increase of the population, especially among younger people, in smaller metropolitan areas around the U.S. like Kansas City, Des Moines, and Denver. In fact, the fastest-growing demographic in these cities are young people between the ages of 25 and 34. Many young professionals are turning away from larger metropolitan cities in favor of these up and coming cities. Why? Because smaller cities have much to offer as well.
Mid-sized cities have drastically increased their efforts to attract new businesses by incentivizing through lower personal and corporate taxes, reasonable rent prices, and the overall lower cost of living. Having more money in the pockets at the end of the month is very attractive for many people. These cities have become destinations for new companies, factories, and people planning their future careers and lives. The increased interest in places such as Kansas City, Des Moines, Denver, and others serve as a prime example of the potential for much smaller, metro areas in the U.S. to take on a new workforce and population increase.
These metro areas mistakenly viewed as flyover states have harnessed both what the biggest cities have; Nightlife, sports, entertainment, as well as a few things big cities lack like a mid-city charm.
As an international student planning an internship in the U.S, consider Des Moines, Kansas City, or Denver. Below is an average per-month cost breakdown of what to expect in New York City compared to Des Moines, Iowa. This should give you a good understanding of how expensive reality is in NYC, but also how affordable mid-sized cities are.
New York City Costs per Month ~ 2.400 USD*
- Shared apartment/room ~ $1,400
- Groceries ~ $450
- Monthly transportation pass ~ $127
- USA Sim Card ~ $40
- Extras (clothes, travel, night out) ~ $400
Des Moines, Iowa Costs per Month ~ 1300 USD*
- Shared apartment ~ $600
- Groceries ~ $250
- Monthly transportation pass ~ $50
- Sim Card USA Internet ~ $40
- Extras (clothes, travel, night out) ~ $300
Average cost savings per month: ~ $1000: That’s a savings of 45% per month!
*These are estimates of the average costs. Some may expect a higher or lower living expense in these cities and others like them.
It’s fair to say that the media and television may have portrayed the U.S. in an unrealistic setting for many decades. They have mainly shown off New York and Los Angeles as beacons for the “American Dream” where everyone is wealthy and you, too, can achieve anything you set your mind to. On the flip side, other great places in the U.S. have been ignored a bit, and have not gotten the attention they deserve. You may even believe that these smaller metro areas are underwhelming, boring, and poor. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Americans live normal lives, just like most people around the world. In the middle of the country, for example, there is a plethora of large cities such as Chicago, San Antonio, Houston, Oklahoma City, and many more, that you simply shouldn’t forget about. Students searching for an internship in the U.S. might overlook these fascinating cities and only hear of or know about Los Angeles, San Francisco, or New York City.
When exploring the nightlife in a big city like Houston, Texas, put any preconceived notions about barns, pastures, and dusty roads out of your head. Believe it or not, Houston is the third-largest city in America! People enjoy trendy nightlife scenes and thriving art exhibits you would see in New York. You can always find parties, concerts, and events throughout the week to keep you busy.
Furthermore, American culture is rooted in sports. The best experience you can have is to go to a football game. The greatest atmosphere and the most passionate fans can be found in college football. These universities have stadiums as big or even larger than professional soccer venues in Europe that you might be familiar with. The most successful teams in college football and the most exciting to watch are in Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio, and other centrally located states.
The middle of the United States is surprisingly diverse. Individuals and families of various ethnic backgrounds are starting to settle down in smaller states including Oklahoma, Kansas, Ohio, and Texas. Since 2010 Texas has seen more than a 13% increase in its population.
Searching for an internship opportunity in the U.S. can be a difficult undertaking. Not only do you have to research what industry you want to pursue, but also in what location. The USA is a very big country with each state offering something unique. New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco are very mainstream and sometimes don’t meet the high expectations of international college students whether it is due to prices, lack of Hollywood feel, etc.
Plus, these places are very expensive for most students, especially for an internship that could very well be unpaid. Time to pick a new city! Go beyond the generic USA picture the world sees and really experience true America. There are many benefits such as lower living costs, cultural diversity, economic growth, and, still, a big city feel.
Also, keep in mind that you can have both a good internship in a smaller metro area such as Denver AND the experience of NYC because the J1-visa allows you to travel 30 days before and 30 days after your internship. That’s much time to experience how it is to live in New York and you can come back any time for touristic travel.
If you (still) have your heart set on NYC or LA, click here to read our article on helpful tips on living in expensive cities.