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While traveling the world and getting a good education are certainly worthwhile activities in their own rights, most people pursue degrees in order to achieve bigger goals in life. Like getting a job, for example. So some students approach the idea of study abroad with this question in mind: Will making this often significant investment help improve my chances in the job market?
The short answer is yes. The long answer is also yes. Here’s why.
The Association of American Colleges & Universities (AACU) commissioned a large survey that questioned employers and recent college graduates about what skills and abilities were most valued in the workplace. Out of the top ten list they came up with, seven are things you learn to do while studying, interning, or living abroad.
8. The ability to apply knowledge and skills in new settings
This really shouldn’t need a lot of explanation, as pretty much everything you do on an everyday basis while in another country falls into this category. Just getting somewhere on public transportation (particularly in a country where English is not the dominant language) challenges students to dust off those map-reading and orienteering skills while also playing memory games with unfamiliar street and place names. Or how about negotiating prices at the market, possibly in a foreign language?
7. The ability to be creative and innovative in solving problems
Time Magazine published a story on this one. It’s really true, though, that experiencing another culture causes you to rethink your most basic assumptions about how things should be done. In any given situation, there are myriad approaches; by seeing people quite different than yourself tackle problems, you can develop a greater sense of the possibilities when faced with a dilemma of your own.
6. An understanding of the global context in which work is now done
Living in China and meeting Chinese factory workers and middlemen, as well as American, Swedish, Turkish, and Brazilian businessmen who source products or materials from them for companies around the world gave me an up-close look at how the global economy works. Seeing how each of these stakeholders was affected by, and dealt with, shifting exchange rates and commodity prices afforded me the opportunity to watch macro- and micro-economic case studies unfold before my eyes.
5. The ability to analyze a problem to develop workable solutions
Here’s the scenario: You’re experiencing persistent stomach discomfort and other intestinal distress. It’s been going on for days, and you begin to suspect it might be something worse than food poisoning. Walk into a hospital where nobody speaks English. You don’t speak the local language. Go.
Like number 8 up there, this ability is developed by the everyday challenges you face when confronted with a language barrier. Even in an English-speaking country, you will encounter a dizzying array of difficulties and decisions, especially when traveling. Example: You are spending a weekend in Edinburgh with three friends, all of whom want to see and do different things, but you only have about 36 hours. How do you make sure everybody is happy at the end of the trip?
4. The ability to think clearly about complex problems
Travel logistics play pretty well into this one, too. So do a lot of the things that have to be done in preparation for spending a significant amount of time abroad, like financial planning, figuring out what to do with your apartment and belongings, possibly dealing with loans and/or scholarships, navigating academic requirements and ensuring that credits will transfer if necessary. Not to mention trying to fit everything you want to bring into what suddenly seems like quite a tiny bit of luggage. There’s also one common piece of advice given to students heading abroad that’s always sounded somewhat difficult: Gather up all the clothes and things you think you’ll need, and then put half of it back. How do you choose which half?
3. The ability to write and speak well
On the AACU list, this is probably the ability that is closest to a natural skill; something that some people just have a talent for. Everyone can learn to do these things well, but some people become merely competent, while others become David Foster Wallace or Barack Obama.
The necessity of removing almost all slang from your speech (even if you are dealing with native English speakers in countries like Jamaica, Scotland or Australia, because they may not understand American slang) is one simple way you begin to improve your speaking abilities. You will also be called upon by your foreign friends and acquaintances to explain the American viewpoint (because you will become the spokesperson for the U.S. government and people, whether you think yourself qualified or not), which can be a pretty daunting task, but one whose demands will sharpen your verbal skills.
In all likelihood, whether it’s required for your classes or not, you will write quite a bit more than usual. You might be blogging, you’ll almost certainly be emailing friends and family quite frequently, and if you really want to capture and cherish your overseas experience, you’ll be making daily entries into a journal.
Writing is much like playing an instrument—the more you do it, the better you’ll get.
1. The ability to work well in teams—especially with people different from yourself
Never in your life will you be exposed to as many people from wildly different backgrounds than yourself as when you study abroad (unless you actually go work in an international city in another country, like London or Shanghai, in which case you’ll probably match it, at least—oh, and by the way, this is something you’ll be far more likely to be able to do if you have previous international experience, like for example studying abroad). The better you can relate to people with different backgrounds than yourself, the easier it is to understand their viewpoint and work with them.
#studyabroadbecause employers value the skills you learn when you study abroad.