More students are studying abroad today than ever before, but do employers see the same value in international academic experiences as students do?
In the past, employers viewed study abroad more as a free-for-all type of party and not an academic learning experience. A year in Italy, for example, would be associated with drinking wine and eating pizza rather than with learning about local culture and language.
However, employers are starting to understand how learning outcomes associated with study abroad participation directly contribute to professional, educational, and personal growth.
According to a study, the top two skills sought by CEOs and Human Resource Directors are 1) relevant work experience or an internship, and 2) interpersonal skills. Over 80% of employers agree that candidates are likely to possess these (and other) key workplace skills after an international study experience.
Tips for a professional study abroad experience
Set goals. The majority of students (59%) listed their main motivation for studying abroad as simply “wanting to see another part of the world” or “to experience another culture”. However, these are assumed aspects of the experience. A good first step for students is to set specific and measurable goals for their time abroad, such as learning the language. By doing this, students will be able to better gauge the success of their experience and also better convey the program benefits to future employers.
Take advantage of professional opportunities. International students can exercise their rights (in some countries) to work up to 20 hours per week during their studies. This is often done as an internship, through volunteering, or even as a part-time au-pair. Students can gain work experience, improve job related skills, or practice the local language.
Align experiences with your future job. Potential study abroad students should match their study courses with their desired field if at all possible. This will ease the explanation to future employers of how the experience was beneficial in reaching academic and professional goals.
Put it on your CV. Many students forget to list their international experience on their résumé and others do so incorrectly. Study abroad should be listed under the education section and should include the university name, a one-sentence description of the program, any language courses taken, and how many credits were completed. Internships, depending on the details, can be listed under educational or professional experience.
Have fun! Don’t forget that studying abroad is supposed to be an enjoyable time. See historical sights, travel to nearby cities and countries, and enjoy local food and culture.
Reflect on your experience. Most importantly, be able to talk about these “local” experiences. Be sure to reflect on the experiences during and after the program. Ask yourself how things made you feel and also how they impacted upon your opinions, interests, and goals.
Ultimately, it is the student’s responsibility to show employers that studying abroad is more than just beaches and backpacking. By planning ahead and translating experiences into concrete learning outcomes and professional skills, students can showcase the value of study abroad and continue to promote it as a real academic endeavor.