Here at Warwick we have many international students. Considerable numbers of home students also chose to spend a year abroad either as part of their degrees or through the Erasmus or similar schemes. The received wisdom is that studying abroad is “a good thing” in employability terms but is that always the case?
I asked Puneet Tahim at City solicitors Latham & Watkins what she thought about it:
“Students often under-sell the qualities required to move abroad for a term/year and do not truly identify the skills they have developed as a result. Studying abroad requires good organisation, planning and prioritisation abilities. Students are often required to submit applications for their years abroad and then have to find their own accommodation, arrange their travel and liaise with their new institution, usually whilst managing their existing academic workload and extra-curricular life.
Building a life for oneself in a new city/country requires a degree of confidence, good communication skills, open-mindedness and resilience. A study abroad programme also provides fantastic networking opportunities for students and a chance to make contacts who will help them as they progress through their careers.
In a globalised world firms/employers are increasingly looking for graduates who can speak another language, as well as candidates who have developed a cultural awareness outside of their home country. If candidates can demonstrate this through the interview process it may help to strengthen their overall application.”
That sounds like a ringing endorsement but it isn’t the first time I’ve heard employers lament that students undersell the skills the experience gives them. Puneet’s given you a pretty good list here, not only of the skills you acquire, but of the context in which you acquired them. Her answer reads like really good preparation to answer a competency based question. You can tell that she’s a graduate recruiter!
I also talked to Paige Campbell, (who has just finished a year abroad in Paris as part of her law degree here at Warwick) about what she thought she had gained from the experience and whether she agreed with Puneet. Paige is one of the team of student bloggers and this is what she has to say:
“Completing a year abroad was a compulsory part of my course but I have found that it has been so much more than that. It is about truly immersing yourself in a cultural experience and as such you pick up some great skills to help you stand out from the crowd. Puneet, is right, of course you have to organise accommodation, jobs and finances in a different country (and often a different language), but you also have to adapt to a completely different way of life. At times this can be very stressful and dealing with this demonstrates great strength of character and flexibility.. Even the little things like finding your favourite snack in the Supermarket can be a struggle. It’s surprising how much that can matter!
Often the personal benefits of a year abroad correlate with skills that recruiters are looking for. One of my favourite parts of being on a year abroad, was being able to make some really good friends from a completely different culture and language to my own. I have used this as an example on most of my applications this year, to demonstrate my ability to network and build relationships with people from many different backgrounds.
So is study abroad really the amazing cultural experience it appears to be on everyone’s Instagram accounts? Quite honestly it is not! No one can spend an entire year abroad without some miserable stressful experiences, setting up a bank account and reporting a theft to the police spring to mind. As ever social media only shows the positive side of the story. People, at least the ones I know, rarely take pictures of the bad things like a leaky sink!
However, should anyone ask me to make a pros and cons list of doing a year abroad then the benefits far outweigh the few minor disadvantages that we all experience wherever we go. The biggest downside to a year abroad for me, has been knowing that next year when I return to uni most of my year group will have graduated and moved on. BUT, it is clear that all of us would have gone in different directions at the end of third year, whether we graduated together or not and I know that my closest friends will still be my friends for life. Should I be in a position to choose to go on a year abroad with the knowledge I have now of how truly unique an experience it is, I would not hesitate to do it again.”
So, Puneet and Paige agree about the benefits of the year abroad. You will gain much from the experience. Remember that if you are at Warwick the careers consultants can still help you while you are abroad, do don’t forget us or overlook any key application deadlines for your chosen career path.