Studying abroad can be advantageous to student job seekers

By Senait Gebregiorgis

In today’s society, studying abroad is becoming more than just an option for college students — it’s turning more into a necessity.

The experience can make a difference in the job search and hiring process.

Say an employer is deciding between hiring one of two recent college graduates for a top company. Both applicants have very strong academic records, similar technical skills and their alma mater is the University of Illinois.

However, there’s an experience that only one of the applicants has: studying abroad.

So now, how does the employer narrow down their decision?

College students who study abroad more than likely have the advantage of picking up personal skills — some of which include communication skills, learning a second language and being able to adapt to different cultural norms and environments.

International careers expert and author Stacie Berdan called these type of abilities “soft skills.” Berdan has written several books covering traveling abroad, including “Get Ahead by Going Abroad” and “A Student Guide to Study Abroad.”

She discussed some of the soft skills employers are looking for nowadays.

“We live in a global world — communication, the rise of technology has created a much interconnected world,” Berdan said. “Employers are looking for things like adaptability and flexibility because today’s workplace is at a very fast pace.”

Berdan said some of the skills that can be adopted from challenging experiences abroad can really benefit a student in the long run.

“Nothing beats spending time outside your own country, outside your own borders and having it really open up your mind to the way the rest of the world works, so that you can actively learn those soft skills because you are forced to,” Berdan said. “You are to deal with a different culture, you’re forced to be outside your comfort zone.”

Dyuthi Khanna, junior in Business, studied abroad in Singapore last semester. She had the opportunity to earn class credit from the business school of Nanyang Technological University. She said Singapore had offices for every big company she’s heard of.

“I was being exposed to one of the biggest markets — which is Asia — and a lot of people don’t have that experience,” she said. “I feel so much more culturally literate now.”

Khanna, who is in a business fraternity, said the communication skills she picked up from studying abroad have been useful when networking with different recruiters.

“Since I’ve been back from Singapore, that’s what the conversation is always about, because people are interested in international experience,” she said. “It’s the kind of thing that makes them remember you.

“I’ve definitely found since I’ve been back, talking to recruiters and just networking with people has become so much easier for me because there’s just a lot more for me to talk about.”

Berdan said she has conducted a qualitative survey with international business people every 18 months or so for the last seven or eight years.

“I always ask them, ‘If there are two resumes exactly alike, but one that studied abroad and one that didn’t, which would you choose?’ They almost always say the one that has studied abroad because it shows previous disposition to mobility, it shows risk-taking, it shows those soft skills and those cross-cultural skills,” Berdan said.

Abby Radasevich, senior in LAS, studied abroad in Quito, Ecuador, last semester. She not only had the chance to take classes while abroad, but she also interned and worked with the food and agriculture department in Ecuador.

“I got to meet people from the UN, and see … how they view food sovereignty and food security in Ecuador. On my other days I went to a local farm and just saw how they were implementing the practices,” Radasevich said. “I got to see the conceptual side of food security and then actually how it was being implemented.”

When she was a sophomore, Radasevich applied to the Chicago Council and Global Affairs. She had good grades as well as some volunteer experience. However, she never received a call back from the internship.

As a junior, while Radasevich was abroad in Ecuador, she decided to give the application another try. That time, she not only received a call back, but was eventually offered the internship position.

“My supervisor and I discussed it during my interview a lot,” Radasevich said. “She had visited Central America and it was just a bond. It shows that you’re comfortable to get out of your bubble.”

Bo White, director of the Study Abroad Office, emphasized some of the advantages of having international experience in a global economy.

“What happens is that the markets in Asia impact what happens in our markets here, so you’re going to be prepared more effectively,” White said. “The best way to grow is to put yourself in situations that stretch you and that put you in circumstances that will require you to be challenged.

And sometimes, there’s no more challenging thing than to be in another culture … you get to actually understand yourself and your own culture better.”

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