This is week two of a three-week series about your semester abroad and using that experience to boost your career. It will show you how to:
1- best to prepare to go abroad with your career in mind
2- how to make the most out of networking and studying abroad
3- how to use it over and over once you’ve returned.
This series will be beneficial for anyone going abroad, though, not just those going to study!
If you’re in college or about to begin, I cannot recommend that you spend a semester abroad enough. Not only is it a fun, memorable experience and a great way to see the world, it’s also a leg up on the competition when you apply for internships and jobs. Well, it can be, and these tips will show you exactly how. The most common regret I hear from people’s time in college is that they didn’t do a semester abroad (or year!). To make sure you make the most of it, grab my free checklists at the bottom of this post.
Spending a semester abroad is a highlight not only of a college career but of people’s entire lives! If you’re preparing to depart on your semester abroad, you’re in for such a treat. Read more about how to prepare for this semester to make it enhance your career here. If you’re already abroad, try to stick some of these tips into your weekly routine. My favorite way to make sure I study abroad with intention is to include it into my weekly calendar. I’m such a planner by nature, so if I don’t pencil something in, it honestly won’t get done. This post will explain how I do that and include the exact weekly to-do list I use myself. Watch your experience abroad blossom and your future professional, adult self with thank you.
Find events related to your field of study
Whatever country you’re going to, figure out what significance they have in your field of study. Then, pursue that like crazy. Examples may make this clearer:
Biologist= find an organic farm to work on for a weekend or two
Writer= go to talkbacks, events, or presentations by famous local authors
Political Scientist= go to events with local politicians/congressmen to learn more about a foreign political system
Medical= research the medical specialty of that country and learn about/from those who are best at it. Shadow them if you can!
These are just a few of the countless opportunities you can take advantage of while you study abroad. Seeking these out will help you network, will teach you more about the culture you’re visiting, will teach you more about your own career field, and will make for great conversation starters.
Before each week or month begins, when I’m doing my planning, I research local events that are relevant and interesting. This way, if I need to commute to them or budget for them, I can plan ahead.
Speaking of ways to meet people related to your field, network like crazy while you’re abroad. Network with locals, with other exchange students, with local Expats, and everyone in between. Through my network from my college semester abroad alone, I landed my first job out of college (which ended up being a huge recommender and help for graduate school applications). I also got in touch with a great connection here in Southeast Asia where I’m currently volunteering thanks to a connection from that semester. Near the end of my semester abroad, I participated in direct research with a professor who did work in a niche similar to my interests and now will always have a recommendation from him. Relationships abroad are definitely about making friends you share this unique, unforgettable experience with, but they’re about so much more, too.
When planning my weeks or months ahead, I make networking goals. This way, I can keep track of who I’ve met and who I want to meet next. Instead of planning ahead who I want to meet (cause… that’d be sort of weird), I make sure to go back and keep track of influential people I meet as I go. This keeps my accountable. When I realize I haven’t met anyone really new lately, it’s a nice reminder to get out there a bit more.
This post includes my favorite resources for networking and meeting others while abroad. Sign up below to get your free copies. Read my in depth post about networking abroad here.
So, I know I’m only a young 20 something. But, in all my super extensive important life experience, I’ve been amazed at how often I’ve been asked about leadership skills in job interviews. This may seem obvious, but with the lack of autonomy in entry-level jobs these days, it still sort of surprises me. The point is this: take this time to make a shiny, amazing leadership story. Figure out something that you want to organize, whether it’s a volunteer project within the community, a project with the professors, or even something creative (my study abroad group formed a band, it was the coolest). This is a great opportunity for you to add a valuable skill to resume and have a great story to accompany it. Not to mention, you can contribute to something that you care about!
LEARN THE LANGUAGE
If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’re probably sick of hearing this. Well, I’m not stopping anytime soon. I want to reiterate: even if you study abroad with a program with classes in English, this DOES NOT mean you should not make every effort to learn the local language. Knowing more than one language immediately makes you more awesome, it is scientifically proven. It shows on your resume not only that you can communicate with a larger range of clients, but that you have an analytical, logical way of thinking and are adaptable. Many people thinking that to learn a language can only be done by living in the country that speaks it, so speak it!
My friend Shannon at Euroliguiste wrote this super helpful post about apps that really help to learn languages, so I highly suggest checking that out. Like everything else I talk about, I find that getting them done is best done with goals and planning. Just moving to a country and speaking hasn’t been enough in my experience to learn the language in depth the way I want to. For this aspect of study abroad, I check in weekly to make sure I’m on track with my goals and review what I’ve learned that previous week. With language, repetition is key, so don’t be afraid of overdoing this one.
Make a reading list
This is one of the tips I’m very proud to say I got right the first time and am oh so glad I did. When you study abroad, you’ll likely have more free time than you do at your home university. The truth is that your coursework will be likely lighter when you study abroad than at home. As it should be! You’re learning so much more outside of the classroom than you’re used to. Take this time to read. It’ll be a nice change of pace since you’ve likely done little pleasure reading since starting college. I made a reading list of books that I needed for my senior thesis, and I was so happy I did. This back end work allowed me to focus on interning and what job I wanted after college during senior year. So, enjoy your reading time, and make it work for your benefit!
This piece of advice about traveling abroad was drilled into my brain by the Rotary when I departed on my high school exchange: Say. Yes. To. Everything. When people offer you to do something new, just do it. Don’t let language, shyness, nerves, or anything stand in your way. Putting yourself in new situations is how you learn about where you are and how you grow as a person. The truth is, we can plan on how to network and career plan while abroad all we want, but the opportunities we can’t foresee are countless. If you don’t take risks, you’ll miss them!
Grab your free checklists for maximizing studying abroad before, during, and after your semester. Make the most of this! You’ll find all sorts of useful travel resources in there, too. Sign up below!