Updated: Nov 6, 2020
An estimated 16 percent of students study abroad before receiving their bachelor’s degree. While studying abroad is enticing for many reasons, such as traveling the world and enjoying cultural differences at a relatively affordable price, there are additional benefits to studying internationally and learning about how business operations differ across countries. For one, employers love seeing it on applicants’ resumes. But just getting the employers attention isn’t going to secure the position; students need to learn how to prove to their interviewers just how impactful that experience was.
Professor Bruce Money and Director of the Global Management Center Jonathon Wood explain how students can best prepare to study abroad as well as how to articulate their experiences to potential employers; helping turn an attention grabber into a job lander.
The first step to effectively market a study abroad begins before the internship itself – taking a preparation class the semester before the trip is scheduled. The more prepared students are for their study abroad, the better prepared they will be to make it an impactful experience. Taking a class will expose students to the unique cultures they will see and help them internalize frameworks that will guide their learning while abroad.
Early exposure to the culture helps students prepare to experience, understand, and see the good in the customs of another culture. Understanding these differences before experiencing them firsthand enables students and other individuals traveling abroad to feel comfortable and prepared to encounter behaviors and mannerisms that are different from their own cultural norms. Taking the time to participate in class simulations, practicing reacting professionally and respectfully to different situations that may arise, is one of the best ways to do just that.
By learning to apply frameworks and model behavior before leaving the country, students will be able to hit the ground running—or learning—when they land abroad. Professor Money explains that this allows his students to “study here, [and] be abroad there.” This way, when their professors and employers ask about specific experiences abroad, the students can clearly identify and discuss the experiences they had in specific and consequential ways.
One additional benefit of a preparation class is that it introduces students to the different companies they will visit. Sometimes, the class may even have students research and give reports on a specific company to solidify their learning. This allows students to feel connected to the companies and have some knowledge of the organizations’ operations before the visit. With this preparation, students can arrive at the company with specific questions in mind, allowing for more engagement with corporate representatives and more impactful learning.
Making the Most of Your Experience Overseas
As students spend time abroad and visit various companies, their professors should bring them back to the learning frameworks they were introduced to before. For example, as students are returning from a company visit, Professor Money says he likes to ask about what they experienced, heard, and saw; what supported or discounted the content they had previously learned in class; and what cultural observations they had made. This reinforces the learning frameworks, and students are better able to make connections between the classroom and their experiences. Having students make these connections and relate their experiences to their career aspirations will help them articulate the benefit of what they learned on their study abroad to future employers.
Students choose to go on a study abroad for an immersive experience that can’t be had in a classroom or as a tourist. The preparation classes, the focus on culture and business visits, and the connections made with people working in the destination locations all make the study abroad experience richer, more hands on, and life changing. Whether they know it or not, a student’s choice to go overseas gives them an advantage in the workplace. The insights they gain while there and the learning opportunities they couldn’t have experienced anywhere else will prove to be valuable in any career setting.
Jonathan Wood talks about five skills that employers want from candidates, which aren’t found in a written resume: intellectual curiosity, 360-degree thinking, cultural competency, empathy, and adaptability. The opportunity to observe how different businesses work in other countries increases these skills for the students that choose to go. Additionally, students will be able to talk about the personal benefits of their experiences when asked by employers.
Wood advises that the best way for students to share their personal insights with a prospective employer would be to say, “I was surprised to learn… and it taught me…; therefore, I am ready to…”. One example is how a specific culture may view a deadline or a time limit as more significant than another culture would. In this case, the statement would be, “I was surprised to learn that the country I went to viewed time deadlines differently than we do in the U.S., and it taught me to get work done in the time frame that they preferred; therefore I am ready to do business with representatives and clients from this country in an efficient way because of it.”
Going on a study abroad also demonstrates to employers that the individual has put in the effort to go above and beyond to learn more. In an interview, students can emphasize that they weren’t required to study abroad in order to graduate but chose to expend their personal time and money to broaden their understanding. Students can tell the story of their experience and tie it back to those qualities that employers want.
The preparation to go on a study abroad is just as important as the actual study abroad itself because it helps students be aware of and think in advance about the opportunities they will encounter. With culture and company-specific preparation, students can engage deeply while abroad and come back with life-changing experiences and insights their future employers will value. Students can leverage their study abroad experiences to create a competitive advantage in the workplace and in recruiting. Marketing your study abroad in a good way is the key to landing the job you want.