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Life-Long Skills: The Professional Benefits of Studying Abroad

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There are countless reasons to study abroad from academic development to cultural immersion to personal growth. Another is developing pre-professional skills. Many students, however, assume studying abroad and being out the country will hurt their chances for a summer internship or job. That might not be the case. 

Myth: You will miss out on the chance for a killer summer internship. 

Like most college students with summer on the horizon, I spent months researching, applying to, and interviewing for summer internships. Going into spring semester abroad, I thought I might be at a disadvantage, very much out of town and with a seven-hour time difference. Thanks to Google Hangout, I completed all my interviews from Scotland just fine. 

I found that the most effective way to grab the attention of a company was to email directly. General applications rarely if ever got a response. Instead, I combed websites to find the proper contact, and then expressed my interest. Up front, I explained I was studying abroad for the semester. All of my interviewers were intrigued by my choice of Scotland, and this made me a more unique candidate. In the end, it can be impressive to be working to get noticed even while thousands of miles away. 

Knowing potential employers want to see a full workload, I chose a university with courses that fit my major and minor. University of Edinburgh offered an enormous variety of classes, and I chose Oceanography, Geomorphology, and Identity and Experience in Health. The first two counted toward my environmental science minor, the last as an elective in my major. Interviewers were excited to see that even though I was far from my home university, my coursework stayed focused on a subject I am passionate about. 

Truth: You’ll land a position and be a stronger intern thanks to the diverse interactions you had abroad.  

This summer, as a marketing and communications intern at a non-profit sustainability company Urban Green Lab in Nashville, I’ve found there are two invaluable professional skills I gained from studying abroad that have helped me be successful here.  

First, I learned how to politely and effectively interact with people from all kinds of cultures at different levels of language proficiency. From interacting with local shop owners in Paris, guards at the Schonnbruen Palace in Vienna, an old English couple drinking beer at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, and much more, I grew more outgoing and confident in my ability to interact with strangers with ease.  

This real-world skill is vital when looking toward a professional future. I feel much more confident now when approaching my boss or coworkers about my work, and I have learned that it is important to meet people where they are, because they are all proud of where they come from. 

Truth: Study abroad will fast-track your ability to prioritize and improve your work-life balance skills. 

The second important pre-professional skill I learned was how to balance work and fun. Of course, at your home university, you balance schoolwork with your social life. But this takes an extreme level of self-discipline abroad. There are so many places to go and things to see that sometimes schoolwork ends up on the back burner. I learned to plan ahead, make lists, update my planner, and stay organized so my schoolwork got done on time. 

This is an invaluable skill I will utilize for the rest of my life. This summer I have an internship, plus a part time job, while living with four friends from school. I have worked hard to stay focused on my job and dedicate an appropriate amount of time for social activity, without letting it detract from my work. 

Pre-professional development might not be a major motivator to study abroad for some, but you might be surprised how many real-world skills you can gain as you study and travel the world at the same time! 

—Cara M., University of Edinburgh

I feel much more confident now when approaching my boss or coworkers about my work.