Study abroad has always been a pleasant way to spend a college semester or year. You get to know a different culture, meet students from around the world.
But in these critical economic times when competition for jobs is fierce, studying in a foreign country can be more than just fun. It’s a great investment in your future, helping you stand apart from the pack.
Chris Russell, who oversees the student recruitment efforts for Boston University's International Programs, explains, “Students who choose to study abroad, particularly if the program is taught in the host country’s language, give themselves a distinct advantage over other applicants whether it be for a graduate program or a job opportunity.” He adds that, “When a student studies abroad, it shows they are willing to expand their comfort zone and that they are curious. Both of these traits are desirable to grad programs and potential employers.”
As a result, choosing to study abroad is increasingly becoming a strategic choice. “When students express an interest in going abroad, “ Russell explains, “we encourage them to look ahead and think about where they want to be in 5-10 years. How they spend their time overseas is all about building their resumes.”
Indeed, every study abroad program seems to have a growing list of alums who move on to become outstanding in their professions. Alexis Phylactopoulos, President of College Year in Athens, Greece, reports that many former students have gone on to excel in all sorts of professions, from law and medicine to the arts and business. Many have started their own companies, some have been distinguished as NGO heads and two current US Ambassadors are former students.
Though not necessarily a requirement, students often go into overseas programs with considerable foreign language skills, hoping to polish them even further. Gary Kliegman, who has since graduated from Washington University in St. Louis and now lives and works as a management consultant in New York City, spent a semester studying in Santiago, Chile. One of the reasons he chose to study there was to become fluent in Spanish, having studied it since sixth grade. Improving her Spanish was also behind Julia Blumenfeld’s (pictured left in the clock tower of The Alhambra's Fortress) choice to study at La Universidad de Granada in Spain her junior year spring semester.
In addition to living in a full language-immersion setting during his semester in Equador, Tyler Sit traveled almost every weekend while studying in South America. “My weekend trips taught me as much as my classroom studies because they gave me a chance to see the world I had only read about before—one of cloud forests, mountain climbing, indigenous cultures and cave exploring.” He’s hoping to return to Equador, possibly through an NGO or church missions program, to fight against some of the poverty he witnessed in the country.
Along with gaining skills they can use to get into grad school and find their dream jobs, studying abroad can help one grow emotionally and socially.
David Catalan (pictured left with one of his instructors), a sociology major at the University of Michigan, recently completed a semester at College Year in Athens , Greece. “Living abroad for a prolonged time changes your self-perception and outward perspective in many ways,” he explains.
Emily Olman, a Women and Gender Studies major at Dickinson pictured below at Petra in Jordan, spent a semester studying at the University of Nicosia in Cyprus. Her program included an 18-day trip to ten different countries. “I have learned that no matter what country I am in, I can get around quite well and really enjoy myself wherever I go."
My niece, Charlotte Farewell, spent her junior year at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, pursuing biology and environmental studies. But her education there proved to be far more expansive than she imagined. “I experienced a different culture and forced myself outside of my comfort level in order to meet new people and expand my horizons.”
Learning how to fare in a world away from home can have a tremendously positive impact on an individual. "It’s validating to know that you can manage on your own so far away from home," explains Russell, adding, "It also changes a person’s perspective. You see your own country differently. You see how people see us. And you see another country differently. Students go abroad as Americans and come back as global citizens.”
They also return knowing that time spent abroad is a solid investment in their future. It’s an experience with rewards that will pay off for many years to come.