by Cody Austin
I spent six months traveling and studying in the Middle East – Dubai, Egypt, Palestine, and Saudi Arabia. I rode several camels and explored the pyramids. I fell in love (again) with shwarma, snorkeled in the Red Sea, and spoke with the head of a Salafist political party. I improved my Arabic, gained historical insight vital to my field of study, and became a more independent and confident human being.
Here are three ways doing a similar study abroad trip will help land you a job and jump start your career after graduation:
It’s your 21st birthday and you need to leave Bethlehem, cross one of the most heavily guarded borders in the world, and then catch a red-eye to Cairo. You have a limited budget, basic Arabic, and no idea where to go. Navigating a foreign culture will improve your ability to be assertive, show initiative, and improvise. In short, resourcefulness.
Success in the workplace requires the ability to thrive in instability. Employers want people who can solve problems, and dealing with the complex situations encountered when studying abroad will give you experience needed to seize opportunities, overcome unforeseen circumstances.
Whether it’s speaking another language, pantomime, or desperate smiles and an indefatigable hope in humanity – you’ll learn to communicate across culture. Functional fluency is a huge advantage to landing any job, particularly for those studying international business. Anyone who has traveled will testify to the power of even a few words of your host country’s mother tongue. It conveys that you are open, humble, and willing to learn. Developing these traits is key to building relationships with diverse clients and stakeholders.
Beyond language, engaging in multicultural communication will help you learn to actually listen: giving your full attention and digesting the thoughts of others rather than crafting a response while they’re talking. If you can do this, you’ll have gained a skill valuable for every area of life.
Traveling can be as hard as it is glamorous. You will encounter poverty, war, gender inequality, and racism in about every place you could visit. Seeing the world as it truly is, up close and personal, will help you uncover masked prejudices, and empathize with the marginalized members of society. Separation from friends, family, and social networks with show you how valuable and important they are to a successful and meaningful life. By separating yourself from the familiar and comfortable, you will gain a clearer sense of your own values. It will also allow you to explore and investigate your identity apart from your traditional context. You’ll grow up.
Self-awareness, empathy, social skills, and a strong sense of motivation are the building blocks of emotional intelligence. Improving your emotional intelligence will bring beyond the technical “prerequisites” of a position and prepare for leadership roles.
I can’t tell you how many interviewers have asked about my experiences in the Middle East: sometimes with follow up, sometimes without. Going somewhere most people consider “exotic” is incredibly helpful when you want an interviewer to remember you. Choosing an eye-catching locale shouldn’t be the main determinant in your decision, but going somewhere off the beaten path will almost certainly provide more benefits than a semester in London. Think about the fields you’re interested in and what emerging markets they are entering: South America, Eastern Europe, any part of Asia. Consider a program that meets your professional goals and can be marketed well to potential employers. Done properly, a semester (or more) abroad is guaranteed to get you an extra look.
Cody Austin graduated from Drake University in 2013. He recently worked as the International Services Coordinator at the American Red Cross in Seattle, WA but will be starting a new path at Palantir in the Silicon Valey. His other writing can be found here.