September 07, 2011

Can Studying Abroad Help Your Career?

Photo by Katie Reilly, 2009
Author John Irving once said "My year  [abroad] was the single-most important year of my education, or perhaps more broadly, my growing up…" Choosing to study abroad will give you a chance to see the world and explore new places and cultures. However, it does take a lot of planning, savings, and coordination. So, is it worth it? Well, I say yes without a doubt because I spent a term in London and it was the best few months of my life. But, then again, how can anyone not have the time of their life while spending a term in Europe? Since this blog is all about careers, let's take a look at it that way. Are there any career benefits to studying abroad?

Once again, the answer is definitely yes, and here are some of them:

Cultural Understanding
Most people recognize by now that the world is getting increasingly "flatter." One small benefit of the recession is that it has made it far clearer how business and economic issues in one country affect others thousands of miles away. Plus, music has always been a particularly international business. This means that it's highly likely that at some point in your career you will have a job that requires you to deal with people from another culture. That can be difficult if you aren't used to it because meanings of colors, body language, business meetings, greetings, and even words in the same language can all have a very different meaning across cultures. Studying abroad can give you an in depth understanding of the place you are staying and a general appreciation of the type of sensitivities required when working with another country.

Interpersonal Skills
This is somewhat similar, but doesn't just apply to working with different cultures. Studying abroad helps you learn how to deal with broad social circumstances and become more attentive in general. This could mean something as simple as dealing with a new roommate you are not used to or as complex as figuring out how to order dinner in a country where you don't speak the language. Dealing with people in a wide range of circumstances is an important skill in almost any carer and it is definitely something you will learn to develop as you study abroad.

There is nothing quite like new experiences to help you build confidence. Something about being in a new country tends to provide a new level of adventure you just don't get at home and makes you more willing to try new things. Maybe you will overcome your fear of heights on a hike through the coastal cliffs of Wales (I actually did this). Or perhaps it will be your first time flying alone or at all. Maybe you have never been to a place that does not speak your native language or learned to navigate a foreign city. Or perhaps you've never tried escargot or haggis. These things may sound a bit scary, but once you realize you can do them, it will seem like you can conquer just about any obstacle.

Go Above and Beyond
This is so straightforward it only really needs one sentence to explain. What better what to show you do more than just what is required of you than by studying in a foreign country?

The Employer's Perspective 
Some of you may be thinking, yea, that doesn't mean employers actually agree with you. Here are some statistics from a study on what HR people think about study abroad:

  • 73% study abroad experience is important when evaluating a resume
  • They listed "cultural awareness/sensitivity/tolerance" and "international perspective" as positive qualities they associate with someone who has studied abroad
  • They said that they believe that job candidates who have studied abroad are more likely to possess cross-cultural communication skills, independence, cultural awareness, maturity, and flexibility 
For more results from this study and other information, see the source here.

- Katie
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