Imagine you are sitting across from the interviewer, and he asks you about your study abroad experience. Of course you light up because it was one of the most transformative experiences of your life. But what do you say? "It was great. I went to Australia and got to see the Opera House in Sydney
!"--or--"It was awesome being able to visit the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square while I was in Beijing
, China!"--or even--"No elevators for me! I climbed the Eiffel Tower in Paris
, France and made it to the top!"--? While these anecdotes might bring back a few fond memories and perhaps provide a laugh or two (because in retrospect climbing the Eiffel Tower in the rain to save a few Euro maybe wasn't your best idea), what did you really do while you were abroad?
How do you let employers know that you haven't just spent your entire semester train hopping from one tourist destination to another? How do you make sure your study abroad experience is unique? Here are some ways to make sure your post-study abroad resume stands out from the crowd and how to have a study abroad experience filled with doing things and not just seeing them!
1) Score an internship: Sure, everyone knows that internships are a great way to gain practical work experience for your future career, but everyone doesn't always make the connection that you can continue to do internships while you are studying abroad. If possible, select a program that has a structured internship program to ensure that you are working with trusted organizations. These structured internships can often be offered for credit and have an accompanying class where you will build a career portfolio based on your internship experience.
Alternative: Find someone who works in your field and ask them if you can shadow them a few times while you are in the country.
How to get started: View the recording of our international internship webinar
where we discussed all things related to internships abroad!
2) Volunteer: If an internship isn't an option during your study abroad program, don't let that stop you from getting involved in your host community. Seek out opportunities to volunteer and serve your community. You could volunteer in your field or try something new. For example, if you are interested in the fields of business, marketing, fashion merchandising, event planning, public relations, or communications, you could take advantage of events located in your area, such as fashion week (which happens in many cities across the globe) or major sporting events that are always in need of volunteers to make sure the day runs smoothly. Alternatively, you could opt to have a more regular volunteer opportunity by donating your time to the local library, nursery, or in an office on your host campus.
Alternative: There isn't one! Everyone should be able to volunteer at least once during their study abroad experience!
How to get started: Finding volunteer opportunities are usually easier once you're on the ground and can see what organizations and opportunities are close to you and have need.
3) Keep it up! In this instance "it" is whatever activity, sport, hobby, or interest you are typically involved with back at home. Use your semester abroad to add another dimension to your favorite activity! To an employer, this speaks volumes about your dedication and commitment and is a welcome sign in a future employee. Find the local soccer team, or at least the field where pickup games are regularly played. Join the debate club at your host institution. Get involved with student government, continue teaching yoga classes, whatever it is, keep it up!
Alternative: If you're not able to find your favorite activity, use your semester to try out something new. Whatever it is, get involved, and get involved regularly.
How to get started: Check out the student activities office at your host institution. They may have a website that lists the student clubs and activities that are active on campus. You could also try websites like meetup.com. Just like with volunteering, it may be easier to identify opportunities once you arrive.
While doing any of these activities certainly enhances your marketability, it can also just enhance your overall study abroad experience. When people ask you about your study abroad experience, it's not just about what you saw, but it's about what you've done--how you've let study abroad impact you while also impacting your community. The connections you will make and the experiences you will have by really getting involved with your host community can take your study abroad experience to the next level--a padded resume is just the icing on the cake.