Leveraging Your Study Abroad Experience

Being in college, we have all become familiar with the stereotypes surrounding study abroad students – whether they be that we can’t start any sentence without “Well, when I was abroad,”  or that we did nothing but go clubbing. In actuality, studying abroad can be an experience that is both fun and freeing, but also educational and useful. It is all about how you frame your experience to be one that you can leverage in the business field when you return. 

Studying abroad in Barcelona was one of the highlights of my college experience. It was my first time out of the country, and was something I will never forget. But when I returned home and added “Alba Barcelona” to my resume, I began to wonder what relevancy my experience had to a potential job. What parts of studying abroad shaped me to be a great addition to a company? If an interviewer asked me what I learned there, how would I respond? In order to answer these questions I had to analyze my experience. Here are 3 ways you can utilize your study abroad experience in the career space.

1. Break down your everyday challenges and turn them into transferable skills.

Traveling somewhere new is both a challenge and an adventure. Many everyday tasks that are simple at home, can be difficult to navigate in a foreign country. Whether it’s learning to use the public transportation system, or ordering a meal at a restaurant, the problem solving skills and tools you use are valuable. Arriving in Barcelona, I expected everyone to speak Spanish and I planned to use my 3 years of high-school classes to aid me. On our first night there my roommate and I got locked out of our apartment. After trying to communicate this to our neighbor, I quickly learned that Catalan (the specific dialect spoken in Barcelona) was different from Spanish. I used this as an opportunity to be flexible and was determined to learn the nuances of the language. I listened carefully to those around me and practiced what I learned with my roommates. This story is one that I could easily share with an interviewer to highlight my flexibility, determination, and listening skills. Even if you can’t think of any specific challenges, studying abroad as a whole increases your adaptability and cultural awareness which are two things that can apply in any workplace setting.

2. Expand your experiences as both a consumer abroad and in the US, into a global perspective.  

As Foster students, we are well informed about the business landscape in the US – we understand market trends, the economy, and consumer behavior. But after studying abroad you are now familiar with business and consumerism in another country. Shopping for groceries or buying clothes at the mall are all ways in which we were consumers. I remember noticing how the advertisements varied in different countries, some industries were more highlighted in certain cities – like filmmaking in Paris. I also took note of the consumer habits the locals had, seeing how often they bought groceries and what sources they went to. Being able to understand the similarities and differences between these two markets provides a unique global perspective. Remembering these experiences and being able to communicate them with peers during relevant discussions can give you an edge in the workplace. 

3. Share your cultural insights and how they relate to your workplace values.

One of the most important parts in a job search is finding a company culture that aligns with your values. I found that while immersing myself in the culture, I was able to discover new values, or solidify ones I already had. One in particular that I gained was the value in slowing down. Everywhere I went I saw people taking their time. I noticed how long people spent at restaurants, not just enjoying their food, but also the company around them. I became aware of how fast I was walking places in comparison to those around me. When you rush through things, whether it be life or work, you may find that you missed out on something valuable. I realized that soaking up whatever environment you’re in is so important. This value is one that I look for in a company. Finding a workplace that values quality over quantity, and really understands the importance of time is something I prioritize. Think about the culture you were immersed in and what you admired most. Whether it be a value or just an insight, it is something you can share with your network to help improve the company culture. 

Above all, studying abroad is an individual experience. It doesn’t define you, but it helps shape you. Be reflective and think about what aspects you found to be the most impactful and share them. Leverage your experience as a tool to highlight different parts of yourself that you may not have been able to through other experiences on your resume. This way when you begin a sentence with “Well when I was abroad,” it will truly be meaningful.

Post Written By: Taylor Kalka, Peer Coach