This is a guest post by Johan Zambrano.
I’m an international relations student at Pennsylvania University, which is in the North-western city of Philadelphia. I want to go into diplomacy, an area of careers that demand a broad range of interpersonal and linguistic skills. Many American students know that these are gained through internships that are essential to do every summer, both for the purposes of networking with professional contacts and gaining vital experience.
It is for this reason that some students don’t like going abroad for too long during the summer, in order to travel and volunteer and gain life experiences. They don’t want to do this when they could be using their time to gain professional experience. Furthermore, there is a huge amount of research, paperwork and money (or fundraising) involved. Overseas volunteering and internship schemes can also be untrustworthy and corrupt, so you have to talk to other students that have already done them successfully.
There’s also the issue of spending a long period of time away from family and friends, which is particularly difficult during the summer months. And if British students want to spend a whole year studying abroad, that entails a fourth year of the degree and 33% more debt than most students are burdened with.
Students must think about the pros and cons of spending a summer or semester abroad, and I’m here to talk about the pros, and why overseas experiences do not necessarily clash with your professional development, but complement it instead.
As a student at an Ivy League university, the opportunity to internationalize my education has been unexcelled. My experiences abroad through Penn have enriched my time as an undergrad and given me an upper hand in the job and internship market. These are the three ways in which my work and studies abroad boosted my professional development and added value to my CV.
1: Learning languages
After my freshman (or ‘freshers’) year, I spent the summer in Russia. I lived with a host family in Saint Petersburg and studied the Russian language at the city’s State University. I did the same kind of program the following summer, but that time opting for the sunny city of Venice to study Italian.
Although three months of studying a language will not lead to fluency, a summer in a country paired with a couple of years of study will lead to a good grasp of the language, and this is something that should be added to your CV.
My “working knowledge of Russian” has led to some very interesting conversations with interviewers, and has been a qualifying factor in past internship and work offers. My language skills not only allowed me to communicate with more people and in more markets, but also showed that I’m a quick learner and hungry for knowledge.
2: Expanding Networks
I spent my junior fall abroad in the UK as an exchange student at University College London. UCL is one of the UK’s top institutions, and it certainly showed with the expertise of the faculty and staff. Those who were in charge of exchange students were especially knowledgeable, as they informed students how to make the most of their time at UCL. Additionally, exchange students were able to connect with UCL alumni like regular students and we were offered seminars on how to summarise our time at UCL on our CVs.
Additionally, exchange students were able to connect with UCL alumni like regular students. Both the alumni and current students, many of whom I’ve kept in touch with, will be able to offer invaluable advice if I ever try to apply to jobs in the UK or in the countries they’ve settled in.
They already helped me out a great deal when I was in London. One student introduced me to the Model United Nations Society, which I attended often because it was good experience for diplomacy. Befriending such a diverse group of students certainly enriched my networks and gave me great opportunities.
Going abroad, especially to another top tier institution, is an excellent way of expanding your network globally. Whether it’s through current students, recent grads or older alumni, enrolling at another institution gives you the ability to connect beyond your own country and, hopefully, find opportunities globally when the post-graduation job search begins.
3: Showing Adaptability
My latest travels have led me to Buenos Aires, Argentina. I’m currently working for an NGO that specialises in economic and social development across Latin America. Before coming here, I weighed the pros and cons of interning back in the states against interning abroad. Both would give me research and business experience to add to my resume, along with the ability to live in a new city for the summer.
However, an internship abroad offers the additional challenge (and advantage) of adapting to a new culture while adjusting to a new work environment. I’ll be honest and admit that interning in a new country was not the easiest of experiences but, professionally speaking, it has been one of the most rewarding.
Most transitions aren’t easy, and this one was particularly saturated with wrong directions, awkward misunderstandings and chaotic Google translating. However, adapting to both new living and working conditions simultaneously is proof for prospective employers of my abilities to adjust to new challenges and settings. Change is inevitable, particularly in today’s world of globalised businesses, and showing the willingness and ability to adapt to such change is essential. Interning or working abroad is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate versatility.
For those trying to decide whether to go abroad or “make the most of their time at So-and-so University,” think twice. You should definitely enjoy university while you’re there, but you should also think about travelling as much as possible while you can. Because when you’re in a full time job, with only three weeks of holiday a year, you probably won’t be able to.
These are the lessons gained from my experiences abroad, and are bound to vary from person to person. Still, it’s best not to think about time spent abroad as lost time, but as a journey that will add to anyone’s university experience. Pack your bags and head out, and your CV will thank you.