This is week one of a three-week series about studying 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
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 studying 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 not studying abroad if they didn’t do so.
If you need more convincing on why to study abroad, my friend Ruth put together this excellent list of study abroad benefits.
When I was 14, my parents took my sisters and me to Paris for the first time. I don’t think they knew what they were getting themselves into. After just days in the City of Lights, I matter-of-factly told them that I would be moving there. They suggested studying abroad in college, or perhaps a gap year after high school. What they did not expect was for me to independently complete an application for a high school exchange program within weeks of our return home. Luckily, they were nothing but supportive. I was so fortunate to have spent 12 months of high school in France.
And thus my utter passion for spending time abroad and making the most of it was born. My year in France was perhaps the most difficult of my life, but it was so rewarding. It helped me grow as a person then, and nearly 10 years later, it still helps and influences my life all the time. Studying abroad at such a young definitely gave me the opportunity to learn how to use that experience to boost my career, both during and after. I’m going to share with you how I’ve learned to make the most out of doing this, as well as some things I definitely didn’t do right that you can avoid.
Here is how you can best prepare before you go abroad to help it boost your career:
Learn the language
This might seem obvious, but really, learn it.When I went to France, I hadn’t really studied French before I left, believe it or not. I thought that through the full immersion of my program (French high school, French host family, French town), I’d pick it up naturally. Well, I did, but it took a while and I studied all. the. time. During class, I’d sit in the back with my book up and conjugate verbs all day. I am now fluent in French, yes. But, I would’ve been able to focus on experiencing the culture earlier on had I studied more beforehand.
Often in college, you can study abroad in non-English speaking countries, but with programs taught in English. This can be a good thing! If you have a major that requires you to take specific classes while abroad, you might not have the luxury of studying abroad in a foreign language (even if you’ve got a grasp of that language). In fact, this was just the case for me. I studied abroad in Latin America in college, but it was a biology program. So, the classes were still in English to make sure we could fully absorb the technical science terminology.
These programs are great opportunities, but you still need to learn the local language. I can’t emphasize it enough. Knowing a second language at any level is beneficial to you as a career applicant. It can help you communicate with a larger range of people. The best (and some would argue, only) way to learn a language is through immersion, so take advantage of your new location! I’ve included some of my favorite, simple tools to study languages at the bottom of this post.
Make business cards
You can read more about networking abroad in my in-depth post here. But one main point before you go abroad: have business cards made. These are much more useful and influential ways to meet people than simply giving them your Facebook login. In doing that, you’ll fall into the shuffle with the several other travelers that they’ve met abroad. Get businesses card. Position yourself as authoritative and memorable, and you will be both. This is how you can make connections with locals and other travelers, expanding your professional network. You can find templates for the perfect “student abroad” business cards at the bottom of this post.
Meet others that have done your program
If you’re studying abroad in college, connecting with other students that have previously done your program is very useful. These people will help you before, during, and after your time abroad. Plus, they’re usually so enthusiastic about their amazing experience that they can’t wait to share it with you and give you pro tips!
I never joined a sorority in college. But, I feel like the organization I studied abroad in college with has the same network that greek life might give you. The program was not affiliated with my undergraduate institution, it was independent, so students from schools all over the country participated. No matter where I go, I can find alumni of this study abroad program, and they are always there to help! For instance, I’m currently volunteering in Southeast Asia and my study abroad school has a location here. Without ever meeting any of them before, I was able to easily connect with employees of the program and instantly have friends and some local help. Get to know those who have done your program! They are great resources.
Start a travel blog
If you read that and gave it a big sigh, don’t click away yet! I know, I know. The internet is full of “how and why to start blogging” and the subject is so 2008. I get it. Starting a blog before you study abroad doesn’t have to be a huge commitment or even a huge deal. I only suggest starting one because it’s a great location to direct those you meet to learn more about you. It’s a simple way to keep updates about what you’re doing, what you’re learning, and how you want to apply your experiences to your life at home. You’ll have an online portfolio. This way, when networking abroad, you can just direct people you meet there to follow along and learn more about you.
As a bonus, this is a great place to direct friends and family so you don’t have to send individualized, detailed e-mails to every single one (sorry distant relatives!). Not to mention, you’ll have a nice gallery for yourself to reflect on this amazing time. Next week, I’m writing an in-depth post about the perfect study abroad blog (before, after, and during your trip). Sign up below to be sure to get it first.
Update social media
Update your LinkedIn to show where you’re going to school abroad! First off, you don’t want to confuse potential employers by thinking you’re home. Second, you’re studying in a different country, at a different school, brag about that ish. You also never know who can find you in those places! Update your Facebook to reflect your location and new school, too. When you Instagram and Tweet, use hashtags that show you’re abroad! Use your social media to lead to your blog and the other way around. You are abroad and you’re here to show it.
Don’t travel too much
I’m fully aware this piece of advice won’t be the most popular. Many people want to study abroad so that they can travel on the weekends and see as much as they can. However, if you want to get serious about furthering your career while studying abroad, it’s not going to be a 5-month vacation. It will take you also getting serious about building relationships and learning a language. It’s common and oh so tempting to spend a semester in Europe because you can travel to a new city every weekend. I totally get it. But hear me out:
The truth is, there will be other opportunities in life for you to take a couple months and backpack through Europe (try most summers in between college). And I’m also not saying you can’t travel once in a while during your time studying abroad. But to truly live in another country and culture for several months, that is an opportunity you may never get again. You owe it to yourself to make the most out of getting to know your new home. You’ll have a tougher time getting to know a culture, building relationships with locals, and learning a language if you’re constantly on the go.
Set studying abroad goals
The best way to stick to these practices while studying abroad is to set disciplined goals for yourself before you leave. While studying abroad is the amazing and fun travel experience it’s cracked up to be, but it should be done with intention. You have an incredible opportunity to go and learn abroad, and doing so without maximizing the opportunity is a waste! Don’t just kick back during this time, be proactive and be amazed at what finds you along the way!
Setting goals will keep you motivated to make the most out of your time abroad. It also will give you purpose while there, which is more important than it sounds. When moving to a new location with new people, it can be difficult to find your “place”, which is why purpose is so important. Setting goals will give you that sense of purpose and remind you why you’re there! To most effectively set goals, do your research on your country before departing and really think through how the attributes of that country relate to you personally.
For instance, are you interested in biology? Find the coasts of the region and see what you can learn about their ecosystems and their actions on climate change. Interest in literature? What famous authors have lived there and what classes, workshops, and seminars are being held in honor of them?
Are you about to study abroad or are you currently? Then this challenge is for you!
For seven days, you’ll get mini lessons and challenges on ways you can set yourself up for an incredible time abroad and open up doors of opportunities for your return. The best part? It’s free! Just sign up by clicking on the image below :).
You’ll also get access to my study abroad library with worksheets on deciding where to go, networking, and all your essential study abroad needs.
Don’t want to do the challenge but still interested in my travel resources? Don’t worry, they’re all yours! Get access below.