Study abroad research often focuses on the value of the experience in terms of career preparedness or in giving students an advantage in hiring. The 2011 IES Survey, cited on the Seven Benefits page, in particular highlights that 90% of study abroad students found work within 6 months of college graduation and 90% of those applying for graduate school were admitted to their first or second choice. Further statistics show that students felt that the study abroad experience was an effective opportunity to develop job skills and the confidence to deal with the skills required by their job.
In fact, every other benefit of the Best Places to Study Abroad ranking framework contributes to career preparedness, as well. Each of the sub-benefits, from strengthening creativity and resilience to developing a lifelong commitment to language learning, will help students to face future challenges in their personal, social, and professional lives. The Career Preparedness benefit, however, focuses on outcomes that are specifically related to workplace skills. They are outcomes that will benefit students whether it is their goal to work at a large company, to enter public service, or to become an entrepreneur. And of course, they will each yield benefits outside of the workplace, as well.
The friends that you make on study abroad will, in most cases, have the most lasting impact of the entire experience. Forming close relationships and remaining in contact will reinforce the memories of the study abroad experience and may also lead to unexpected opportunities in the future, whether it is a couch to sleep on during a trip around the world, or a job offer. Many job coaches state that career opportunities are a function of the number of trusted members of your network. Whether your goal is to work in big business, to found a start-up, to freelance, or any other path, each person you know is a potential connection with an opportunity. There is no better, easier way to build an international network then being proactive and outgoing in a study abroad environment.
Many students head into study abroad thinking only that they will make friends and network with other students from the host country. The truth, and this is born out in statements of surprise in many study abroad blogs, is that study abroad is an opportunity to meet other students from around the world. Depending on the program type, it may even be easier to meet and befriend other exchange students than it is to network with the host university’s degree-seeking students.
The Best Places to Study Abroad favors universities that offer deliberate opportunities for international students to mix both with each other and also with the local students and faculty, in order to build a stronger, broader network, such as:
- Shared housing on campus
- Shared classes with international and local students
- Holding on-campus gatherings for international and local students
While it is possible to study international or regional economics without setting foot outside a classroom in your home country, students who live in a foreign culture can gain a deeper understanding of the society’s demands for goods and services. Watching TV in a host country and paying attention to the advertisements for 6 months to a year or exploring local markets and observing the interaction between seller and customer will give students an insight into the culture’s values and marketing approach. As in many other benefits of study abroad, critical reflection on this experience will further enhance students’ career preparedness, regardless of where they work in the future. Personally interacting with the international marketplace prepares students to understand not only that country, but to grasp the broader concept of differing market values and approaches, which will enable them to be more adaptable and creative in their careers.
Study abroad destinations that offer students more freedom in their interaction with the local economy will give rise to deeper career preparedness in international markets. To put it another way, universities that do too much to support their international students may do them a disservice by not forcing them to meet some of their needs on the local economy. Opportunities for students to explore off-campus on their own and the necessity to interact on their own with local banks, cell phone carriers, and grocers will help students increase their market understanding. Support from the university, such as cultural counseling for international students, buddy programs, and other opportunities to discuss their experiences, will solidify that experience to a skill that students can leverage in their future careers.
Examples of study abroad characteristics that contribute to international market experience include:
- Free time in the program schedule for students to travel on their own
- Work and internship opportunities off-campus
- Opportunities (or requirement) for students to make regular off-campus purchases
According to Harvard Business Review (webinar video), advanced communications skills are essential earlier in career paths than ever before. For entrepreneurial-minded students, communication ability is an even more essential element of career preparedness. During the study abroad application process, students gain experience in professional communication by email, over video interviews, and in person. While abroad, they further develop skills in communicating face-to-face with other cultures and in maintaining continuing virtual contact with home universities. These in-person and remote communication skills are increasingly important across all careers.
Study abroad host universities can best contribute to students’ communication skill development by providing opportunities to exercise the skill in multiple settings and with a wide group of communication partners and to reflect on that experience. Examples include:
- Giving international students the chance to represent their home universities in a study abroad fair
- Language exchange program
- Hosting a diverse body of international students
Study abroad offers the opportunity to practice ordinary skills in extraordinary circumstances to yield benefits not possible in other programs. As a single example, a student who gives a speech to a group from multiple cultural backgrounds and languages – possibly even in a foreign language – will gain confidence from the experience far above what would be possible in a home country environment. After such a challenge, the student will be better prepared for any public speaking opportunities in his or her career. Networking and communicating with other students from different backgrounds, while maintaining remote contact with advisors and family at home, further develops fundamental skills in a challenging environment and contributes to career preparedness even if students do not notice what they are learning.