Studying abroad can be one of the most formative experiences of your life. Adjusting to and engaging with foreign cultures, languages, and customs on a daily basis teaches you more about yourself as a student and as a person, but did you know that studying abroad can also provide you with solid resume material?
Every story from your travels comes with lessons learned. Successfully completing transactions in another currency, navigating a new transportation system, and making new friends -- these are the experiences that stay with you when you return home. If you’ve gone overseas for an internship, an academic class, or volunteer program, the skills you gained through studying abroad can make your resume stand out from the crowd.
But where do you even start when it comes to putting all that onto paper?
Keep reading to learn more about how you can craft your overseas experience into a valuable addition to your resume.
Step 1: Think About Your Experience
What did you do while you were there? You can approach your study abroad experience like a previous job, but this should go beyond naming the classes or courses you took. Listing your responsibilities is a good place to start, even if you were only a student. In taking these on, what did you learn? Time management, problem-solving, people skills, and goal setting are some of the practical skills you might have picked up along the way. You can also list abilities and qualities that were vital for day-to-day interactions.
Reflecting on your time abroad can also help you identify strengths and weaknesses. Take time to compare the person you were before your trip and who you are now. What impact does your time abroad still have you today? Examine your most meaningful moments -- what victories or lessons did you take away from those? Don’t sell yourself short when it comes to identifying your strengths. Navigating a foreign country -- whether you’re buying your own groceries or filling out paperwork during an internship -- takes adaptability, communication skills, and other positive qualities.
As you brainstorm, keep in mind that you need to explain to hiring managers why you’ve included studying abroad on your resume. With any job application, it’s important to know what skills and traits they’re looking for, and this addition should demonstrate how your experience abroad provided you with those skills and traits.
Step 2: Use Dynamic Language
Look back at your notes from Step 1 and dig into the experiences and qualities you want to emphasize. Always remember that a compelling resume will demonstrate your skills rather than tell about them. After all, it is one thing to say that you studied a foreign language and another to say that you improved your language skills by practicing with native speakers during a semester of complete immersion. Using active verbs and being specific about what you did overseas will help you craft a compelling resume entry.
Consider using words like these and how they can help you highlight your skills:
- connected -- with friends, instructors, neighbors?
- managed -- personal finances, time, scheduling?
- organized -- student gatherings, study groups, independent travel?
- improved -- language skills, cross-cultural communication?
- navigated -- new cities, team relationships, new situations?
- applied -- newly acquired skills, familiar concepts in foreign situations?
- participated -- in classes, internships, cultural events?
- developed –-- initiative, global awareness, flexibility?
Strong verbs place you at the center of the action, showing things you did rather than telling about things that happened to you. These are also a good way to emphasize skills you learned that will directly impact and influence the position you’re applying for. Adding relevant, specific details is another way to give more information, to talk about how you gained these skills, and demonstrate to the hiring manager that you have what it takes to find success in that position.
Step 3: Put it on Paper
Now that you have focused your study abroad experience into a compelling entry, you have to decide where it will have the most impact. Placement will largely depend on what information you want to provide and the weight of your study abroad experience in the application. If your time overseas is bringing excellent skills to the table, be sure that information isn’t getting buried at the bottom of your resume!
If you went through a university or other academic program, you can place it in the section of your resume titled “Education” under the name of the institution. Any specific classes you took overseas that are relevant to the position you’re applying for can be listed in this section as well. Just put them under a heading called “Relevant Coursework.”
If you completed an internship, on-the-job training, or other hands-on learning, you could place this entry instead under “Professional Experience.” If you have multiple study abroad entries or significant experience in this area, you could create a new section completely dedicated to “International Experience.”
You can also experiment with putting your entry in different sections to see the impact it has on your resume as a whole. Remember to tailor your resume to each job you apply for, underscoring different skills or experiences according to what that position requires.
Studying abroad is a great way to grow and develop a deeper understanding of the world you live in. Being outside of your home country takes you out of countless comfort zones, pushing you to grow as you respond to new challenges. Chances are good that you returned home with even more skills than the ones you learned in class, and these will serve you well as you move forward. With thoughtful consideration and a little elbow grease, you can demonstrate the benefits of your international education to any hiring manager or committee.
This post was originally published in May 2013, and was updated in October 2018.