When Katie Korona stepped off the plane and walked in to the airport in Belgium she only saw one English word among a plethora of signs in the terminal. Immediately feeling scared and out of place, Korona started to panic not knowing where to go or how to get to her home for the next few months.
Then a hand came on her shoulder and she heard familiar English words. It was her study abroad advisor who met the students at the airport in Belgium to help them get settled. She brought Korona and the other students to their host homes and introduced them to their host families for the next few months. Korona was then introduced to her roommate, Tarana, a 20-year-old girl from Bangladesh.
The girls immediately bonded over their shared love of ‘N Sync and even figured out that they had attended the same Model United Nations conference in Amsterdam while in high school.
On the first night in Belgium for their study abroad program the two girls met others from all over the world that were going to be in their classes and began discussing the many cultural differences between their home countries.
“I quickly knew that these next few months were going to be some of the best and most influential months of my life,” Korona said.
What she didn’t know was that the experience would come to help her in her job search.
“My experience abroad is one of the main reasons that I got my current job working for Clemson University partnering with FAO (Food and Agriculture Administration) in Italy,” she said.
While studying abroad can be an exhilarating and educational time for students, the vast benefits don’t stop at the foreign experience and cultural experimentation. Aside from the numerous Facebook photos in front of the Eiffel tower and Big Ben, studying abroad can teach students skills that can set them apart in the job market.
“Studying abroad puts students completely outside of everything they know and opens them up to learning,” said Kelly Jo Bahry an American University study abroad advisor. “It shows employers that you are not afraid to step out of your comfort zone to experience new and exciting things.”
As the United States moves increasingly toward a global economy, it becomes more and more important for employees to be familiar with the world around them and to possess certain skills that can sometimes only be gained by journeying to some place new and adjusting on the fly.
“Global corporations highly value study abroad programs, both due to the characteristics and personality types the programs foster in candidates, such as independence and self-awareness, but also the experience living abroad,” said David Lucey, recruiting manager for marketing company Epsilon. “Exposure to different cultures, thought processes, and ways of doing business will add to a student’s knowledge base and experience.”
Felicia Parks, a career advisor at American University’s School of Communication, said studying abroad can been a memorable experience.
“I’m always jealous that I didn’t study abroad,” she said. “It really helps your résumé to stand out. It shows flexibility and maturity and responsibility. When you have to think about setting up a foreign checking account, getting a cell phone, figuring out where to stay and getting a job abroad. When looking at two résumés side by side that are extremely similar, if one has international experience I’m more likely to hire them especially if my company does something even remotely international, studying and living abroad is a major selling point.”
But while studying abroad has grown immensely in popularity over the past decade, still only about 8 percent of college students make such a trip, according to Anna Claire Eddington, an admissions counselor at American University.
“Not all study abroad experiences are equal,” said Aubrey Coffee, a professor and study abroad advisor at Clemson University. “When interviewing students, companies pay careful attention to how the student describes their semester abroad. Studying abroad and including it on your résumé is only half of the equation. Verbalization of your experience and relating it to your professional goals is the other half.”
Despite the potential benefits of study abroad, some employers still view the experience as just an extended party for students. This is why it is extremely important for students to be able to verbalize actual skills and experiences that they gained from their time abroad, Coffee said.
When students strategically market their new skills, it can show employers that they are not afraid to step out of their comfort zone and that they can work well and collaborate with others, especially ones from different backgrounds.
“We find it very impressive when a candidate tells us they went to their study abroad program alone, versus with a friend or a group of friends,” said Lucey, the recruiting manager, “It shows us that they were there for more than just the fun of it.”
Korona looks back on her experience fondly.
“While [studying abroad] can be expensive and intimidating, if you can get past your fears and just go for it, it is so worth it. I can’t even imagine an instance where having international experience would do anything but help you.”