When I stepped onto the plane that would take my incredible semester-long journey to Manchester, England, I was beyond excited. I wondered about the new people I would meet, classes I would take, places I would see and how I would change for the better from my term abroad.
What I did not consider as I sat through my transatlantic flight, and for much of my exchange, was how this experience would benefit my career.
It was just days after I returned to Canada that I found myself a dream job for the summer in my field with Parks Canada, and my experiences abroad played a major role in getting that offer as well as the other interviews I participated in before it.
While a term abroad exposes you to new culture and personally-fulfilling experiences, its lessons also turn you into an ideal candidate for positions in your chosen field. But how does it do that?
Before the interview – Developing key soft skills
Every student knows that in addition to the field-specific skills you learn in your program, you must also show employers that you have well-developed soft skills: non-technical skills that are needed to work well with different people and groups.
Serial entrepreneur Jan Bruce wrote in Forbes that soft skills are critical for graduates wanting to be the most productive and successful in their careers. While there are hundreds of different soft skills out there, Bruce narrowed three down as the most important: problem solving, emotional control, and a sense of purpose.
All three of those skills played key roles during my term abroad. As I navigated cities I wasn’t used to and got used to local slang and customs, I made some faux pas along the way. I learned to critically think through and solve those problems as I traveled, becoming more aware of how I presented myself and how those in other cultures do so as well. Back home, it has allowed me to see myself from the outside looking inwards.
Just like every other study abroad student, I experienced the full range of emotions that come throughout an exchange, including excitement, frustration, anxiety and joy. As I experienced them, I understood them for what they were, which has allowed me to learn more about my emotions, identify them and control them in both individual and group settings.
Finally, my experience abroad made me ask myself who I was and where I wanted to go. Through understanding these new gained experiences and the emotions surrounding them, I discovered what I wanted to do with my life and where I wanted to go professionally. No matter if you discover a whole career path or spark interest in a new avenue, studying abroad motivates you and allows you to discover purpose, two things that I struggled to find before I went abroad.
What puts study abroad students at an advantage over their peers is that throughout their exchange, those three skills are developed and tested through multiple scenarios. Grounded in real-life situations, soft skills developed abroad are beneficial to you and attractive to employers.
At the interview – Breaking the mould
Before I got my Parks Canada job, I had a handful of interviews booked for the first week after I got back. They were for positions in various industries in both the public and private sectors.
Despite the different responsibilities of each position, there was one key element in each interview that kept popping up: each and every one of my interviewers were drawn to and asked about my semester abroad. It felt almost like I was repeating each interview in that section as I explained to them where I went, what I did there and how it helped me improve all the soft skills I have pointed out. They took great interest in that part of my resume, and I believe that putting my international experience on my resume was a contributing factor to getting to the interview stage for several of those positions.
Study Abroad students should absolutely make sure that they highlight their semester abroad somewhere prominent on their resume. Employers are interested in it, and it makes you stand out from the rest of the candidates.
After the interview – Preparing yourself for the workplace
Once on the job, your international experiences continue influencing you. After all, you have an amazing set of experiences that you can draw on to help you navigate the workplace, reduce negative conflict, be more productive as an employee as well as be more emotionally aware as a coworker. Having come back from a period abroad, you will continue to practice and improve the skills needed for successful problem solving, emotional awareness, intercultural understanding and dozens of other soft skills.
Studying abroad fills you with purpose. It drives you to pursue your dreams after you return home. Looking back, you can see all the obstacles you have overcome, all the challenges you have faced head-on, the successes, the failures and the lessons learned from all of them. You anticipate what you are facing (although in a different context) and know how to cope with it in a way that motivates you and others, all fantastic traits that will take you far in your career.
Your Study Abroad experience does not end when you hug your parents for the first time in months; it stays with you years later as you see success in future steps towards your education and career. In fact, returning home is just the beginning of the long-term journey.
There are many reasons why students choose to study abroad: new experiences, sightseeing, experiencing new cultures, and expanding their horizons. If those don’t already convince you to go, you should also study abroad to make yourself competitive in the job market and to jumpstart your career. The journey itself and the endless ways of applying what you have learned abroad is what gives you a competitive advantage, and I think that’s what makes the Study Abroad Program so great.
Studying abroad is more than an experience you will remember for the rest of your life. By studying abroad, you will also change your future for the better.