Students considering a study abroad program should take note of the long-term benefits that can result from such an experience. While a semester in a foreign country often takes on the appearance of an extended vacation, several studies confirm that studying abroad can enhance personal development and professional pursuits. Immersion in contrasting cultures builds independence, emotional resilience, intercultural competence, and adaptability.
When a student is thousands of miles from home, they cannot simply call on parents for help when something goes awry. Responding to difficulties without parental guidance allows one to establish their own strategies for dealing with certain issues. In an article she wrote entitled “The Impact of Study Abroad on College Students’ Intercultural Competence and Personal Development,” in which she references several studies conducted on students who studied abroad, Dr. Gita Maharaja shares a student’s remarks following a trip abroad: “‘After my travels this summer, I have a newfound feeling of independence. I see myself as more confident now and more independent – it is almost a sense of invincibility as I am ready to take on challenges and face new experiences, no matter what they may be.’”
According to Dr. Maharaja, an experience abroad also increases emotional resilience, or the ability to respond to stressful situations in an effective way. Immersion in an environment vastly different from one’s home develops this ability through exposure to countless situations that would not normally present themselves in a familiar place. One’s response to various stress-inducing circumstances that occur throughout life will be supplemented by a visit to another country.
An experience abroad can make a prospective job candidate stand out. Intercultural competence is crucial in today’s globalizing world. As the interaction of people from diverse backgrounds and walks of life becomes more commonplace, the development of cultural sensitivity is all the more vital. A study conducted by the American Institute of Foreign Study found that 56 percent of students agreed that their experience abroad built upon their “skills and intercultural competencies,” substantial factors in securing employment upon graduation. 80 percent of those who responded to the survey saw an improvement in their adaptability in “diverse workplace environments.”
An applicant who can provide evidence of exposure to contrasting cultures is more likely to obtain a position as opposed to a candidate who has remained within a 10-mile radius of his or her hometown. Maureen McLaughlin, director of International Affairs for the U.S. Department of Education stressed the importance of an experience abroad on future employment opportunities.
“It’s critical that all graduates… have certain ‘21st-century skills’ that will enable them to compete in a worldwide marketplace, such as understanding international perspectives and being able to work collaboratively with peers from different cultures and backgrounds,” McLaughlin said in a statement. Further in her article, Dr. Maharaja states that “students internalized their intercultural learning several months after their return.” The appropriate method of interaction with different cultures that a student obtains while they is surrounded by others of differing ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds is applied in their everyday life, even after returning home. Future interactions with other cultures are then benefited by that one experience.
As students browse available programs, they might consider the lasting value that a semester abroad, though only a few months in duration, can bring to both their personal lives and careers.
Elizabeth Amory is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email a firstname.lastname@example.org.