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Career Development with Study Abroad

Study abroad not only benefits your personal and academic pursuits, abroad programming is increasingly recognized as an important instrument in one’s career development toolkit.  One important aspect is to look at approaching the study abroad experience as a skill-building opportunity that will place you in the best position to translate your experiences into desired employability traits upon your return home.

Here are a few suggestions that our office recommends as ways you can take advantage of the career-orientated benefits of your education abroad:

Maintain a list of the names and contact information of people you meet while abroad, along with brief notes to remind you of what you talked about, what the person does, etc.  Once you return home, stay in touch with these individuals and keep them updated on your studies, career progress, or other topics that were of interest to each of you.  Some great ways to help with this is to obtain people’s business cards and write notes on the back to help you remember important details about that contact.  Another way it to connect with these individuals on LinkedIn and send them a personalized message to maintain your connection by adding them to your professional network.   

Talk to adults and students to learn about the local economy, as well as career opportunities and sociopolitical realities in their part of the world.  One thing that you can do is ask them about their interactions with and opinions about American businesses.  Knowing how American businesses are viewed abroad can be a valuable perspective to share with future employers (and may also come up in conversations during job interviews) and will prove to be helpful in improving or enhancing a company’s global relations with an overseas market.

Practice the local language as much as possible by speaking it with everyone you meet even if it is a greeting or farewell.  The locals will appreciate your efforts and even if you are not skilled in the language, the locals will do their best to help navigate the communication barriers.  There are multiple free mobile apps to help learn languages that can help get you started on this step.  We also recommend reading the local newspapers and magazines, going to see movies in the local language, etc.  When you return home, you can maintain your language skills by writing to the people you met while abroad, watching movies in the language, while also reading, listening to the radio, or continuing your language study.  Knowledge of another language is a desirable skill that you can add to your resume and can open up many new opportunities.  In addition, learn more about U.S. current events and the current events of the country you will be visiting.  Research the country and its culture to assist with navigating your abroad experience by any questions you may be asked during conversations with locals based on your country or theirs.  An exciting way to look at this experience is to view it through the lens as an unofficial diplomat of the United States.

In addition to having a journal as a safe place to record your private thoughts and feelings, you can jot down new concepts or areas you would like to explore further, and ideas about how you can build or translate your international experience into other work once you return home.  You can also use this journal as a place to reflect on the great insight you are gaining through your interactions with people in another part of the world.  The Study Abroad Office will provide all abroad participants with a Returnee Handbook that will help guide you through some of these reflection exercises while you are abroad and will also include steps to aid in processing your return home.  This digital guide is provided a few weeks before students depart on their overseas program.

If you are considering returning to the host country for additional study, work, research, an internship, or for service-learning opportunities, you can examine prospects while you are in the country.  There’s no substitute for the on-the-ground, firsthand knowledge you’ll gain by conversing with the locals.  It can be difficult to get permission to work in other countries, but any local contacts or sponsorship leads that you might make while in-country could increase your chances of returning there to work.

Before you leave home, we recommend that you think about your goals – personal, academic, and career-orientated – for your study abroad program.  If you have a sense of what you want to gain from the experience, then you can take proactive steps to ensure that this trip will be a productive one.

Intercultural Communication is the verbal and nonverbal interaction between people from different cultural backgrounds.  No matter where you are in the world, communication is central.  Cultures actually have different ways of communicating.  Some cultures are informal, some cultures are more formal in their greeting process before starting a conversation, and some cultures consider it rude to show up to a meeting on time.  Study abroad allows students to understand that communication practices differ from their culture and by visiting a new environment students are able to work and learn within their new surroundings, be more understanding of the people around them, and will be competent in coordinating their actions and verbal differences.  These skills are highly recognized amongst employers as essential in the global market.  In addition, intercultural communication is an interpersonal skill that helps you understand people from other cultures and social groups.  You can learn more about this vital skill by visiting SkillsYouNeed.com.

The Study Abroad Office works with returning study abroad students to understand the importance of highlighting their experience for their professional development strategies.  Our goal is to aid students on how to effectively package the study abroad experience for employers and other future endeavors.  The Returnee Handbook and the Professional Development Video Series that we have put together is designed to help prepare students on how to articulate the outcomes of your time abroad in professional and interview settings. 

You should always list your education abroad experience on your resume, cover letter, and digital presence, describing not only what you did but what you gained and learned from the abroad experience – the very things that you will uncover during your reflections and use of the resources provided by the Study Abroad Office.  These tools and resources will have you landing the next career and/or professional opportunity headed your way!

Students in a study abroad program will gain access to these resources towards the end of their study abroad program.  These resources will provide you with a foundation on the following: resumes, cover letters, interview questions, crafting an elevator pitch, a free resume template and more!  We cover a wide variety of topics to see you through the next stages of your career and professional goals.

Interested in having an internationally focused career in business and/or a non-profit sector?   There are many opportunities open to students.  Consider joining one of the following: the U.S. State Department, Peace Corp, teaching English abroad, Fulbright or many other exciting opportunities.  These are just a few of the opportunities that are available (linked below).   We recommend researching what career opportunities might interest you.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) defines career readiness for college graduates by identifying key competencies.  Study abroad provides students with the amazing opportunity of engaging and utilizing all of NACE's career competencies on their study abroad journey, however, one of the major key competencies that study abroad really allows students an up close and personal experience with is Equity & Inclusion.  The Equity & Inclusion competency has been defined as “Demonstrate the awareness, attitude, knowledge, and skills required to equitably engage and include people from different local and global cultures. Engage in anti-racist practices that actively challenge the systems, structures, and policies of racism.”  Students and parents will find that study abroad aids in understanding this important major career competency component. 

Some of the sample behaviors defined by NACE for Equity & Inclusion are as follows:

  • Seek global cross-cultural interactions and experiences that enhance one’s understanding of people from different demographic groups and that leads to personal growth.
  • Keep an open mind to diverse ideas and new ways of thinking.
  • Identify resources and eliminate barriers resulting from individual and systemic racism, inequities, and biases.
  • Demonstrate flexibility by adapting to diverse environments.

The University of California Merced has shared available statistics on study abroad that highlight studies on study abroad and careers, learning, academic performance, retention, and personal development.  There are some remarkable findings that are listed at the link above especially in relation to career development. 

A few highlights from these statistics are:

  • 97% of study abroad students found employment within 12 months of graduation, when only 49% of college graduates found employment in the same period. That means they were twice as likely to find a job. Among study abroad alumni, 90% landed a job within 6 months. A UK study supports US findings that study abroad returnees are more likely to find employment within six months.
  • 25% higher starting salaries: that is how much more study abroad students earn than those college graduates who do not study abroad. A British study found their study abroad graduates out-earned their peers by 17%. This equates to approx. $7,000 annually for US students and £3,120 for UK students. Maintaining this earning advantage translates to earning an extra $567,500 over one's career in the US.
  • 40% of US businesses failed to expand due to a dearth of staff international experience.