That’s because international experience can lead to growth in personal areas like empathy, cultural competence and acceptance of difference that can transfer to the workplace. It can also result in the growth of skills directly related to employment like teamwork, problem-solving and creativity.
Here are some of the many ways that studying or volunteering abroad can give you an edge on your next job application, and prepare you for a more meaningful career.
Many people report a greater sense of independence after studying abroad. This is especially true for people with disabilities. Going abroad means leaving support networks behind, learning how to ask for assistance when necessary, and using problem solving and advocacy skills to get what you need. These experiences easily translate into preparing and planning for the workday, commuting to and from work, and managing projects within the workplace. Asking for assistance can be a great way to strike up conversations and meet locals.
The challenges and successes that I experienced as a wheelchair user abroad showed me that my disability is a strength across the globe. The skills I built there translate into the talent I bring to the workforce.”
-Jessica Rafuse, Project Manager with Microsoft
Going abroad creates unique challenges, as well as unique opportunities to problem solve, for people with and without disabilities. Whether it’s getting from point A to point B, dealing with accessibility issues, or interacting with people in a new culture, international exchange fosters the skills required to solve problems creatively and adapt to unforeseen circumstances.
For Anne Reuss, the biggest impact from studying abroad was learning how to communicate and interact with people on her own without help, especially during those excursions without an interpreter. “It was very lonely so I had to dig deeper than I expected to make myself reach out to foreigners in some way.”
By pushing out of her comfort zone and finding new ways to communicate, she said she became bolder, allowing her to present comfortably in front of the camera for vlogs or jump directly into tweetchats and other social networks. “My confidence was in a great place when I came back and still is.”
Gain Global Knowledge
By studying or volunteering abroad you gain global knowledge, which can enhance your contribution to your career. Some fields like international education, foreign affairs or international development actually require global knowledge, but it does not have to be required to be useful.
Before her first MIUSA exchange experience, Reveca Torres studied abroad in Paris as an undergraduate with Harper College. She spent her first time abroad learning about the Parisian fashion scene while coordinating her own personal care services for the first time. After returning from her program in Paris, Torres felt that her designs had improved and that she had an advantage over her classmates who hadn’t taken part in the program. “I could really see beyond what just the classroom could give me,” she says. “I got to see what people in other countries were doing, what materials they were using.” She became interested in Japanese design and textures as well as Italian fabrics. “I started to look for textures and materials instead of complicated construction to make my designs stand out. Because of my limited hand function, this was a way to adapt.”
Many jobs require the ability to interact with people, whether you are serving customers or completing team projects with colleagues. After spending time overseas, your experience meeting people from different backgrounds and appreciating differences and similarities can help expand interpersonal skills.
Because of her improved interpersonal skills, Easter Seals case manager Beth Ocrant says, “I was always meeting new people and forming new relationships. That definitely helped me in the workplace, not only interacting with clients but with co-workers and also networking with other agencies. I also became better at asking questions and not being afraid to ask for help if needed.”
Discover Your Calling
Many people who take classes or complete service projects abroad discover a new aptitude or calling which leads them to their dream job.
Consider the story of Emma Verrill, who, before her teaching experience in France, struggled to find her path. That changed when she returned to the United States and decided to volunteer in her former second grade teacher’s classroom. It seemed like the perfect follow-up to her teaching experience in France, which she enjoyed greatly. After her second week of volunteering, she enthused about her volunteer work while having dinner with her parents.
“They were like ‘we haven’t seen you talk like this or beam like this since you've been abroad!’ They clearly recognized how happy I was in the classroom. It was then that I said, ‘wait a minute. I love this!’”
After that epiphany, Verrill went to Texas State University in Austin to earn her Masters in Education with a focus on Elementary Education and Bilingual Education , and she is now the lead teacher at Austin Trinity Episcopal School.
Language skills are required for many careers, including jobs in social work, translation, business and the government sector, and there is no way to improve your language skills like spending an extended time abroad in a destination where it is spoken. Of her times in the Philippines with the Peace Corps or in grad school in the Netherlands, foreign service officer Jessica Chesbro said that “I also gained considerable foreign language skills, which are extremely valuable for anyone who wants to work internationally, as well as for a wide variety of jobs in the United States.”
Get Your Foot in the Door
Sometimes employers make assumptions about applicants with disabilities. Being able to show an experience like study abroad on the resume can serve as a counterweight to those assumptions, and potentially help an aspiring professional with a disability to land that first chance. Participating in the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX), a year-long program for highschoolers from formerly Soviet Union countries, opened up many doors for Esma Gumberidze.
“I was selected because I speak English fluently and the organizers knew that if I was capable of living independently in the United States for ten months, I was well qualified for the position… Participation in FLEX is a kind of a stamp, a guarantee, that whether you have a disability or not, you are skillful, independent, flexible, and reliable enough for any volunteer, internship, or employment opportunity.
As you consider what your next professional or academic step should be, think about studying or volunteering abroad. It is an excellent way to combine an internship or a course with time spent abroad, and it could even propel you into that next job.