Unpacking Your Study Abroad Experience

Students who study abroad frequently describe their experience as life-changing. The opportunity to live in and learn from another culture, as well as see and experience another part of the world, provides the participant with a great reason to reflect upon their life, their culture, and their identity.

The experience demands an investment of physical and psychological energy which will test and enhance the participant’s communication skills, ability to solve problems, adapt to change and be flexible. And, not least of all, there’s a good deal of confidence to be gained by successfully negotiating the challenges inherent in living in another country.

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These mindsets and skills are highly transferable and will help students both obtain and succeed in their careers. What follows are a few tips that may help employers understand the value of your study abroad experience as you conduct your job search.

  • First, don’t assume that your interviewer understands the value of your study abroad experience. Chances are most recruiters and hiring managers haven’t studied abroad and may not fully understand the numerous, varied ways that the experience has contributed to your learning and career development. They may view the experience as interesting and fun, but miss the learning implications inherent in the experience. The student will need to “connect the dots” on their resume and in their interviews.
  • Second, many students who participate in study abroad present the experience on paper and in person as “academic tourism.” When asked about their experience during interviews, a common mistake is to talk about how much fun the experience was, or how incredible it was to experience Amsterdam or the Great Wall of China. While true, understand that the interviewer wants to know how your experiences have contributed to the development of skills and competencies they desire. Therefore, it’s better to talk about what you learned as a result of your experience and specifically align what you learned with the skills and competencies that the employer seeks in the ideal applicant for the position for which you’re interviewing. Basically, they want to know how your experience abroad will add value to their organization if you are hired.
  • Lastly, spend some time to reflect upon what it is that you’ve learned as a result of your study abroad experience. What did you learn about the culture of your host country? Did the experience expand your knowledge of your own identity and culture? What skills did you use to adjust and adapt to your host culture? Have your attitudes about your home culture and country changed as a result of the experience? These are just a few of the questions to ask yourself during and after your study abroad experience.

Photo by Ralf Schulze