When a lot of people first learn about study abroad, they often view it as an extended trip and an opportunity to travel on the weekends. However, study abroad amounts to so much more, not only allowing students to gain academic credit, but to also gain a slew of transferable skills that they can apply in the work place. Although I have had the opportunity to apply my study abroad experience in a government setting, the skills coming out of study abroad are applicable to any field. Whether you are a budding entrepreneur, an engineering student, an aspiring doctor, or a future journalist, study abroad will make you more competitive in the job market and that much more successful in the workplace.
After studying Arabic intensively in Morocco and French for a semester in France, I decided I wanted to use my language skills in the field of international relations. I applied for an internship at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., and I can definitely attribute my success in landing the internship to study abroad. In the interview, I was asked to describe a time when I had to overcome a challenge, and I was able to respond by drawing upon the many times I had to navigate a completely new culture, lifestyle, or situation in my second or third language while studying abroad. Additionally, spending an extended period of time abroad shows employers that you have the cultural competence and global awareness to represent their establishment well and work successfully with people from diverse backgrounds. Since my particular internship was in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern (Middle Eastern and North African) Affairs, my personal experience living in North Africa and my Arabic and French skills landed me the internship and allowed me to successfully interact with professionals visiting the State Department from the Middle East and North Africa every day. Although you may not be studying a foreign language or intending to work for the government, each student chooses a study abroad program based on their interests, so the experiences you seek and get out of study abroad will ultimately be relevant to your own career field!
So, we’ve seen how study abroad can help you get your foot in the door when seeking an internship or your dream job. But how can it help you once you are there, in the work place? The first, most obvious answer, is that you can gain direct professional experience in your field if you choose to do an internship program abroad, hospital shadowing program abroad, or a faculty-led program (“Supply Chain Management and Logistics in Panama” is one example) that gives you hands-on work experience for your job and career after graduation. However, if you choose to do a more traditional study abroad program, whether short-term or long-term, there are many other ways that study abroad helps you once you enter the workforce.
Firstly, study abroad forces you to become more independent than ever before, since you learn to live without your family or friends around in a foreign country. You learn to travel and get around on your own, and this increased independence forces you to grow up a lot. While studying in France, I found myself taking over the planning for trips to other countries with friends and taking charge when we faced difficulties along the way, as you inevitably do while studying abroad. Whether it was taking initiative to find an alternative route to the train station after we missed the last bus, or reacting quickly and asking locals for help getting medical care when my friend badly cut her foot, I gained confidence in myself, leadership skills, and the ability to problem solve quickly while studying abroad. These are all essential transferable skills for the workplace, no matter what your job is, and they show that you are a reliable employee when working with minimal supervision.
Finally, the interpersonal and cross-cultural communication skills that you gain while studying abroad are key to building positive relationships with your coworkers and supervisors, and ultimately to building a strong professional network in your career field. Studying abroad teaches you how to communicate with people from different cultures, backgrounds, and perspectives, and how to form friendships with people who may not always agree with you. Additionally, studying abroad teaches you how to get your point across clearly in difficult situations or even when the person you are communicating with does not speak your language. Having the ability to communicate effectively, respectfully, and positively with a diverse staff will allow you to gain the respect, and often friendship, of the people you work with. This in turn will make your overall experience in the work place more enjoyable, positive, and more likely to result in a promotion!