Cara Miller is a Communications and Environmental Science student at Vanderbilt University and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland in 2016. Cara was a Social Media Intern through the Work to Study program.
There are countless reasons to study abroad, of course, whether it be academic development, cultural immersion, or even travel exploration. Another important motive is the pre-professional skills you’ll develop during your time abroad. Many students, however, assume studying abroad will hinder their chances at a summer internship and/or job by being out of the country. Let’s tackle some myths on how study abroad can affect your professional opportunities during the summer and beyond.
Myth: You will miss out on the chance for a killer summer internship
Like most college kids with summer on the horizon, I spent months researching, applying to, and interviewing for summer internship positions. Going into my spring semester abroad I was a little nervous that I would be at a disadvantage with my internship applications, as I was very much out of town and on a 7-hour time difference. Luckily, with the help of Google Hangout, I was able to complete all my interviews as normal from Scotland.
I found that the most effective way to grab the attention of a company was to email them directly. Most, if not all, of the positions that I applied to through a general application never responded to me. I took the time to comb through the websites to find the proper contact person, to whom I would express my interest in their company. Up front, I told them I was studying abroad for the semester; all of my interviewers were intrigued and fascinated by my choice to study abroad in Scotland, and it actually made me a more unique candidate for the position. I believe that these contacts were impressed by my drive to get their attention even while thousands of miles away.
Knowing that potential employers would want to see a full workload, even while spending the semester abroad, I made sure to choose a city that would offer courses that fit in my major and minor. The University of Edinburgh offered an enormous variety of classes and I elected to enroll in Oceanography, Geomorphology, and Identity and Experience in Health. The first two counted toward my Environmental Science minor, the last counting as an elective in my major. Interviewers were excited to see that even though I was far from my home university, my coursework stayed focused on a subject I am passionate about.
Truth: You’ll land that position and be a stronger intern thanks to the diverse interactions you had abroad
This summer, I am a Marketing and Communications Intern at a non-profit sustainability company in Nashville, TN called Urban Green Lab. The organization utilizes a “Mobile Lab”—an interactive science classroom on wheels that brings eco-friendly knowledge to people of all ages, teaching them how to incorporate sustainable practices into their daily lives.
I feel much more confident now when approaching my boss or coworkers about my work.
There are two invaluable professional skills I gained while studying abroad that have lent to my success as an intern. The first is that I learned how to politely and effectively interact with people from all kinds of cultures at different levels of language proficiency. From interacting with local shop owners in Paris, to guards at the Schonnbruen Palace in Vienna, to the old English couple drinking beer at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, I was able to become more outgoing and more confident in my ability to interact with strangers with ease. This real-world skill is vital when looking toward a professional future. I feel much more confident now when approaching my boss or coworkers about my work, and I have learned that it is important to meet people where they are because they are all proud of where they come from.
Truth: It will fast-track your ability to prioritize and improve your work-life balance skills
The second important pre-professional skill I learned last semester was how to balance work and fun. Of course, at my home university, we all have to balance our schoolwork with our social lives, but that takes an extreme level of self-discipline during study abroad. There are so many places to go and things to see that sometimes schoolwork ends up on the back burner. There were a couple of times where a big assignment was due either right before or right after the time that my friends and I wanted to take a trip. I learned to plan ahead, make lists, update my planner, and keep myself organized so that my school work always got done on time.
This is an invaluable skill that I will utilize for the rest of my life. This summer I am working at not only my internship, but also another part time job while living with 4 of my friends from school. I have worked hard to stay focused on my job and delegate an appropriate amount of time for social activity, without letting it detract from my work.
Pre-professional development might not be a major motivator to study abroad for some, but you’d be surprised how many real-world skills you can gain by studying and traveling the world at the same time!