Although in-class learning is necessary for a college degree, more and more students are modifying the definition of “classroom” to include hands-on career experience while traveling the world.
As the job market gets more competitive for college graduates, international experience of any kind can put you a step ahead of the rest on your career path.
Colleges throughout the country even acknowledge the importance of intercultural knowledge—and help students partake in it.
The three most popular types of international experiences for students
are studying, interning, and volunteering abroad. To find the one best for you, take a look at these three college students’ experiences.
Studying abroad gives you the opportunity to spend a set amount of time overseas (usually ranging from one month to one year) taking classes and experiencing a new culture.
Natalie Zirpolo, a senior at the University of Dayton (udayton.edu), spent one month in Rome studying communications. Besides learning the Italian lifestyle and uncovering cultural differences, she felt the best outcome was making new friends.
“The best part of studying abroad is the people you meet,” Zirpolo says. “I got to meet and live with a new set of people that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. …I also became friends with the professors as we experienced the cultural shock of a foreign country together.”
Despite the glamorous idea of walking down historic streets to class every morning, studying in a foreign country can present difficulties.
The hardest part of Zirpolo’s trip was the language barrier.
“It was challenging to be in a huge city like Rome, asking for directions and being answered in Italian,” she says. “It definitely took patience, but it was worth it because I learned how to get around and how to communicate with gestures and nonverbals.”
An internship overseas lets you gain insight on the international aspect of your career path. The experience usually lasts two to six months.
When you work with people from other cultures, you learn not only more about your job field, but also how differently companies are run overseas.
CarlyMygrants, a junior at the University of Alabama (ua.edu), spent her summer interning for a public relations firm in London.
“The whole internship was a hands-on experience,” she says. “I didn’t go fetch coffee or do filing; I was actually responsible for calling journalists and promoting our clients, such as Target or Speedo. I also got to present media coverage to our clients in a formal business setting.”
Working abroad will most likely require some foreign language background in order to complete assigned tasks. For American students, this may make England seem like the perfect fit. But there still can be problems.
“The biggest difficulty I faced was understanding their accents,” Mygrants says. “Even though we both spoke English, it was hard to understand some words, and this made my telephone calls complicated. I always had to ask the clients or the journalists to repeat themselves or explain what they said because I couldn’t interpret their different dialects.”
VOLUNTEER ABROAD• Benefits
If you want to take a step back from a school setting, but still get the overseas experience, volunteering may be your best bet.
The most common areas of work include health care, education, and growing businesses.
Adam Kimura, a junior at the University of Iowa, spent six weeks volunteering at a nursery school in Tanzania, Africa.
“I taught mathematics and English in a nursery school to 4- and 6-year-olds, but more than teaching, I gave them love and support,” he says. “The children’s faces lit up each morning when I arrived, and I saw almost every child make progress in learning simple mathematics. For me, picking a nursery school gave me the best opportunity to have an impact on Africa’s future.”
Volunteering abroad also presents language barriers. But in developing countries, communication difficulties are often overshadowed by the daily hardships faced by people there. In Kimura’s experience, seeing people fight to survive day after day made any communication glitches seem inconsequential.
“For me, it was painful to witness how poor the city of Moshi, Tanzania, was,” he says. “There were starving and begging children everywhere; they had no clothes, often no parents; and they were all skin and bones. It was sad to see the children I taught want to come home with me because I helped them feel love and forget their problems.”
International experience of any kind can greatly increase your chances of future success. Whether you land that dream job or help others, stepping foot on foreign soil will put you on the path to a promising tomorrow.