How Does Study Abroad Fit Into College?

Nothing that is worth knowing can be taught. ~Oscar Wilde

This is a difficult question to answer because it depends on many factors: type of college degree, field of study, career path, chosen program, recognition of your chosen program, etc. The bigger, scarier question you can ask yourself is how your degree is going to help you meet your job aspirations if you do not enhance it with something else, like study abroad.

International Students-  Fit Study Abroad Into College DegreeWith the steady increase in the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded every year, the competition is great among college graduates for jobs. Data suggests that most college graduates are employed, but not all in positions that require a college education. According to the 2006 Current Population Survey and American Community Survey (both US Census Bureau), about 22% of men and 25% of women who held bachelor’s degrees and worked full time, year-round, earned less than or equal to the median earnings for high school graduates. These earnings were $31,715 for men and $20,650 for women.

So, ask yourself what’s going to set you apart, when it comes time to apply for the ideal job? The finest jobs are nabbed by those who can distinguish themselves from their competition, and convince employers that they are best choice. Sometimes it is clear in our minds that we are best choice, but we have a hard time convincing others. Face the facts; there are lots of people who can do a great job. Who gets the second glance? Who gets in the front door? Who gets the interview? These are questions you should be asking yourself right now. Last but not least, who interviews well and gets the job?

Interpersonal, leadership, and intercultural skills are vital to many careers. Flexibility, innovation, and autonomy are also important. The good news is that these skills and character traits are often linked with study abroad, and can be linked to you, if you make wise decisions before, during, and after your study abroad experience. If you choose a program because it looks easy and fun, or because you ar
e looking for a summer vacation, then employers will detect this at some level of the screening process. If you are selected for an interview, then chances are you will be asked about your experience and to articulate what it did for you and your education.

It doesn’t matter what your major is or what kind of job you wish to obtain, study abroad can be beneficial to all students and to you. You may think that what you’ve learned (how to study, how to manage time, how to treat people, how to solve a problem, etc.) is universal; when in fact, it is cultural. Such presumptions can limit your understanding and capability in an ever more interdependent world. Even that which does transcend culture may be strategized or expressed differently. Take mathematics for example. By discovering how another culture solves mathematical equations, students unavoidably develop awareness, knowledge, and skills, which transfer to many multicultural classrooms. Knowing how students think and process information in another culture can greatly benefit schoolteachers that work with a diverse group of children.

Similar to mathematics, you will discover that the world has a variety of strategies for obtaining the same or similar results. In business, different management styles are valued, but the process is still management. In art, different expressions are taught, but the product is still beauty. In education, different teaching styles are utilized, but the objective is still learning. Being exposed to different cultural expressions will enhance your education; however, you may not understand how it fits into your degree until after you graduate, find a job, and get your feet wet in the workforce. There is just something about hands-on experience that helps us to understand our education and how to make better decisions as a result.

This is a partial excerpt from the latest updated edition of Study Abroad 101 by Wendy Williamson.

Lornaida McCune
Author: Lornaida McCune

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