From a World Traveler to a Working Professional
By: Molly Mularoni
Everyone has heard the stigma about college students studying abroad, coming home, and talking your ear off about how they are changed forever. This consistently has a negative connotation, and nobody wants to be “that person”. However, there are many situations in which talking about your experiences abroad can help you to achieve your career goals. No matter how you spin it, the truth is that living outside the country really does have a profound effect on your life. Being able to adequately and professionally express this is an incredible tool. There are lots of skills that one can learn during their time abroad that simply cannot be taught in the classroom, or even learned while living in the United States. The benefits of having international experience are immense, and it is important to understand how to properly showcase your skills to set yourself up for success.
Work Hard, Play Hard
The first step to using your international experience to your advantage is being able to grasp which pieces are appropriate and beneficial to share. An employer wants to hear how you worked hard, not how you played hard, during your time abroad. Examples of ways to show that you worked hard could include situations in which you had to figure out a difficult metro system, a time you overcame communication barriers with a local in your host country, or adjusting to a completely different education system. Much like any other situation, use your best judgement to determine what things are appropriate or inappropriate to share during an interview. There are just some stories that should be left to share with your friends, not a potential employer.
Land The Plane
It is important to keep in mind “everything in moderation” when talking about your study abroad experience. Try not to ramble on or get sidetracked, get to the point in a concise and professional manner just like you would when describing any other experience. In other words, you need to land the plane. Tell stories that clearly illustrate a skill, or set of skills, that you learned as a direct result of the situation. This is the whole point of capitalizing on your international experience, after all. Common examples of skills that are learned, or enhanced, while abroad include cross-cultural communication, patience, flexibility, adaptability, and problem solving. Of course, everyone’s experience will be different, but use these examples as a jumping off point to get started thinking about how you can relate your stories to specific skills.
¿Por qué? Perché? 为什么？Why?
Being able to express why you studied abroad is a key component to successfully utilizing your international experience to your advantage. If we are being honest, the fun of it is probably a large reason most students choose to study abroad. However, there are certainly other factors that go into it, and being able to talk through your thought process will look more impressive than saying you just wanted to have fun. Every person has their own personal motivations for choosing to study abroad, but examples could include:
- Improving your language skills
- Wanting to live in the country your family originated from
- Experiencing a new culture
- Pushing yourself outside your comfort zone
- Opening your mind to different world views
The list could go on and on, but the point is that it is imperative to think deeply about what truly drew you to spend time abroad. If a potential employer asks you, “Why did you choose to go to Italy?”, it doesn’t look great to say that you enjoy homemade pasta and have always wanted to see the Colosseum in person. While those things might be true, an employer would rather hear you say that you chose to study abroad in Italy to push yourself out of your comfort zone and improve your Italian language skills. Your answer for why you studied abroad can say a lot about your personality that no resume or cover letter ever could, so you want to make sure that you use this answer to your advantage.