Are we beyond “it was great”?

I’m pleased to share this guest post by Jessica Miller, on a topic which has often been discussed here. The difference is that Jessica is , as she says, a young grad and new to the international education field.  Her comments are instructive for students starting on campus this Fall or who are preparing for their first study abroad program- or who are graduating in 2017. And the answer to her question is:  not yet.

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As a recent graduate, a recent study abroad returnee and an even more recent hiring manager for entry level candidates seeking a career in international education, I have a unique perspective, or more so a frustration, with the comment that studying abroad “was great!” Luckily, I can say that I have not heard this comment in from a single candidate. Does that mean we are beyond “it was great,” that we have successfully assisted students in integrating their study abroad experiences into their resume, cover letter and job interview?

Maybe my abroad experiences provoke a deeper conversation in the interview process. Maybe study abroad offices or even career service offices, are intentionally guiding students to make the direct connection between the transferrable soft skills learned abroad to future job prospects. Maybe students are becoming more intentional in their decisions to go abroad. This is great!

Not really. Students have made the connection that studying abroad often develops the skills necessary to become a successful employee. This is evident when candidates in my most recent hiring cycle said: “I studied abroad and that is why I am the best person for this job.” Although this represents a success in that a connection has been made between abroad experiences and future employment, there is of course a second half of this thought that must be completed to obtain employment.

Attention all study abroad returnees: going abroad does not make you stand out from candidates who have not studied abroad.

The specific experiences where you had to adapt to a new set of cultural norms, where you had to communicate in a different language to achieve a goal, where you had to make efficient and accurate decisions when plans changed at the last minute. These experiences and these newly acquired skills are what will set you apart.

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