I had always imagined myself studying in Spain. Hell, I planned my 8th grade class schedule around the idea that I would eventually go to Spain for a semester in college. Yea, I was a bit of an overachiever.
I didn't really think too much about how different working in a country would be versus studying. I had only ever been a student so the thought that working would actually change my experience didn't even cross my mind. But I am here to tell you.... interning abroad is absolutely different than studying abroad. There almost is no comparison.
No one I knew thought to go abroad for an internship. Hell, I just happened to stumble upon the idea myself and became to stubborn to do anything else.
My first international experience was with an internship in Dublin working with only one Irish person. The rest of the women in my office were American, British or Polish. And honestly, this was a pretty good representation to the population of Dublin. I worked 9-5, had 30 min for lunch and at least 2 more tea breaks. The people we were helping were either locals or Brazilians. I quickly learned that Ireland and Brazil have a mutual agreement so there is a high population of Brazilians in Dublin. I was able to attend local outreach events, travel around to different parts of the city with my coworkers and began understanding the local politics. I was fully immersed in my Irish life.
The same was true when I interned in London. My entire team was British. I could see upwards of 200 different people a day, people who were from all over the world. I worked 10-6, sometimes 10-8 depending on the day. I lived in a tiny apartment without a living room and 5 other roommates, something that I was told is quite normal for young people living in London. I was able to walk to work, a thing that no one has the privilege to do and I quickly discovered that you could buy wine at all hours of the night. I barely was able to scratch the surface of my little neighborhood but still managed to carve out my own form of London living.
You can imagine my shock when I studied in Madrid after having spent a combined 6 months in Europe already. I lived with Spaniards, I took classes with Spaniards but would I say I was truly immersed in my Spanish life? Sometimes. I can tell you that my life slowed waaaay down. I understood why classes ran the way they did. I learned a lot about the culture and past politics but it was not the same. I wasn't interacting with the community the same way. I was a visiting student there to explore and have fun. I had a whole 3 hours of daily responsibility... sometimes... and the rest of the time I was free to do what I wanted. I did not feel as invested in my time as when I was working 40 hours a week for a real company.
Comparing the two experiences would be the same as comparing studying and working. They are both enriching, you learn from each but they are by no means substitutes for each other.
tl;dr : International Internships =/= Studying Abroad.