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How studying abroad makes students more employable

By Robyn Peers and Megan Dawson

For the workers of tomorrow, job security may be simply a thing of the past. This is the sentiment emerging from numerous reports and articles, including a piece in Forbes by Liz Ryan, who suggests that in the new millennium, employees must “be ready to make career shifts and changes as easily as breathing” (2017). A major factor in the shift between the stable workplaces of the past and the uncertainty of today is the increasing rate at which globalization disrupts industries, breaking down the traditional borders that served to keep positions static. While such change may prove daunting for many, those who have had educational experiences abroad may, instead, see unique opportunities.

Just one of the many ways in which students with international experience can differentiate themselves from other students is through learning about and experiencing intercultural communication through face-to-face interactions, rather than solely through the commentary of a textbook. Whether in classrooms, workplaces, or everyday exchanges, the chance for interaction among individuals from vastly different cultural and ethnic backgrounds allows students to build stronger relationships and avoid miscommunication when interacting with clients or colleagues of diverse origins. Experts studying the future of work have highlighted the need for graduates with the ability to handle tasks like networking, managing public relations, and demonstrating intercultural sensitivity, all of which are aided by extensive experience with cross-cultural communication (Rainie & Anderson, 2017, para. 13).

Another skill that has frequently been cited as an outcome of living abroad, flexibility, has likewise appeared in reports on job security. In 2016, for instance, a study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 87% of workers believe that in order to keep up with increasing changes in the workplace they must be able to develop new skills throughout their work lives (Rainie & Anderson, 2017, para. 4). The ability to respond to change proactively is often necessary for those who move to other countries and who are faced with new challenges to which they must adapt. Learning how to navigate a new city or open a foreign bank account are just two examples of obstacles through which students who go abroad learn to develop their adaptability.

Being flexible is not always sufficient, however, as students often need to set themselves apart from others with similar backgrounds. One major trait that employers are drawn to is creativity, as this has been linked to both entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship. In this area, students who study or work abroad also have a head start, as travel has been associated with “cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought.” Studies have shown that there are concrete links between time spent abroad and individual creativity. By travelling and engaging with alternate perspectives and worldviews, students can broaden their horizons and challenge the ways in which they approach problems and situations.

In the 2013 Erasmus Impact Study, which surveys European Union students in mobility programs, it was found that five years post-graduation, the rate of unemployment for students who had studied abroad was 23% lower than for those who had remained in their home country (European Commission, 2014, page 14). In addition to this, 77% reported that their positions contained leadership components 10 years after graduation (European Commission, 2014, page 18). As the body of evidence supporting the value of internationalizing education to the individual continues to grow, more governments are taking action in order to prepare their citizens for the future of the global workforce. In Singapore, for example, the Leadership Development Initiative has allocated funding towards sending 800 students abroad in the next 3 years. The benefits of such experiences are yet to be seen, but a 2015 study that surveyed employers in the agriculture and natural resources industries found that employers, if choosing between two comparable candidates, would give more attention to a candidate with study abroad experience than one without (Harder et al, 2015, p. 46).

International experiences are, of course, not the only factor that can make a student employable, and they are by no means the only way to gain these skills and thus promote job security or flexibility. Indeed, many university campuses across the country already have diverse populations, and there are multiple opportunities to engage with international students or other members of the wider community.  Moreover, international experiences can yield benefits to the individual that do not immediately translate onto a resume.  Students often return better equipped to be global citizens – ready to engage constructively while working to include others and to find solutions together.  These impacts are also important in the bigger picture.

Nevertheless, an experience abroad – an exchange term, a study abroad course, a research project, a co-operative education work-term, or any of a variety of other activities – can readily serve to advance one’s future employability.  For those students with the opportunity to immerse themselves in other cultures, learning how to articulate international experience and intercultural skills effectively in both resumes and interviews can help them succeed in a globalized and ever-changing work environment.

 
 
 

Robyn Peers is a fourth-year Honours Co-op Arts and Business student majoring in English Literature and Rhetoric at the University of Waterloo and Megan Dawson is a fourth-year Honours Co-op Arts student majoring in Sociology at the University of Waterloo. This article was written as a contribution to the Canadian Bureau for International Education’s #LearningAbroad campaign.

Sources:

Alton, L. (2017, May 19). 5 Scientifically Proven Health Benefits of Travelling Abroad. NBCNews. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/better/wellness/5-scientifically-proven-health-benefits-traveling-abroad-n759631

Canadian Bureau for International Education. (2016). Canada’s Performance and Potential in International Education 2016. Retrieved from http://cbie.ca/media/facts-and-figures/

European Commission. (2014). The Erasmus Impact Study. Effects of mobility on the skills and employability of students and the internationalisation of higher education institutions. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. doi: 10.2766/75468

Harder, A., Andenoro, A., Roberts, T.G., Stedman, N., Newberry III, M., Parker, S.J., & Rodriguez, M.T. (2015). Does Study Abroad Increase Employability? NACTA Journal, 59(1), p. 41-48.

Rainie, L., & Anderson, J. (2017, May 3). The Future of Jobs and Jobs Training. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/05/03/the-future-of-jobs-and-jobs-training/

Ryan, Liz. (2017, January 29). Is Job Security Disappearing? Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/lizryan/2017/01/29/is-job-security-is-disappearing/#15d0e3dd45d9