With study abroad on the rise and pressure for recent graduates to kick off a dynamic career in their chosen field (and avoid a lengthy stay living at home and working as a barista!), there is much talk in the media and international education circles about what skills are derived from an education abroad experience. We often hear about skills gained in the areas of linguistic ability (of varying degrees), observation and agility. On a recent Cultural Career Cohort discussion with Jamie Gelbtuch, Founder of Cultural Mixology, the concept of “resiliency” came up as an important and valid skill for those who have a study abroad experience. I was intrigued.
According to The Resiliency Center, resiliency can be defined as “Able to recover quickly from misfortune, able to return to original form after being bent, compressed, or stretched out of shape. A human ability to recover quickly from disruptive change or misfortune without being overwhelmed or acting in dysfunctional or harmful ways.”
Jamie mentioned this center to explore resiliency and suggested that we take the quiz, so I did. I scored an 82 (“very resilient”) and upon reading the description, realized how much my experiences abroad have impacted how I approach life and work. Those moments of being uncomfortable, trying to learn new words in a completely new language, getting lost, having my breath taken away by new experiences – they all synthesized into skill building of the highest order.
Here is some of what the quiz informed me about my own resiliency. The interpretation of the score I received includes many characteristics, but these are the unique behaviors that I think most speak to qualities that can be directly related to the power of academic travel. I can easily imagine them being utilized in an interview setting. I took the liberty of providing an overarching heading for each point:
- Diplomacy: Express feelings honestly. Experience can express anger, love, dislike, appreciation, grief–the entire range of human emotions honestly and openly. Can also choose to suppress their feelings when they believe it would be best to do so.
- Curious and Risk Taking: Playful, childlike curiosity.Ask lots of questions, want to know how things work. Play with new developments. Enjoy themselves as children do. Have a good time almost anywhere. Wonder about things, experiment, make mistakes, get hurt, laugh. Ask: “What is different now? What if I did this? Who can answer my questions? What is funny about this?”
- Lifelong Learner and the Ability to Reflect: Constantly learn from experience.Rapidly assimilate new or unexpected experiences and facilitate being changed by them. Ask “What is the lesson here? What early clues did I ignore? The next time that happens I will….”
- Positive: Expects things to work out well.Deep optimism guided by internal values and standards. High tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty. Can work without a job description, is a good role model of professionalism. Has a synergistic effect, brings stability to crises and chaos. Ask “How can I interact with this so that things turn out well for all of us?”
- Solution Oriented: Read others with empathy.See things through the perspectives of others, even antagonists. Win/win/win attitude in conflicts. Ask “What do others think and feel? What is it like to be them? How do they experience me? What is legitimate about what they feel, say, and do?”
- Always Improving: Gets better and better every decade.Become increasingly life competent, resilient, durable, playful, and free. Spend less time surviving than others and survive major adversities better. Enjoy life more and more.
Imagine your students being able to speak to these skills in an interview instead of sharing the typical language around “deals well with ambiguity” or being “highly adaptable.” Taking the quiz and linking the skills back to specific experiences will help study abroad alumni understand how resilient they are and will certainly provide new language to differentiate themselves from the applicant pool.
Having students write in their personal journals about challenging times upon their return home is also a way to explore resiliency. For example, students charged with putting themselves in new and uncomfortable situations back at home (for example, taking a bus to a part of their town with its own subculture that they have not explored before) is one way to affordably open up the door of discomfort. Getting lost, observing, and engaging appropriately in an unfamiliar environment allow for practice of various resilient qualities. Writing as an intentional journal activity to consider more deep reflection on such an activity helps a student to hone in on articulating these fresh skills further. Journal prompts could include:
- What did you observe?
- What feelings surfaced for you as you embarked in this new community?
- How did this experience remind you of your time abroad?
- How did you succeed in this situation? How did you fail?
- What could you have done differently, upon reflection?
- What resilient qualities did you utilize in this new experience?
- How did these qualities help you to engage and reflect?
Visual learners can be prompted to take a photo of their domestic sojourn as a jumping off point to illustrate and describe the experience and can use the same set of thoughtful journaling prompts.
For the career and education abroad advisors out there, what ideas do you have to gently adjust your re-entry programming to explore the concept of resiliency? Share your thoughts in the comments below so that we can share ideas!
Missy Gluckmann is the Founder of Melibee Global, which aims to elevate the discussion about education abroad, culture, diversity and the lifelong path to global citizenship by offering trailblazing tools, speakers and professional development for the global education and travel communities. Raised in New York, Missy has lived abroad three times and traveled to dozens of countries. Missy currently resides in North Carolina and experiences culture shock there on a daily basis! She can be followed on Facebook and Twitter.