7 Tricks for Making Your Study Abroad Experience Pop

"In front of Pudong Skyline" by leniners

“In front of Pudong Skyline” by leniners

In 2012-2013, the United States saw 289,396 students studying abroad. (1) While that is still on 1% of the student body population, the number is ever increasing. Add to that the students and people who are traveling via vacations, volunteer missions, immigration, military, and other international-related events and you have a surprising number of people with experience travelling abroad. In fact, in 2012, one billion people travelled abroad as tourists, and that doesn’t include those who go on a different type of VISA, such as teaching or business.(2)  

Studying abroad is a highly advantageous experience; offering a wide number of benefits from increased confidence and self-determination to broader understanding of how the world works.  Still, perhaps the #1 reason why most students go abroad is the concept of resume-stuffing.  When launching ourselves into a new career, it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd; especially when most students have little practical work experience to fall back on.  Study abroad is one of the ways we give ourselves an edge over other candidates.

But now the word is out – Studying internationally offers excellent opportunities, builds your qualifications, and is fun to boot. So more and more people are joining the group of college and high schoolers stepping on planes  every summer, winter, spring, and fall.  

When the goal is to make yourself stand out, it’s starting to be more difficult to achieve this with study abroad. Too many people are doing it along with you. So how do you make your Study Abroad experience POP! What will help you rise above the crowd, pushing you in front once again?

1. Try a long Summer or Semester

Many programs in the Winter or Summer are actually pretty short. The two to three-week jaunt is pretty popular for universities, more like a small tour than classroom experience. While the shorter programs have a lot to offer (easy to fit into schedules, allows time for other experiences, lower costs), there is something to be said for taking a month or semester long program.  Attending a foreign university, taking actual classes with substantial assignments, getting more time to make the most of your trip and all the trip has to offer.  It will add to the legitimacy of you program in the eyes of Interviewers.

2. Step Out of Your Box

I say this quite frequently, but don’t just follow the program guide. Try planning your own adventures; adding friends or locals is even better. Too many students want to follow the schedule and then hang out at the hotel or nearby club. While the clubbing may certainly be fun; neither of those things adds to your hire-ability.  Instead, use the time to visit a museum, check out the main sights, try to get new and unique experiences. Feast at a random, untested food stall on the street. Go to an unmapped area in the city and wander the streets to see what you find. Employers who  look at study abroaders are significantly looking for people who show initiative, adventurousness, and adaptability. The best way to demonstrate that is to offer examples of times when you struck off the main roads and did something new and daring.  

3. Choose Well-Known Schools

One of the surprising things about Study Abroad is that it is usually easier to study with a reputable university for a short term than a long one. A lot of universities that would overlook you as a full-time student will gladly accept you as a student in their global program.  There is also the opportunity to pick a program at one of the hundreds of internationally recognized universities with ranking similar if not equal to US Ivy Schools. The international world of education has a lot to offer. Studying abroad is an easy way to study at a somewhat better (or more well-known) school than you otherwise might have.  

4. Pick Up a Internship

For some reason, most students don’t take internships into consideration when studying abroad. However, adding on work experience is one of the best ways to boost your resume.  You can find a lot of programs that offer an internship as part of the program itself (e.g. I studied with Fordham who organized a month-long internship with Samsung’s Legal Team in Seoul at the end of their summer program).  But you can also go out and find your own internship. Contact local companies; get ahold of your university’s career office and see if they have any contacts. 

5. Build Connections (and communication skills)

One of the worst mistakes Student Abroaders make is to hang out with fellow internationals and ignore opportunities to meet the locals.  It’s easier and more reassuring to sit and chat the night away with fellow English-Speaking members of your group than to stick yourself out there. But one of the skills to market to Employers on your return is that very skill – The ability to communicate with people regardless of background, culture, or language. Plus, you’d be amazed at the fascinating people you might meet! By opening up to the locals, you’ll meet expats who have had superstar careers or travelled to 150+ countries, local businessmen who own cool companies and invent awesome things,  maybe even some connections to help your career. Speaking of which, deliberately seek to meet and introduce yourself to people in your career field – ask for appointments, request interviews, and keep in touch with all the people you meet via LinkedIn or Email.

6. Take time on your Own

Having tested out several different types of study abroad programs, I found that the best and most beneficial experience were the trips I struck it off for a few days on my own. Maybe it’s just for a weekend trip from Madrid to Paris or jetsetting off for the holiday down to Shanghai. Or even just scooping out the little village an hour out. Planning and successfully completing a trip on your own in a foreign country is an amazing opportunity, and it grows you somehow. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it shows you and your hirers that you have it to go. Dump you in a complex, difficult situation, and you can thrive. That’s not something a lot of students abroad do, but it sure helps you move out from the crowd.

7. Don’t slack on the Grades

Don’t use the study abroad trip as a chance to slack off and grab easy grades. Did you know that a lot of schools offer “Highest Grade in. . . . ” even for study abroad classes?  It looks great on your resume if you can grab something like that. Plus, this is a good chance to boost your grades since Study Abroad classes tend to be more laid back and relaxed.  Use this as a chance to show people that you can adapt and succeed in any situation, even classes in a totally different country, maybe in a second language.