How to: Make Your Study Abroad Experience Work for You
As it’s the beginning of the semester and you may just be arriving or settling into your new host city for the semester or school year, we know there are a lot of mixed emotions flying around. For many, this is a time of high energy, curiosity, and adrenaline. If you’re feeling fully excited and pumped about this opportunity, enjoy it! At the same time, it’s also perfectly normal if, now that the time has come, the ‘realness’ of this all is finally hitting and it’s got you feeling nervous and perhaps even questioning why you’re studying abroad in the first place.
In order to serve all of our readers who are studying abroad, this week we want to remind you why this experience is worthwhile as well as provide specific resources for stumbling blocks you may hit along the way, and share first-hand experiences to remind you you’re not alone in the doubts and mixed emotions. It’s especially important to keep in mind why your abroad experience is useful when you are considering the investment (time, money, energy) you will make during your journey―especially if you find yourself questioning this decision. Today, we’re point one just a handful of the benefits we see in studying abroad help you figure out how to get the most out the experience for you.
1.) You'll learn a new language: This might be the obvious one but, unless you study abroad in an English-speaking country (equally valid to a country that speaks another language), you will pick up a minimum of that new language. Why is this interesting for your future career? Speaking two languages not only helps your mental development, it can also help increase your chances of getting a job. This means that by investing in learning a second language you are helping your future self get a job that fits you better.
Pro tip: make sure that you are both learning a language that interests you and that you are willing to invest in this language enough to make it worth your while.
2.) You'll learn how to solve problems: When you leave home for whatever reason, you have to figure out how things work in your new city; when you leave your country the number of changes you have to deal with multiplies. This means that you will be constantly solving problems and putting out fires in your new home until you are comfortable. Don’t believe us? Just getting a phone number, going to the hairdressers, or replacing your gas canister can be difficult in a foreign country (don’t even get us started on having to go to the doctor’s when you are sick).
Pro tip: don’t be afraid to ‘gather’ stories while you are studying abroad to use as examples of how you effectively dealt with problems while abroad. Studying abroad can definitely help you nail this situational interview question!
3.) You'll learn how to find people to help you solve problems: We are firm believers that we cannot solve everything on our own which means you probably will need to find help too. When you are stuck in foreign situations, and nothing seems to be going right, you will have to find the right people to help you get through it. This does not mean wandering around until things work out, but an active looking for the right person/office/etc. that will be able to help you achieve a certain goal. In addition, after a while, you will lose the feeling of embarrassment when asking for help and be much more proactive in finding the right person to help you when you need it.
Pro tip: Trust us, even in your professional life no one expects you to be perfect and most people want you to succeed, so, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
4.) You'll build an international network: It might seem incredible to you now, but if you spend as much time as we have studying, teaching, and living abroad you’ll soon feel like you can travel practically anywhere and know someone to meet for dinner. Okay, so maybe you won’t meet someone from every city around the world but if you invest time in building friendships (and, yes, being vulnerable along the way) you’ll end up knowing a lot of people around the world who you know that you can count on them if you ever need something. Building an international network of contacts can help you career-wise on so many levels. Firstly, they can help you find a job if they are in a similar field of interest, to you. Secondly, they can support you during the moving process (and when you have a million questions). Finally, you network is there for you wherever you may end up, giving you a base of friends or acquaintances that help you feel less alone.
Pro tip: You get back what you give. If you are a generous international contact, you will meet people like you in return.
5.) You'll improve your cultural competence skills: We have definitely talked about this a bit more in depth here, here, and here (and if you want to cut to the chase we talk more about the benefits here), but we just want to mention that this is an incredibly important set of skills in today’s day and age. Whether it be working for an international company or just having coworkers from different cultures, the ability to adapt and thrive in globalized work situations is becoming necessary for career success.
Top tip: Make the most of your international experience by spending time with people different to you or who you wouldn’t otherwise hang out with.
At the end of the day, having an international experience, especially a study abroad one where you have to deal with certain daily realities that help you grow, will help you prove to your potential bosses that you have the capacity to learn, adapt, and thrive in a multitude of ways. It can also act as a differentiating factor when you are competing with someone else for the same job (it is also been shown that those employees who have studied abroad tend to make more money than people in similar positions who have not had this same experience). So, if you’ve already embarked on your own study abroad experience take heart you are doing a lot of good for yourself! While there will be ups and downs, you will also walk away with important life skills and new understandings. And if you still haven’t planned a study abroad experience for yourself, what are you waiting for?