The Long Term Positive Career Impact of Studying Abroad
by Rita Schreyer
When I decided to study abroad the summer before 12th grade, my decision was based on the desire to live somewhere glamorous like Europe and have the chance to do better in my high school Spanish class. Thanks to the placement methods of AFS (American Field Service), I ended up in a small underdeveloped town in the northeast of Brazil, not very glamorous, and eight weeks of Portuguese only messed up my Spanish once and for all. But now, over twenty years later, I find that fortuitous choice has had a long lasting positive impact on my career growth. As I continue to recruit, assess and mentor students that are beginning their careers, I'd like to encourage school counselors to add the study abroad option into their arsenal of tools in helping to build better future businesspeople.
When school counselors and parents are helping to set a student on a long term course that will lead to their optimal career outlook, I encourage them to consider the following positive attributes that result from a study abroad experience earlier in life.
- Living overseas, even when the student is living with a family, provides a framework to assist the student in expanding their horizons and seeing a more mature version of themselves. Making daily decisions without the input of family and friends assists in building an independent viewpoint and decision-making matrix that will aid students throughout their lives.
- Choosing to go to a country that is less developed can appear to be riskier in the eyes of parents who are thinking about the student having sufficient support in the event of an emergency. Counselors may also feel less able to assist the student in preparing for this experience. But you should not rule out the benefits of having a student experience first hand the unique struggles and deprivations of a developing economy. An unusual host country also sets the student apart from the other job candidates when an employer is looking for something different in an applicant's background. It also shows a degree of strength of character and ability to deal with adverse circumstances.
- Different study programs offer various degrees of support - both in preparing to go to the overseas position and in returning from the experience. Studies have shown that the readjustment period upon return is as important in integrating the lessons learned and moving forward in the U.S. social and educational context is as important as having the overseas experience in and of itself. Regardless of the support given, students have gone through two life-changing experiences (both going to, and returning from, the overseas study), and built the capacity to respond and adjust to critical changes in their life. This skill is especially valued in today's ever changing marketplace.
Building Unique and Marketable Skill Sets
- Mastering another language is not as critical as the exposure to using another language in a daily setting. Employers see that the student was able to function overseas, with or without the language proficiency and that presents them with the picture of an independent thinker with the flexibility to move within another culture. I have seen, time and again, that students that have had to use language in a native setting are far more productive in that language than those with years of school education and no practical application.
- The biggest difficulty in doing business internationally is finding talented employees that understand that things aren't done 'the American Way' across the globe. Employees that can show that they spent quality time, living and studying with a native population (instead of just backpacking through) will be able to demonstrate that they have the flexibility and comprehension of approaching business from multiple points of view.
Selling the Experience
- Contacts made while overseas, with the other students and with prominent locals can provide unique and supportive references for college and job applications. While good grades and a well rounded set of after school activities can build the stage for students getting though the initial vetting of colleges, having an overseas study will set them apart and will demonstrate an intellectual ability to learn a new language and culture, as well as a mature curiosity about the world around them.
- While I had a terrific experience in a developing country, studying in the European Union (EU) is especially advantageous for students who decide to pursue careers where knowledge of how things function in the EU can carry great weight in employment and promotion decisions.
There are a variety of excellent programs that have vast information available online. Each program has a slightly different philosophy on placing the student in a particular country, and each family needs to consider the duration of the stay and the overall impact on studies in the U.S. Below are some links to the better-known organizations that sponsor students.
Rotary International Programs
Youth for Understanding
School for International Training
U.S. Network for Education Information
School counselors who already support study abroad programs may be seeking ways to reach more students who may not have the financial means to travel abroad themselves. They are encouraged to seek the development of school clubs and finding local families to sponsor students from overseas that wish to live and study in the U.S. Having a foreign student in school can expose a larger number of students to the unusual and gratifying experience of the exotic and may be sufficient to motivate more to take the plunge and go overseas themselves.
Career Convergence welcomes articles with an international connection.
Rita Schreyer has a MBA from the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia and a BA in International Affairs from the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University. Rita worked in international trade policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and spent seven years with Mobil Oil Corporation. In addition to her regular responsibilities at Mobil, Rita was a master recruiter and worked with business schools and undergraduate institutions to fill various positions in the Mobil network. Rita now has her own company based in Southern Florida developing new businesses in the Central American region and dedicates a good deal of time interviewing U.S. and international students for positions in the new businesses she creates. She can be reached at