Very often the story of working or volunteering abroad actually begins in college, where the increasing popularity of study abroad programs has led to an 8% increase per year in the number of undergraduates to take a summer, semester or year overseas as part of their college experience.
People choose to study abroad for a number of reasons: learn a language, explore a new culture, even position them for a long-term job abroad. However, the practice of overseas study is not without its critics. Many believe that American students use their time abroad to do exactly what they might do in the States, much of it involving spending time in bars and taking weekend trips to tourist locations. But study abroad might be even more important to the college experience than originally thought.
According to The Atlantic’s recent article “Does Studying Abroad Make You Smarter? Turns Out it Might” and its reporting of a recent study by Inside Higher Education, “At worst, it can have relatively little impact on some students’ educational careers. And at best it enhances the progress toward degree. It enhances the quality of learning as reflected in things like GPA.” (The Atlantic)
So if you are thinking of studying abroad and people try to convince you that you will get behind, or won’t be subject to the same academic rigor as you would be at home in college, tell them to check out the study, which highlights increases in student GPA, intercultural education, and others.
This study focused primarily on undergraduate study abroad, since most people do associate learning overseas with undergraduate education. But according to U.S. News and World Report, there is a trend for graduate students to spend time learning overseas, perhaps due to the fading stigma of study abroad as a “wasted semester.” More likely, the trend has more to do with the fact that most employers are looking for some sort of international experience in their applicants, as it makes them seem more rounded and more ready to function in an increasingly global workplace. According to Peggy Blumenthal at the Institute for International education, “To be a competent professional and to be competitive today, you need international experience.” (U.S. News and World Report)
The article goes on to cite many of the reasons that graduate students don’t study abroad, like not receiving credit for the courses, and not having scheduling flexibility in their rigorous programs. Graduate institutions are responding to this by offering university sponsored semesters and/or summers abroad, as well as collaborating with institutions abroad to offer dual degrees. Even medical and law school students are hopping on the study abroad bandwagon, even though abroad programs can significantly add to the high cost that comes with a medical or law degree.
What these articles don’t really go into is how directly a study abroad experience can affect your long-term plans for working abroad. Aside from preparing you for living abroad in the most basic way (study abroad, if nothing else, does expose you to living in another country), the experience can also expose you to networks of people who might be able to support you in your work abroad search post-graduation. For people who are really considering a long-term job overseas, I would highly recommend looking into multiple semesters abroad, and particularly into graduate programs that offer study abroad options. With so many options out there, and with international work becoming more and more desirable to recent graduates, there is quite a bit of competition among those who has spent time out of their home countries. While studying abroad doesn’t automatically equate to a stronger skill set or better fit for a position, it is one of the best ways to make you stand out to any employer.