If you’re like me, your parents and professors were skeptical about your decision to study abroad during college. After all, it’s a daunting prospect to go through the immense task of immersing yourself in an entirely new language and culture. And for all this trouble, what is spending a few months overseas going to do for your job prospects? Incidentally, studying abroad — and the invaluable language skills and cultural knowledge that come with it — can end up being one of the most career-defining decisions you could make. Having spent a summer in Argentina, I can personally attest to this: studying abroad is a great way to enrich yourself — personally, professionally, and linguistically.
1. Learning a language gives you problem-solving skills
When you are living in a country that speaks a foreign language, you are forced to leave your comfort zone. Suddenly, even seemingly mundane, everyday tasks become challenges that require patience and creativity to overcome. In my case, the day after I arrived in Argentina, I was forced to confront one of these challenges: I realized that I had fallen ill with Lyme disease, an illness that exists only in North America and Europe! Despite the language barrier between us, my doctor and I were eventually able to communicate, and I received proper treatment.
Despite its difficulty, learning language through this type of experience is crucial in developing real-life language skills. But more than improving your language skills, your trials in communication are great fodder for cover letters, application essays, and interviews. Studying abroad is guaranteed to give you a plethora of answers to those dreaded and ubiquitous application and interview questions about conflict resolution and problem-solving.
2. Being bilingual helps you make international connections
As your language skills progress on your trip abroad, you will undoubtedly find it easier to make friends internationally. While making friends is great on a personal level, it’s also a fantastic start to building an international professional network. The relationships that you build on your trip abroad are an excellent way not only to expand your own horizons, but also enhance your ability to be a serious contender in an increasingly global workplace.
Since my trip to Argentina, my knowledge of Argentinean Spanish has helped me greatly in making connections in the Spanish-speaking world. For example, when an Argentinian author visited my college the year after I studied abroad, I struck up a conversation with him in Spanish, showcasing my knowledge of Argentinean idiomatic expressions and slang. Impressed with my knowledge of his language and culture, he offered me a job in translating some of his work, and I continue to work for him to this day.
3. Bilingualism is a huge plus for prospective employers
Perhaps the most important career bonus to studying abroad is that it gives you constant exposure to native speakers of a foreign language, which is the only way to really learn the intricacies and complexities of a new language. In addition to the chic factor of bilingualism, fluency in a foreign language gets you jobs. Indeed, learning a language abroad demonstrates a host of positive qualities to prospective employers — it highlights your independence, your intellectual flexibility, your resourcefulness, and your ability to thrive in unfamiliar environments.
In my case, only by immersing myself in a Spanish-speaking culture was I able to truly acquire proficient Spanish-language skills, which has opened countless doors for me professionally. In fact, my bilingualism is the reason that I have the job that I do now, which requires me speak in both English and Spanish on a daily basis. My job allows me to write about what I love, and sustain myself while I study Spanish and plan the next destination on my list of travels.
As my journey shows, today’s job market is as much about networking as it is about skills and where you got your degree. Being in the market, making personal contacts and connecting with people proved to be the answer for me, if you really want to work overseas, I suggest you go for it. Showcase your time abroad by creating a review, demonstrate your ability to offer constructive criticism, take ownership of adversity and grow to have a enviable world view. Submit your education abroad review here then use in in networking groups like The Study Abroad Advantage to find opportunities.
Don’t listen to the skeptics: studying abroad is one of the best career moves that you can make. And if you have reservations about jumping head-first into a new language and culture, you can prepare yourself with some free online resources that help you practice the language you’ll be using overseas. Studying abroad allows you to engage your curiosity, expand your worldview, and experience a new culture. Most of all, it grants you the gift of bilingualism, which has proven time and time again to be a serious advantage in terms of both bragging rights and job prospects. For those looking to embark on an exciting adventure and advance their careers at the same time, I couldn’t recommend studying abroad more highly.
Paul currently lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he teaches English and writes for Language Trainers, a worldwide language teaching service for individuals and professionals. You can visit their website or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.