In January I had the opportunity to continue my public relations degree while studying abroad in Lille, France. During that time, I gained independence, traveled to nine countries, navigated across major cities and historic landmarks, and met incredible people along the way, making it almost impossible to describe the impact this experience has had on me.
So why should you study abroad? I returned home with new friendships and enough stories and photos to last a lifetime, but I also came home with new skills and the ability to think more complexly and openly – something I believe will make me more professionally successful in the future. Studying abroad provided me with the opportunity to develop countless transferable skills including time management, critical thinking, budgeting, problem solving, public speaking, negotiating, multitasking and organization.
Change can be overwhelming, but it can also put into motion significant personal growth. The experience of studying and traveling in Europe, coupled with the challenges of adjusting to a new place, language and culture, has changed me for the better.
Here are five reasons why I believe studying abroad has a positive impact on your employability:
- Get Out of Your Comfort Zone:
When you leave your comfort zone, this crazy thing happens… you learn and you grow. You might experience a little awkwardness or social discomfort at times, but that’s all part of the process. Our comfort zones aren’t necessarily a bad thing, I think it’s important to everyone’s sanity that you have this safe space within your own head, but what people don’t realize is just how much you’re capable of once you leave this safe space. You don’t have to do something as major as spending a semester overseas to leave your comfort zone. Start small, be the first to answer your professor’s question in a lecture, try a new class at your gym or engage in conversation with someone who shares different views from your own. The idea is to get comfortable with the discomfort that comes from trying something new. This will make you more adaptable, more confident and ultimately more employable.
- Develop communication skills:
My entire study abroad experience was a social rollercoaster. I felt as though I met someone new almost every day, leading to daily conversations with fellow residents, students and even strangers. If we didn’t speak the same language, non-verbal communication became our only method of interaction. Trying to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak your language can be difficult, challenging and downright frustrating, but those interactions forced me to practice a variety of skills that have undeniably improved my communication skill set. Developing strong communication skills and learning how to decipher facial expressions, body language, and gestures, makes cross-cultural conversations not only possible but successful. As a soon-to-be public relations graduate, I understand the importance of being able to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences, something I experienced firsthand while living in France. Whether I was conversing with international friends, trying to navigate around a new city or interact with locals, there were always new opportunities to enhance my communication skills.
Reading a textbook or writing a test isn’t the only way to learn. In fact, after my experience abroad, I’d say that learning outside of the classroom is the most effective and mind opening method to learn and retain new information and skills. Living abroad was not all sunshine and daisies; some days were hard, especially at the beginning when I had no friends yet, I always seemed to be lost and I could barely understand the people around me. Day by day things got easier, and learning became second nature while I was there. I asked questions every day, inquired about people’s background and stories, and discovered how great it feels to be constantly learning. Since returning home, I’ve been adopting this mantra of learning wherever I go. It’s a big world out there with unlimited amounts of knowledge to be consumed and employers will take notice if you’re asking questions and are willing to learn. If you are keen, inquisitive and show general interest it will open doors for you both personally and professionally.
- Experience a new way of thinking:
It’s a cliché, but travel really does broaden the mind and change your perspective. You expand your narrow frame of reference and consider how other people live. Studying abroad enabled me to immerse myself in a new culture and participate in meaningful discussions and debates about societal norms in other countries. I listened to people from all over the world share values and opinions that were very different than my own. After you’ve traveled abroad, previously held beliefs about foreign countries (and foreign people) will change. As the workplace becomes increasingly diverse, employers are looking to hire culturally aware and experienced employees. Seeing and discovering how people live their day to day lives in other parts of the world not only opened my mind to new ways of thinking, but it also gave me a new found appreciation for the country I call home.
- Gain Independence:
Employers value people who can work independently and take initiative. Living abroad led me to truly discover what it means to be independent. At home I was constantly surrounded by normalcy and comfort. Abroad, I really had to rely on myself to figure things out and get situated in my new home. Studying abroad made me accountable for my actions, and reinforced the importance of responsibility. By coordinating weekend trips, navigating public transit, cooking for myself, managing school work and immersing myself in my new surroundings, I became increasingly independent. After overcoming the inevitable challenges of moving alone to a foreign country, I realized there isn’t much I can’t do if I put my mind to it. It can be daunting at first, but it is so liberating when you realize your ability to be self-reliant.