Enhancing Career Prospects with Study Abroad

Fall is upon us and students are (mostly) back on campus. Many students will head to the global studies or study abroad office in the early days, planning ahead for the spring semester, or perhaps figuring out how best to incorporate study abroad into their academic program. I’ve put together a list of the most commonly asked questions I get from students, their parents and academic / career counselors.

What advantages do you see in someone studying abroad? What about advantages for someone already in the workplace, not just someone just leaving college?

There are many, many benefits to studying abroad. In general terms, studying abroad expands one’s personal horizons as well as opens up a world of professional opportunities for both students and those already in the workplace. Embracing and immersing oneself in a new culture and experiencing new ways of thinking leads to new perspectives about people, places and often themselves. Those who have studied abroad have an opportunity to develop a deeper self-awareness and self-confidence as they rise to the constant challenges of taking on a whole new range of situations. No matter when a person studies abroad, learning another language (or two) is one of the greatest benefits, albeit one that takes a little longer to acquire.

Is studying abroad a key way to keep up professionally in an increasingly global world?

Studying abroad is one way to keep up professionally, but it may not be practical for everyone. There are other ways to gain global experience such as an international assignment (short- or long-term), being part of a global team dealing with international issues, learning another language, and building relationships with international students or colleagues.

How does studying abroad help someone’s career? Does it for example lead to better job prospects?

Studying abroad is a smart way to establish international credentials in a global economy: to learn a different language, culture, education system, social system, local economy, industry or business, history arts and more. This knowledge can be applied to a job directly (e.g., the employer has operations in a certain country), or indirectly by demonstrating an ability to learn new skills, work with diverse people and adapt to complex situations.

Do employers actively look for or approve of individuals who have studied abroad?

Yes! Based on conversations I have been having with employers over the past decade, executives consistently say that they value the intellectual curiosity associated with those who have studied abroad. They believe that these people are on track to becoming globally competent and globally minded employees. The vast majority say that if they received two resumes that were exactly the same except one studied abroad, they would choose the one who studied abroad citing such attributes as cross cultural awareness, critical thinking, adaptability, multiple language skills and a predisposition to and experience with global mobility.

What less obvious ways might studying abroad help an individual by, for example, teaching them to become more adaptable or independent.

As noted above, study abroad inspires one to learn about oneself and become more self-aware, boosts self-confidence and strengthens independence. It will expand one’s worldview while also helping one learn about their own country and history, thereby appreciating its place in the world. Returnees have cited better communication, relationship-building and adaptability skills, plus it is a terrific way to meet interesting people and make lifelong friends.

Did you study abroad? If so, please describe your experience and how it might have helped with your career.

No, I didn’t. I couldn’t afford to study abroad because I also worked full time. But my closest group of friends in college were all international students who were studying abroad. This reverse exposure to studying abroad allowed me to expand my cross-cultural awareness and enhance my language skills. It also taught me that I wanted to work abroad. A few years into my career at Burson-Marsteller, I began to pursue an international assignment and landed one because of my abilities to work successfully on global teams and articulate the need for consultants to have global experience to apply to client problems. I worked in Hong Kong for three years, which was an impetus for fast-tracking my career, increasing my salary and inspiring me to write the first of my six books.

Are there any words of caution you could add for someone planning to study abroad? Is it suitable for everyone?

Studying abroad is a serious undertaking. It is challenging, costs money and will have an impact on one’s academic career. Picking up and moving to another country for a semester or year requires a good deal of research, thoughtful planning and honest self-assessment. It can be lonely and very difficult to live in a strange place, take classes in a totally different academic environment, and meet people and make friends. Some destinations may be “easier” to adjust to than others, specifically as it relates to language and culture, but every new place has its own challenges. The only one who can decide if it’s right is the person going. Pick up a copy of A Student Guide to Study Abroad a valuable hands-on resource with hundreds of tips and real-life stories from students and employers.

Make study abroad part of your undergraduate studies!


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