"You Can't Intern as an International in Aerospace" - Let me prove you wrong!
A post that has been in the writing for over 3 years. An integral part of being an international student is listening to professors, friends, and recruiters repeating this to you. You see, there is a nightmare of acronyms called: ITAR: International Traffic in Arms Regulations is a United States regulatory regime to restrict and control the export of defense and military-related technologies to safeguard U.S. national security and further U.S. foreign policy objectives.
This acronym essentially keeps international students from finding a successful career in aerospace in the United States easily. And you might say, not everything must be military, that is related to Aerospace! And you are quite right. However, most aerospace companies will work on something that falls under ITAR regulations, making the entire company about 99% less likely to hire an international student, especially as an intern.
This post is in no way here to say that it will be easy for an international student to find and fight for the few outlier opportunities. It is a continuous, grueling fight against the field, where you will feel alone, and like it's your fault. You, just like me will feel like you aren't enough, or you aren't doing enough. This is, however, entirely false. The lack of feedback from being unable to converse at career fairs, or get even one interview opportunity would prompt anyone to feel alone, left out, and less than their true potential. Hear me out, I got lucky. I worked extremely hard, but I also got lucky.
The very few examples we have of international students succeeding in aerospace, can potentially further our imposter syndrome. However, you should keep in mind that they all fought just like you did. They kept advocating for themselves, highlighting their skills, and working harder than most. I am in no way here to say, it will be easy. But I don't want you to ever think that it is impossible. It is hard, challenging, and comes with many many many painful rejections, and sights of what we can never even try reaching for.
However, there are some amazing, supportive, and fascinating companies that will hire international students from time to time. Keep in mind that any intern or honestly even person in STEM who gets hired got lucky on a level. The competition, whose resume makes it through to see the light of day is very dependent on luck. So build your connections, advocate. Talk to anyone who is willing to listen about the challenges that you face, that are unique to you because of your nationality.
Just know that it isn't impossible, and some of us have already made it. Paving a road, for all of you to follow! And to help you on this route, here is a list of companies that have hired international students before:
Aerospace Industries Association (AIA)
Collins Aerospace (rare, mainly co-ops)
Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) (Specific countries, found on their website)
NASA International Internship Program (Listed countries only)
National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO)
Raven Aerostar (If already have a work authorization)
Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI)
The Planetary Society
Although the list might not be too long, it has many opportunities listed. Surely none of these companies will take international students for all intern openings, however, they just might for some of them! Always check restrictions, and communicate clearly what your visa/ status limits/allows you to do. Research OPT and CPT allowances, as especially limitations. Go above and beyond in keeping track of these, and ensuring your hiring company understands them too.
Further, look into different scholarships, and fellowships that might support international students. Such as the Brooke Owens Fellowship and the Zed Factor Fellowship Program. You can also look for scholarships within your school, where an important distinction to make is that although you may not be eligible for school-wide scholarships, you might be for department-wide and research ones. As well as associations such as AIAA Scholarships, and SWE Scholarships as well.
Just remember, you are never alone. Although there might not be many of us, we are here. And we are living our dreams!