Choosing a Study Abroad Program with a Career in Mind
Updated: Aug 21, 2018
Guest Post: Katy Rene, Assistant Director, Study Abroad, Lehigh University
If you have been considering studying abroad, you have probably spent time thinking about what region of the world you want to be in, what time of year you want to go, and how you would fund your travel. You have likely done some research to find courses that will fit into your academic plan. Have you also thought about how your study abroad experience will help you reach your career goals?
According to IES Abroad’s 2016 survey of study abroad returnees over the past five years, alums noted that their experience helped them hone their interests, find jobs faster, earn higher starting salaries, and get into their top choice graduate schools. Many study abroad programs offer great flexibility to customize the experience to fit your interests, so keep your career aspirations in mind as you select a program.
You might want to consider incorporating an internship into your study abroad experience. In some cases, you would replace a course with a credit-bearing internship, or it might be a non-credit experience in addition to your regular classes. Your program will assist in finding you a suitable placement, where you will gain experience in your field in a cross-cultural environment. This will make you stand out from other candidates who you might be competing with for that first job out of college.
If you are interested in taking a deep dive into a particular topic, consider study abroad programs that offer research opportunities. Students studying science and engineering may gain exposure to unique lab facilities and research methods. Non-STEM students might connect with local organizations to learn how they tackle critical global issues. You may make research contacts that you keep in touch with after you return home. Often, students are able to use the research they do abroad as the starting point to a capstone project or thesis, which is a great talking point in an interview.
Volunteer or service learning projects abroad are another way to become more aware of local issues and engage with the culture and people in a meaningful way. Again, your program can help facilitate these opportunities.
Study abroad is a chance to step outside your comfort zone. If your schedule allows, try taking a course that you would not have access to at your home institution, perhaps one that focuses on the local language or culture. Chat with locals about what issues are important to them, and then find ways to learn more about those things. For some students, their international experience is where they discover something they are deeply passionate about that changes their career trajectory entirely.
Regardless of how you construct your international experience, the fact that you took the leap and left home should naturally give you an edge to market yourself to future employers. When interviewing, avoid cliches and focus on specific details that impacted you. Everyone loves a good travel story, so when you return, reflect on your time abroad and determine some experiences that demonstrate important skills for the position you want. With this approach, you’ll be able ease some of the interview nerves by talking with authority about a life-changing experience in a way that will help you advance in your career.