When it comes to study abroad, parents, faculty or even students can overlook the potential career development benefits from a semester in a foreign country. After all, what can wandering the cobblestone streets of an open market or sampling tapas in a restaurant teach students?
A great deal.
Aristotle once said, "For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them." The successful study abroad program creates opportunities for active learning, identifies what students should expect to learn and demonstrate by the completion of their program, and spells out how he or she can demonstrate those outcomes on their resume, in a job interview or when applying to a graduate studies program.
To do so, we first must build on what the research conducted by scholars, study abroad program administrators and program providers shows us:
• Students who study abroad show gains in those skill sets that are valued by employers seeking to hire workers with specific competencies such as: increased intercultural sensitivity, language acquisition and problem solving skills;
• Study abroad impacts career development and influences career direction in the years after graduation (even for students who may not have considered an international career at the time they were abroad);
• Study abroad creates a strong foundation for future employment in an international context and can lead to further international experiences that strengthen intercultural competencies.
CEA’s study abroad programs lead students beyond simple, passive observation and engage them in their surroundings. They're not just shopping, they're learning how to barter a fair price in another language. When they visit a restaurant, they're learning to adapt to the social norms of the host culture's society. Interviewing international executives and touring their offices yields insight into how businesses conduct themselves across cultural and political boundaries.
Those very real benefits are all too often missed when the study abroad student returns home and adds his/her experience to a resume as only an afterthought: "Spent semester in Rome."
What does that mean?
The reviewer of the resume may translate that cryptic expression as “Partied in Italy.” Images of the college social scene abroad overshadow the tangible outcomes students should be prepared to articulate upon completion of a superior study abroad program. Those tangible outcomes can include such desirable job skills as:
• Language proficiency – even short of true fluency
• Ability to approach obstacles and problem-solving with respect to multicultural differences in the workplace
• Comfortable working in diverse, foreign and changing environments
• Ability to work independently and without much direction or oversight
How can advisors – including career advisors - help?
• Talk to your students pre-departure about what expectations they have for study abroad.
• Outline your own expectations for your students following their study abroad experience, including how you expect students to demonstrate those outcomes (could include increased language skills, cross-cultural awareness, and independent/critical thinking skills).
• Talk to your students following the study abroad experience and assess together which expectations have been met and which have not.
• Identify with the student how he/she can articulate those outcomes on a resume, in a job interview, or in applying for graduate programs. Go over sample resumes that outline some outcomes, or practice role-playing a job or graduate school interview. • Identify steps students can take to share those outcomes with peers on campus, including blogging, speaking in front of students at study abroad fairs or new-student campus visits, etc.
By laying the groundwork for a successful study abroad experience and following up with the student at program completion, students and their advisors can affirm the kind of cross-cultural skills employers are seeking today. The result will be graduates better-equipped to meet the demands of tomorrow's job market and on the path to true global competence.
Dr. John D. Heyl is the Vice President of Global Education at CEA.
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