How to Maximize the Impact of Study Abroad
Studying abroad tops many students’ list of the most fun and most life-changing part of college. It’s a chance to be somewhere exciting and different, to live in a new context, and to make friends and have experiences far outside previous opportunities in either hometowns or home college contexts.
For most people, the “point” of studying abroad has more to do with the cultural/personal opportunities than practical/strategic benefits. But a bit of planning while you’re abroad can make those experiences work to your benefit academically and in the job market in the long run.
1. Make sure you actually get credit for your coursework.
Even if your classes aren’t your top priority, make sure you do actually attend your classes, that you get half-decent grades, and that the credits you take abroad will “count” with your home university. Checking in with academic advisors early in your course (when you’re registering for classes and again once you have a syllabus) is a really good idea. You’re doing the work, so you want the credit.
2. Connect with a mentor
Finding an academic connection abroad can make a huge difference for your options and opportunities later. If you connect with one of your professors (or even with a graduate student or administrative person), nurture this relationship and even ask if they would serve as a reference down the road.
3. Keep an eye out for research opportunities
If you have a thesis in your future, or if your home university requires any undergraduate research, your study abroad location is a great place to look for opportunities. Could you do a comparative study of a similar trend between your home country and your abroad location? Is there a hot-button cultural or political issue being discussed?
If something catches your eye, pay attention. Take some notes, make some contacts, and keep this in mind for future research opportunities.
1. Create a resume item.
Commit some of your time each week to a project or organization that intrigues you and dovetails with your professional interests. Make it something that you can put on your resume as experience and/or skills. Some good options:
- Volunteering (needs to be more than just once)
- Publication (write an article for your school or local paper/blog/literary magazine)
- Work (even if it’s not in your ideal field. Get some work experience while abroad)
Not only will this be a great resume item, it will also be an opportunity to connect with the community and to deepen your experience while abroad. It’s a win-win.
We live in a globalized world. You never know when someone you meet while studying abroad is going to turn up as a potential future business partner/NGO leadership member/connection to some exciting opportunity.
You can take advantage of this through relatively passive means (be nice to everyone you meet, keep email addresses, pay attention) or you can go out of your way to make contact with the people doing the work you might be interested in in the future. Nothing beats a face-to-face meeting, and you never know…
Try to develop some resume-listable skills while abroad. The most obvious is a second language, but there lots of other ways that studying abroad can lead to additional skills.
Pay attention to what you’re learning while abroad. Intercultural communication is almost inevitable. Working with a diverse team also might come up. Reflect on your experiences and think “what am I really learning here?” There’s probably more than initially meets the eye.
One of the hardest parts of many interviews—both academic and professional—is coming up with relevant stories or examples. A study abroad experience is a rich source for stories of “a time when you felt out of your depth” or “a time when you made a mistake and how you dealt with it.”
If you have some horrifyingly awkward experience while abroad, just imagine how you might use that in the future.
More than anything, enjoy your experience abroad. But while you’re there, pay attention and spend a bit of energy on some strategic thinking about how this can be part of your academic and professional future.
In addition to all the other benefits, it might someday help you get abroad again!