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Career Resources for Leveraging Your Study Abroad Experience

There are a vast number of electronic resources devoted to leveraging your study abroad experience to help find an internship or a job after returning home. Below are just a few to get started, including articles, web resources and suggestions on ways to translate the skills and knowledge you've acquired from your soujourn abroad.

Translating Your Experience into a Useful Professional Tool

Articles, Papers and Blogs on Leveraging Your Study Abroad Experience

Work, Volunteer and Internship Resources

Translating Your Experience into a Useful Professional Tool

(Some of this information is reprinted from the Metro Boston Study Abroad Re-Entry Conference, Northeastern University, Boston, MA, 2003. Presentation of Susan Ingleby, Office of Career Services, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. Information also complied from Jean-March Hachey, The Big Guide to Living and Working Abroad.

Now that you have a fabulous international experience under your belt, how can you translate this into a useful professional tool? Below are some ways to help articulate how the skills and qualities that you have acquired will be useful in a professional setting. Using the list below, pick out 5 – 7 items that will be useful to an employer. Recall and discuss a specific situation that demonstrates the skill or quality. There are a few examples below.

SKILLS

  • Time management
  • Identify problems and utilize available resources to solve problems
  • Accept responsibility
  • Communicate despite barriers
  • Learn quickly.
  • Take initiative and take risks
  • Establish rapport quickly
  • Function with a high level of ambiguity
  • Achieve goals despite obstacles
  • Handle difficult situations
  • Handle stress
  • Manage/Organize
  • Lead others in informal or formal groups
  • Conduct research despite language and cultural differences
  • Cope with rejection
  • Adapt to new environments
  • Understand an organization's culture
  • Learn through listening and observing
  • Learn through mistakes
  • Perform in an environment with adverse conditions

QUALITIES

  • Leadership
  • Self-reliance
  • High energy level/enthusiasm
  • Appreciation of diversity
  • Perseverance
  • Flexibility & Adaptability
  • Tolerance/open-mindedness
  • Assertiveness
  • Inquisitiveness
  • Self-confidence
  • Self-knowledge
  • Independence
  • Openness to relocation
  • Diplomatic


Develop three to four stories that you can share with employers. Everyone who has studied abroad has their own list of "wild and shocking" stories to share with friends. These edgy cross-cultural experiences are fun to share, but not with potential employers. You need to modify them or devise a new set of cross-cultural career related stories about your study abroad experience. Craft these stories ahead of time, and build them to reinforce professional skill sets. Here are a few examples:
 

  • Describe your role when working with student teams while abroad.
  • Describe your encounters when meeting professionals working in your field.
  • Speak about personal encounters that gave you insight into the local culture.
  • Speak about the link between your country and the host country, especially in terms of the workplace.


You only need three or four of these pre-scripted career stories when job searching. One story alone is often enough to demonstrate a whole grouping of your professional skills, maturity, insightfulness, sound judgment, cross-cultural knowledge, etc.

Before your interview, consider whether your potential employer values your experience abroad or does not yet understand the value. This will help shape what you share and how much you speak about study abroad.

If you think your employer already wants to see some abroad experience on your resume, then jump right in with your stories and be ready to tell how you excelled. How did you go above and beyond while abroad? How did you lead cross-cultural teams, informally or in class? Remember that your interviewer may want to share some of his/her experiences abroad – ask them (briefly)!

If you think your employer is uninterested in your time abroad, you are going to need to take a few steps back. Remember two things:
 

  • They almost certainly have some preconceived notions of what you did – have a good time and backpack around – while abroad. You are going to have to be that much savvier about how to talk about your experience.
  • Most new graduates will be “domestic internationals” – employees whose international work is based in their home country. Most people continue to live and work at their home base, but with links to the world.


Be prepared to answer questions about your time abroad: "Why did you decide to study abroad?", “How did the experience live up to your expectations?". Remember to use specific examples when you can- this will always be viewed better than general answers such as- "because it sounded like fun", "so I could get away from mom and dad for a while", etc. You might find it helpful to think back to what you wrote in your essays to be accepted into the program, and why you chose to travel to your host country. If you can convey your passion for where you went, and why, your answer will stand out from others who stick to generalities. Also, you may want to think of things that surprised you about your host country while you were over there, however, remember to stick to the positive. You may find it helpful to keep some sort of journal where you can list the things that stood out to you while you were overseas. This will provide something for you to refer back to prior to your interview.

Interviewers may also ask you what accomplishments you were most proud of from your experience abroad. Again, activities outside of class will help you stand out. You can discuss the pride that came from learning how to not only adapt to college life in a foreign country, but also how to adapt to a work culture abroad. Discuss how this has made you a more well-rounded individual and worker. Also discuss how this experience would tie into your abilities at the specific job you are interviewing for. This piece of advice leads into other questions you may be asked- “What did you learn overseas that will help you do this job successfully?”, or “What have you accomplished during your time abroad that you are most proud of?” Again, providing specifics is the key to these questions. Discuss the goals you laid out for yourself prior to going abroad, and how you were successfully in achieving those goals.

Here are some questions to get you started, no matter how long you were abroad:

  1. Were you creative in solving problems by applying familiar concepts to unfamiliar situations? How could that help in the job you are applying for?
  2. Did you have to be flexible and adaptable? Able to work in ambiguous circumstances? Almost all employers like to see “self-starters” – does this experience abroad prove that you are?
  3. Describe your encounters when meeting professionals working in your field.
  4. Speak about personal encounters that gave you insight into the local culture.
  5. Speak about the link between your country and the host country, especially in terms of the work place. Describe your professional skills through a story about a cross-cultural encounter that went wrong.


Articles, Papers and Blogs on Leveraging Your Study Abroad Experience

Study Abroad's New Focus Is Job Skills in The Chronicle for Higher Education

Marketing Study Abroad: How to Sell Your Overseas Experience to Employers in Transitions Abroad

Apply International Experience to Post Graduation Plans, University of Tulsa

Impact of Education Abroad on Career Development, American Institute of Foreign Studies

Education Abroad and Its Value in the Job Market, An Annotated Bibliography

Global Career Compass, blogs focused on global workforce trends and the impact of education abroad experiences on student career development


Work, Volunteer and Internship Resources

Now that you have returned from your study abroad experience, you might be thinking, "what's next for me?" Many students want to go back overseas before or after they graduate, and there are literally hundreds of resources to find graduate, work, volunteer and internship programs. One of the best repository for work, volunteer and internship resources is NAFSA: The Assocation of International Educators. They have a resource library with dozens of links to pertinent information. Check it out!

 

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