The cost of an internship

Top financial learning this internship season

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It all started with a vigor and passion to travel to another country for internship, after my previous ones in China and France. This time it was Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

To start with, my stipend was 1200 MYR, a bit less for an expat but enough for survival (which I figured out later). According to living cost sources online, 1400–2000 MYR would make a good living. So I had a greater amount of calculation to be done. I was prepared to put some amount from my own pocket.

First things first,like any other expat I searched for accommodation online. I proceeded by making two set of options A & B.

‘A’ would comprise of options which were near to my office in the city center i.e more rent and no travel. While the other one ‘B’ with options from suburbs or far off i.e less rent and more travel. The breakup of cost of best buys came up as follows for both the set :

A : Rent : 1100 MYR Travel : 0 MYR

B : Rent : 700 MYR Travel : 300 MYR

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Thinking optimistically, I drifted towards option A. Surely, I could pay extra 100 MYR, as that was supposed to bring me a ‘lifestyle of luxury, living in front of Petronas Tower, an extra hour of sleep and not getting tired of travelling daily through LRT/Metro trains.’ For the food, I could cook and eat occasionally out, from my own bucks.

‘Everything seems fine and set to go!’ Yeah, I felt that too. But the feeling soon vanished, at the moment I met my boss’ secretary. She started with general questions about my stay and happenings to only give me contrasting facts.

So, where did I fail?

According to her I could have easily managed to stay within my stipend, no need of extra penny to spend. Sounded surprising to me at first, but soon realized I had made a huge mistake which can’t be undone (as I had deposited the rental amount).

So the thing that went wrong was my research and perception. Locals in Kuala Lumpur were able to find rooms as cheaper as 500 MYR from other sources than classified websites (Unfortunately, I missed those). Also, I had made a perception of daily travel from LRT train as tedious and tiring. But it turned out that it was not that bad actually (compared to my previous encounters with Indian and Chinese metros).

Moreover, my visit to nearest grocery store added ‘insult to the injury’. The prices for fruits, vegetable and daily grocery was just double to that mentioned on the living cost standards online. The most obvious reason was that the store was located in city center. Thus, if I buy from this city center supermarket it would cost me 400 MYR more. So, I decided to go to suburbs for daily stuff costing me 100 MYR for travel, thus I did not lose 300 MYR more.

Learnings :

It was my biggest financial fail till now, where I spent almost double than I had planned. But I got to learn many things which an intern in foreign land can keep in mind.

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Try offline : One of the biggest learning is to search for everything offline. Try contacting someone from your office or a local friend to find cheap and reliable alternatives. Only agencies take advantage and it may result in huge losses.

“Lack of money is the root of all evils.’’ — George Bernard Shaw

Change preferences : At the beginning, we may think that we could work with our choice of living with empty hands. But little bit of saving in the end always helps. Personally, not saving anything left me deprived of many fun activities an intern could do.

Try other income sources : Recently, I met a friend of mine who always had money for weekend nightouts. I got to learn that he worked part time in supermarket. If you can find any opportunity like this, grab it.

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