It has long been a dream of college students to spend a year in a study abroad program. This is usually due to a desire to get college credit for travel or because a student has a deep desire to visit a specific country or region. What many students don’t realize is that spending time studying abroad can be a smart career move too.
The most recent data shows that around 274,000 American students participated in a study abroad program in a single school year. While that number has been slowly growing, it is still a tiny fraction of the total college population. At the same time, employers are looking for graduates who have international experience.
There is little doubt that 21st century society will continue to revolve around a global economy. College graduates with experience living abroad will be in much higher demand as that globalism trickles into more and more of the job market.
The advantages to studying abroad are usually centered around immersion. The ability to master a foreign language and be immersed in a different culture teaches invaluable skills while expanding a student’s understanding of the world. Those same skills, language and knowledge of another culture, can set a resume above the dozens or hundreds of applicants for a job.
There are obstacles that keep some students from pursuing a year abroad, such as schedules, academic requirements, and finances. However, if students start planning early enough, they can find a way around most roadblocks. Even if they have to reframe their goal to spending a single semester or even a summer abroad instead of an entire year, they will benefit greatly from the experience.
Experts in international study and career placement suggest that students take the following into consideration when planning to study abroad:
1. Be open to non-traditional options
Some students have explored alternatives, such as summer travel or taking a Sophomore year abroad instead of Junior year. Others choose to add a fifth year of college if it means one of those years is spent overseas.
2. Be strategic in choice of country.
While Paris or Rome may be more glamorous, the future of the global economy lies elsewhere. Students should consider spending time in Asia or Eastern Europe or even South America. They all have rapidly growing economies and governments. While it may not be possible to master Chinese or Russian in a year, the cultural experience and language skills will be invaluable later in life.
3. Just go.
Overcoming doubts and fears and taking the plunge in a new culture will give students important “soft skills” like confidence, adaptability, and problem-solving and interpersonal skills. These make students more successful in most careers, with or without language skills.
Katia Sherman is a freelance writer and blogger who loves to write about education and career development. Her work has included pieces on K-12 curriculum and lessons plans, college financial aid, and educational requirements for specific careers.