Sitting in an office chair, I fidgeted around and played with the rings on my fingers, trying to remain focused on the interviewer as she looks intently at my every move. I’m not horrible at interviews, but most of the time they aren’t wonderful experiences and I’d much rather be somewhere else (like a beach, or a hiking trail, or my bed, or six months after I get hired and they like me).
But interviews aren’t the worst -- especially when you have experiences, like studying abroad, that’ll make those white-collars lean across the table with incredulity.
“Tell us when you were faced with a difficult situation and how you resolved it,” she asks politely with a smile – pen poised over her notepad expecting the typical answer – expecting something about a difficult class or an area of multitasking that I celebrated with a satisfactory beer after study hour. Instead, I began like this:
With only 42% of Americans even owning a passport, studying abroad is a large leap in the direction of coming across as a unique individual in the job market.
“For four months, I immersed myself into a town in Italy on my own. I signed up for the study abroad program by myself and proceeded to fly internationally, meet my roommates, take classes, manage to go about daily life in a language that I was barely competent in, travel Europe and Africa on weekends, and make international friends and memories that have sculpted me into the individual that I am today.” It was not the response she expected.
With only 42% of Americans even owning a passport, studying abroad is a large leap in the direction of coming across as a unique individual in the job market. International experience, even if it is only for a few weeks or months, drastically enlightens you as an individual, but also assists you in standing out in a pile of resumes or leaving a memorable impression in an interview. Lets look at how studying abroad won't just wow your interviewers, but can actually give you an edge and help you land the job:
It Will Get Your Resume Noticed
Before anything else, simply including study abroad on your resume will set you apart from other applicants and get your resume noticed by your potential employer.
Employers are looking for candidates that stand out from the crowd, who have had unique experiences, and can bring something valuable to their team. Study abroad demonstrates all of that.
It Counts as International Experience
Some post study abroad careers -- especially those within a globally-minded company or organization -- will include "international experience" as a requirement or a preferred attribute in an applicant. Since you've studied abroad, you're demonstrating that you have had international experience to this employer.
Keep in mind that they don't always want you to have worked abroad (especially at entry level jobs). Instead, it means they want someone who has had experience living and functioning in another country and exposure to other cultures, countries, and has a global worldview as well.
As we all know, getting your resume or application noticed is the first step in landing the job, but don't drop the ball quite yet. You'll want to leverage your study abroad experience in the interview as well.
It Gives You Compassion and Patience
Before I studied abroad, I had never experienced what it was like to be the minority. Not that I didn’t have compassion, but I couldn’t truly put myself in an immigrant’s shoes. I thought it was perfectly acceptable when my elders hemmed and hawed over having to push one for English on the ATM (we ARE in the USA for Christ Sakes).
But when I was abroad and personally felt the embarrassment of being unable to even order a sandwich, I was met with some people who graciously helped me through my troubles, and met others who turned up their noses in disgust and berated me with insults -- damaging my pride but also my courage to keep trying to learn their language.
Returning home, I took these lessons into consideration and decided I wanted to help instead of part of the problem. Now, I look at those that use English as their second language much more closely, I try to help them and be more patient -- regardless of what the “official” language is.
This will be an extremely useful skill if you are working in any company that communicates regularly with internationals and in different languages.
It Helps Your Problem Solving Skills
When traveling abroad, running into roadblocks is a natural occurrence. Train strikes, missed planes, unruly hostel roommates, the works -- these situations test our patience but also allow us to figure out who we are and how we naturally react in these situations and work around them.
Studying abroad demonstrates that you have a higher level of independence than the average recent college grad.
If you can roll with the punches and work through things that others couldn’t, you will be far more ahead for your company, but also for your personal achievements in and outside of the office.
Language Fluency is In Demand
Studying abroad in general is a step up, but learning a language while studying abroad is even better. If you’ve achieved basic fluency in another language, this skill set can be like gold to some employers.
If you’re dedicated to using your second language in the workforce, make sure it is listed on your resume and be prepared to be able to speak and converse in the language in an interview -- many international companies looking for bilinguals will ask to hear you speak in order to know just how fluent you are.
But if you are, you will certainly be above most of the American population -- seeing that only 14% is able to speak another language with fluency (gosh that is a horrible percentage, can we work on that, please?)
Travel Teaches Time Management and Scheduling
Let’s make this clear -- we are talking about traveling -- not touring. If you are relying on a guide or professor to tell you every move you make and you simply bow your head and do as they say, this point isn’t directed to you.
However, if you’re traveling on your own accord, it’ll be necessary for you to acquire these skills or you’re going to be very unhappy and spend way too much time in transit or stuck in places you didn’t want to be in in the first place.
To travel (especially with a budget) you are coordinating hostels, public transportation, flights, weights of carry-ons, start times for tours, walking paths, bike rentals, ferry costs and anything else you can possibly imagine -- and then you have to fit them into your itinerary like a puzzle that you didn’t even want to purchase in the first place.
And with any puzzle, sometimes pieces seem to fit and are ALMOST a match -- but aren’t and then you have to start all over or you’re going to have to sleep in the airport.
At first, these complications will make you cry to your mother that you want your car back or your easily walkable campus – but as a seasoned adventurer, you will take these setbacks in stride. And if you can do the same thing in the workforce, you are an employee that can conquer even the worst office catastrophes of this era.
It Shows Independence
Last, but certainly not least, having studied abroad demonstrates that you have a higher level of independence than the average recent college grad -- something which (in all honesty) makes all employers a little nervous when they hire someone straight out of college.
Employers don't want to hold your hand through your first job, and they want to be confident that you're not going to crack under the pressure of a new environment. They want to know that you can handle this new job with new co-workers in a new space and that you can do so with a certain level of independence.
If four or six or nine months of study abroad is on your resume, and you can use a story from your time abroad to back up how comfortable you are independently navigating new situations, then you'll put their worries at ease in an instant. Done! Hired!
Where Will Study Abroad Take You?
After I finished my spiel about the setbacks while attempting to take public transportation down the coast of Morocco, I realized that my hands were perfectly placed in my lap and I was sitting back in a rather prominent position in my chair. The interviewer and her colleague sat across from me -- hands flat on the table and foreheads wrinkled in incredulity.
“This was all in four months,” she balked. I got the job.