When employers interview potential candidates for a position, they search for students who not only have a high GPA, but who also bring something unique to the table. As a former exchange student to both Latin America and Southeast Asia, I have had the opportunity to experience first-hand the effects of immersing oneself in a secondary culture and language.
The connection to something with which I am not naturally affiliated brings a comprehension of global unitedness while also providing a better understanding of my unique cultural heritage and perspective. This global understanding, along with the resulting competency in a second language and higher grade point average, piques the interest of potential employers and increases their likelihood of hiring a member of the global study abroad community.
Living in a foreign country while constantly surrounded by non-English speakers is one of the most effective ways to gain fluency in a second language. Schools around the country seek to teach students competency in another language, but reading from a book and watching tutorials is no substitute for being immersed in the language all day, every day. I learned more Spanish during my first month living in Ecuador than I had retained throughout the past three years of Spanish classes at my local public school. Not only was I immersed in the speaking, reading, and writing of Ecuadorian Spanish, but I was also able to learn from locals who use colloquial words and phrases and understand the appropriate styles of communication. Language immersion of any kind is beneficial, but study abroad is unique because it allows for an understanding of cultural implications, historical background, and correct usage of the language, instead of focusing on mere memorization.
Improved GPA and graduation rates are another example of how study abroad students reach higher and further than students who don’t participate in foreign exchange programs. At a bare minimum, students in both high school and college are expected to work towards a decent grade point average and graduate in a timely manner. Research has shown that studying abroad produces a stronger work ethic and improves grades. It has also been proven to develop life-skills such as efficient communication, improved teamwork, and visible leadership qualities. Not only do these skills improve one’s likelihood of graduating, but they also allow for students to grow and mature into useful employees and active members of the community. While there are many leadership camps and opportunities to get involved in well-known organizations, study abroad implements real-life experience while preparing students to be exceptional additions to the workforce.
When entering high school or even college, students are required to enroll in some form of global awareness or social studies class. Although these classes are beneficial in providing a basis of knowledge on political and social issues around the world and throughout history, they do not relate those issues to one’s life. Unless someone is majoring in history, intercultural studies, or some type of political science, they will never have any other class that forces them to take an interest in global conflicts and happenings. Living in another country and interacting with men and women of all ages forced me to attune myself to the political and social differences between my home culture and that of my host country, while also forming my own independent views on such ideologies. Employers are constantly seeking employees who are aware and competent to discuss and diffuse global issues that may arise with clients, patients, or investors.
Even with such compelling and visible evidence supporting the benefits of study abroad, many students focus on the thousands of dollars they will spend, as well as the loss of work experience, and a curiosity of adventure becomes a cost-benefit analysis. When in high school or college, saving money is high on just about every student’s priority list. Many times, they view the opportunity to have a job as both a way to make money and also to prepare for life after school. While it is true that exchange students cannot have jobs during their time overseas and will temporarily miss out on work experience, they will gain life experience that will grow them as desirable future employees. This experience as an independent young adult is incomprehensibly more beneficial than working at Walmart or Chick-fil-a. Additionally, the career opportunities after college are likely to heavily outweigh the short-term loss of minimum wage income.
Overall, studying abroad is the opportunity of a lifetime to become a well-rounded employee who is independent, well-learned, bilingual, and culturally aware. While the objection of losing work experience is valid, students gain the life experience necessary to impress future employers with their leadership qualities, fluency in a second language, and understanding of global issues. Students seeking a way to stand out among their peers and bring something unique to the table as they prepare to transition from school into the workforce should seriously consider spending at least a semester abroad.