Have you considered a study abroad program as part of your college education? In addition to the knowledge you gain, studying abroad can give you a competitive edge on the job market because you gain skills and strategies for
- communicating with people who speak a different language
- critically thinking about your own tolerance and cultural biases
- identifying cultural and contextual similarities and differences into your own program development and evaluation efforts
- service-learning or providing service to individuals, families, and communities
- applying information from coursework to different cultures working with individuals and families from different cultures
The electronic media has brought distant regions of the world into business together, and many contemporary employers prefer to hire college graduates who have some types of international experience. And, you might be able to sight see a little bit while you are at it!
For more information on how to articulate your study abroad experience in job interviews, see Effective Marketing of Your Study Abroad Experience to Employers by Martin Tillman, 2013, at StudyAbroad.com.
Common questions from students include:
Will I graduate on time if I decide to study abroad? You need to plan ahead and talk to your advisor. Study abroad opportunities and graduation requirements vary by Department or University. With a full semester in a new cultural setting, you will gain greater independence and find that you can be more fully immersed in local communities. Yet, some universities offer shorter-term study abroad opportunities (for example, spring break, winter, or shorter-term summer study abroad programs).
Do you think I can afford this? Many universities are able to offer reduced tuition as a place-holder while you are studying abroad for course credit, and there are full semester programs available for about the same cost as a semester at your own school (because you often take classes taught by professors who accompany you on the trip). Don’t hesitate to check out your campus study abroad office or campus center, ask about the cost of the programs, and ask about scholarship opportunities. When applying for study abroad scholarships, write professionally (ask others to proof-read), and show your interest in cultural immersion and passion for learning as scholarships are often competitive.
How do I know where I can or should study abroad? My advice is to go to a place you’re not likely to go on vacation. Whether or not your destination seems to fit perfectly with your major, you’ll probably be able to get some general education credits covered, and the experience, in the end, may be more applicable to your life and professional skills than you expected. Some of your own Departments or majors may offer trips that are most applicable to work you are interested in (for example, human development and family studies Departments may organize work in hospitals, orphanages, or social service agencies). If your Department, college, or University does not offer a trip and you have options to choose from, you should consider how you can step out of your comfort zone. You could also consider asking questions about housing or food options that are adequate for your dietary restrictions or special needs such as a disability. A disability should not deter you at all, but think about the logistics of managing in a country where the Americans with Disabilities Act is not present. Do your research to be sure that you can be successful at your destination, and go for it!! For more information go to DiversityAbroad.com.
How do I gain study abroad experience if I already graduated? Look online for international internships and volunteer opportunities – what a great way to spend a summer or down time until you are accepted into your graduate program of choice or find a job.
Talk to your advisor, guidance counselor, or campus study abroad office soon! All in all, study abroad is an amazing learning opportunity that may change your life. You’ll learn to integrate knowledge in a diverse setting and gain self-confidence as you become a global citizen!
*Jan Brooks, M. Ed, is a Teaching Associate from The Department of Human and Community Development at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has facilitated multiple study abroad trips to South Africa as a faculty member for The Department.