Study away offers many benefits for your future career preparation – beyond the obvious preparation of specific classes you might take, internships where you may work, or the language skills that you develop during your time away. Career readiness also involves skills such as communication, confidence, critical thinking, adaptability, problem-solving, and intercultural competence, which can be developed by studying away. For example, depending on the language of your host country, even in the simplest of interactions, you will be learning how to communicate in new ways daily. Daily cross-cultural communication will be essential to your success abroad, and it will teach you how to interact with people from all different backgrounds. Not to mention, gaining fluency in another foreign language will improve your employability.
Career Competencies and Readiness
According to surveys conducted by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce and the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), the skills that will be needed by college graduates in the future include basic skills (reading, writing, mathematics); knowing how to learn; listening and oral communication; problem solving; creative thinking; interpersonal skills; teamwork; negotiation skills; organizational effectiveness and leadership; personal management; and motivation and goal setting.
The value of studying away for your future career goes well beyond the classes you take. Studies have shown that the skills a student develops are more important than the choice of major for their future careers. Studying away can be a time of personal and professional challenges and new experiences – you may not immediately notice that you’ve honed and developed your communication or problem solving skills, just through daily living in a new culture.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers survey employers every year about the characteristics they want to see on college graduates’ resumes. You can use the chart below to think about how your study away experience has helped you develop the soft skills that employers are looking for. Use it to help you reframe all your study away experiences – you can turn a situation like losing your passport and being stranded in a small countryside town where no one speaks English, into a demonstration of your problem solving skills, for example. However, make sure you craft these stories ahead of time and build them to reinforce professional skill sets. Here are a few examples:
- Speak about a personal encounter that gave you insight into the local culture
- Describe your professional skills through a story about a cross-cultural encounter that went wrong
- Describe your role when working with student/work teams abroad – explain the difference between that and your experiences in the U.S. and what you learned from the differences
- Describe how your experience living in an unfamiliar culture has given you the skills to thrive in a new work environment
You only need three or four of these pre-scripted career stories when job searching to demonstrate your professional skills, maturity, insightfulness, sound judgment, cross-cultural knowledge, etc. Just remember to make sure these stories are crafted for a professional audience and are not just your most wild or shocking encounters – these are intended specifically for the job search!
Making the Most of Your Experience Away
To make the most of your experience away from Amherst, you will want to reflect on what you hope to gain from the experience before you choose a program.
Before you go:
- Establish intentional goals prior to going – academic, professional and personal
- Consider if/how program will enhance your chosen career or major: Choose a program considering your academic, service learning & internship interests
- Check the Alumni Directory to connect with Amherst alums in your host city before arrival
During your time away:
- Take time to reflect – journal or blog about your experiences. Studying abroad can be such a jam-packed time, you won’t remember all the details of the challenges, small victories, and experiences you with go through – which can all be helpful in describing the skills you developed
- Research careers. Talk to professionals in your chosen field that are working abroad, whether they are “locals” or “foreigners” in that position
- Shadow a professional. Get a chance to see what a “typical day” in an international office is like
- Develop a global mindset. Global workers are only able to function in diverse environments if they have adequately developed cross-cultural minded knowledge, skills, and abilities
- Improve your communication skills. Solid communication skills are essential for career success. Make a goal of becoming more empathetic, improving your listening skills, handling conflicts
When you return:
- Reflect on skills developed – this goes beyond classes and/or internships: think about how day-to-day challenges may have helped you develop soft skills such as problem solving, comfort with ambiguity, and communication
- Professional Experience: Employers want to know that you successfully accomplished tasks in a new environment. Did you lead a student team? Did you complete projects within a multicultural student environment? Did you meet professionals in your field while abroad? Did you organize a social event? Did you work: part-time, with a professor, or as a language coach? Did you volunteer in your field? Did you overcome a bureaucratic hurdle by making use of professional skills? Audit your time abroad for professional experiences and be prepared to describe them in your resume and when meeting employers.
- Cross-Cultural Skills: While abroad, you developed a unique set of cross-cultural skills that are portable. You are familiar with culture shock and can professionally describe it. You understand the cycle of stress and exhilaration of being in a new environment. You are more adaptable, open minded, and observant. You can spot cultural differences and change your behavior to accommodate local norms. You have a better understanding of yourself and use this self-knowledge when making decisions in a culture other than your own. You are curious, brave, and have a sense of adventure.
- Language Skills: You know that language skills are important for international and domestic employers. Even obscure language or basic language skills indicate a propensity for language learning and learning in general. When communicating with employers, indicate the proficiency level of reading, writing, and speaking skills you acquired. Always describe what you can do as opposed to what you can't.
- General Work Skills: When speaking to employers, recognize the value of the general skills you developed while abroad. You are adept at managing change; you are independent and have self-discipline while being sensitive to the needs of others. There are dozens of work characteristics developed abroad: resourcefulness, versatility, persistence, observant and calm demeanor, diligence, multifaceted skills in communications, broad and strategic thinking, ability to deal with ambiguities, courage, ability to take on challenging work, open-mindedness, flexibility, resourcefulness, tact, listening and observing skills, ability to deal with stress, sense of humor, and awareness of interpersonal politics. All of these skills are valuable to you when contacting domestic as well as international employers.
- Connect with the Loeb Center to learn more about how to incorporate your study away experiences into your resume or cover letter, and how to talk about your newly acquired skills and experience in an interview
- Continue to build your network – including international alums, other study abroad returnees, alums/students from your specific study abroad program
- Add your study away experience to your resume, Handshake, and LinkedIn profile
- Continue developing your foreign language skills: take a class, find native speakers or join a language club to maintain your language proficiency
Sample Resumes with International Experience
Now that you have returned from your experience abroad and reflected on your time away and the skills you developed, here are examples of how to incorporate your international experience into a resume format. For more information on resume writing in general, see the Loeb Center online guides.