Higher education has become increasingly about career paths and landing a flashy job. While I don’t always agree that this is the primary goal of education (I think it is to practice the life skill of learning and reflecting), we all do need a job. Hopefully, we want a career that is fulfilling and allows for us to be a catalyst of positive change in this world. Students who have been abroad for study, volunteer, internship, teaching or some other endeavor, have a much better understanding of the impact that can be made on the world and how important it is to reflect on the skills that were gained as a direct result of going abroad.
The challenge is how to step away from the ubiquitous buzzwords we hear every day when we talk about education abroad and to dig much deeper than that. Today, I’m going to offer up some tasty ideas about how to link your experiences abroad with something much powerful to a potential employer than what we often hear – “it was transformational.”
I recently came across “4 C’s of Leadership,” in describing the mission of Columbia College in South Carolina. These four Cs intrigued me because they are critical to leadership (and therefore a meaningful career), but they are also the skills that often emerge for those who have gone abroad – whether they be realized after days, months or even years of reflection on the overseas jaunt. However, the C words are typically not what a study abroad alumni communicates upon returning home.
Allow me to link these 4C career boosting leadership qualities to adjectives that are often shared by sojourners:
- Courage: “Though often associated with fearlessness, courage is more of a willingness to take action despite fear.” Let’s face it, it takes guts to leave your country, campus and identity for a period of time to step out of your comfort zone. Going home during spring break and partying with friends and sleeping in is the easy path. Those who go abroad do exhibit courage, which they often illustrate by sharing how “life changing” it was when they return home. Like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, education abroad morphs us from being a tad fearful to courageous – and this indeed is life changing. Using the language of courage is much more specific and tangible in an interview than that overused and non-specific “life changing.”
- Commitment: From the values standpoint, Columbia College uses the word commitment to “describe the process of exploring communities, examining their values and goals, and choosing from among them.” As a future leader, one needs to be able to open the mind and heart to exploration of ideas, values and goals. This requires patience and an understanding of how decisions ultimately impact not only constituents and clients, but the greater world. When returning from abroad, students are often encouraged to claim the magical badge of global citizenship. (Global citizenship is not possible after a short study abroad experience, but it can put you on the lifelong quest of global citizenship –which I explained in this piece in more detail.) For the purposes of connecting the dots today, I believe that the use of the word “commitment” is much more illustrative of what we too often claim to be global citizenship. Instead, we can express that we are committed to the process of exploration, examination of values and pursuit of goals that contribute to a greater world for everyone.” This too offers more clarity than dropping the lofty “I’m a global citizen now” claim to a prospective employer.
- Confidence: I’ll veer away from Columbia College for a moment and focus on this simple definition instead: Confidence is a trust in your own abilities. Interestingly, increased self -confidence is a term that is often expressed by those coming home. That is pretty straight forward. However, sojourners also typically express their confidence by stating that they are now more “flexible.” Time abroad does create daily opportunity after opportunity to embrace flexibility. When you have finally mastered the tube in London, you will inevitably experience a tube strike. You have to figure some other mode of transportation out, even if it means that you have to pull out a map and walk a few miles to your flat or try a bus you never planned on stepping on. Those humbling experiences, when you are forced to be flexible and quickly realize that you CAN work through those little challenges, can and do build confidence. So when tempted to describe how flexible you are, instead also relate it to your level of confidence. This is something all employers are seeking, particularly in those who are “green” to the full time employment scene.
- Competent: Let’s return the Columbia College mission. It describes competence as “the ability to identify and pursue specific opportunities for change, to plan and implement specific actions.” This series of skills are often described by returned students as “productivity” – or achieving results. For example, a student who has returned from an internship abroad may tell you that s/he was very productive abroad, but could instead be telling you (and those s/he is interviewing with) that time abroad enhanced his/her competency instead. Productive sounds like a skill for the worker bee, competency sounds like the skillset of a future leader. Competency also offers the ability to explain areas of competence such as enhanced cross-cultural skills, improved language skills, awareness of accounting practices used abroad in an internship, different methods of academic research, improved understanding of power dynamics and so much more.
What other over used terms are you hearing out there in the study abroad sphere? How else can you see linking these terms with employer friendly language?
About the Author:
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.