Cultural Experience | Florence

5 Job Skills You Learned Studying Abroad

Five skills studying abroad teaches and how to apply them in a job interview.

Everyone dreads interview questions like “Tell me something interesting about yourself” or “What skills set you apart from other candidates?” They’re vague, hard to think of on the spot, and force you to examine yourself in a way most people aren’t used to doing. Fortunately, though, studying abroad teaches and develops a whole set of skills that employers love, without even trying. It is very unlikely you made it through weeks, months, or even years abroad without developing some of these traits, and mentioning your experiences abroad as examples of why you’re an ideal candidate is a great way to nail an interview (and an excuse to talk with someone who hasn’t already heard you go on about them for months!) Here are five skills from your time abroad worth mentioning to wow future employers.

1. How to get along well with others.

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Being thrown into a foreign country with a handful of other people in your situation forces you to make friends fast. Unless you want to be alone the whole time, there’s a good chance you learned to be more outgoing and less picky when it comes to who you hang out with. Traveling together is also not an easy task but, while it can bring out the worst sides of some people, it usually creates and strengthens bonds with people you might never have chosen to be friends with at home. When you’re stuck in an airport for hours or lost in an unknown city, you’ll figure out your role in a group. Are you the mom who goes right up to a stranger to ask for directions? Or the silent thinker who slips away to buy a map while everyone else is panicking? Whatever the case may be, there’s a good chance you’ll learn a lot about yourself in relation to others while traveling abroad.  When going into a new workplace, think of it as chance to use these same people skills you used abroad to make great working relationships with your coworkers. In an interview, this is a great thing to reference if an employer asks how you work with others or what your role is in groups.

2. Independence. 

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Just as easily as it teaches you to work with others, traveling teaches you to rely on yourself. There is nothing that screams independence more than jetting off to a new country for a few months to befriend strangers and bury yourself in a culture completely different from your own.  Even once you’ve made friends, they can’t always be the ones to buy the tickets, decide what time to leave, find directions, learn the language, etc. It takes a lot of courage and faith in yourself to be abroad and that is not something your friends can do for you. I’ve heard a number of parents say they sent away an entirely different , and considerably more dependent, child than the person who came back. For an interview, pick examples like times you had to venture into the city on your own, communicate with a stranger in a foreign language, or navigate an airport by yourself. Even seemingly insignificant examples can be impressive. Employers will love someone who can be trusted to work on their own, as well as in groups. Conveniently, studying abroad has you covered in both areas.

3. Understanding other people and cultures.

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This is, in a way, similar to working well with others. However, it is one thing to work well with people just like you. Working with and understanding people who come from very different backgrounds is a whole other skill. What better way to learn understanding and acceptance for other cultures than to live immersed in one? Our world becomes more and more diverse by the second. Think of how it felt to be the outsider and how that changed your interactions with people different from you when you were no longer in the minority. Are you more open minded? More eager to help people? The ability to see, accept, and work with this in mind will be incredibly valuable to a potential employer.

4. Problem solving.

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Oh, the problems that need solving while abroad. How to get from point A to point B? Bank account lower than expected? Lost passport? Lost friend? The list goes on. Chances are, though, that you figured them out one way or another. Problem solving is a hugely important skill to have and employers love to ask about it. Be prepared to talk about problems with varying degrees of severity (from language barrier and public transportation to a missed flight, for example) and how you fixed them. Also be sure to find a way to relate these back to the job you’re applying for. It’s great that you figured out a way to get home in time for a midterm after you missed a flight, but what your employer also really needs to hear is that you worked well under pressure and still got the job done. For extra points, pick examples that also show your leadership and people skills!

5. Risk taking.

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Please do not tell your potential employer about the time you and your friends got in a sketchy cab to go to a seedy bar to see your favorite band perform. Do tell them about the time you chose to risk the security of friends, family, and home to have an amazing experience abroad. Did you try new foods? Learn new customs? Visit a country friends at home told you was dangerous (but turned out not to be)? Knowing which risks are worth taking is an incredible skill to have and can be applied to a variety of situations. Showing an employer that you are willing and able to step out of your comfort zone in order to learn new things or gain experience is a great way to show them you also have what it takes to make the most out of the job you’re applying for.

Studying abroad is an amazing experience, but the benefits don’t end when you leave. You now have a whole basket of experiences that make you stand out and skills that you simply can’t get from staying home. Don’t let them go to waste. Get out there and crush some job interviews (so you can fund your inevitable need to travel again soon!)

5 Job Skills You Learned Studying Abroad

Margot Pollard

Northeastern University | 6 stories

Hey all! My name's Margot, I'm from a small town in western MA and I'm currently living in Boston. I am studying music industry at Northeastern University and was lucky enough to spend my first semester abroad in Greece. This was such an exciting start to my college life. I've been traveling since I was a kid and my love for it has only gotten stronger with time. Some of my other favorite adventures have been in London, Paris, Belgium, Moscow/St. Petersburg, Rome, Paphos, and Hamburg. My ultimate travel goal is to do an extended US cross country road trip, but for now I'm just saving pennies and dreaming up my next adventure!


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