When Victoria Tataw arrived at the University of Maryland as a freshman four years ago, she’d never set foot outside of the U.S. Now, as a senior getting set to graduate from the university’s Smith School of Business, she recommends study abroad to as many students as she can.
During her time as an undergrad, Tataw traveled, studied, and worked abroad — twice. First she participated in Smith’s Freshmen in London experience, then she spent two months in Singapore, living and working during her sophomore year.
The outcome, she says, is that she developed “the global mindset, which is something the Smith School pushes a lot. Also, being able to deal with people with different backgrounds. I’m cognizant and appreciative of cultural differences. It’s easy to learn about it in class, but it’s different to learn about it with experience and have the ability to do it.” Tataw says none of that could have been achieved by sitting in a lecture hall week in and week out.
BREAKING THE ICE IN JOB INTERVIEWS
Yet there are other ways that international study has helped her. It’s aided the soon-to-be alumna in securing jobs and internships.
“No matter where I apply, someone asks me about it,” Tataw tells Poets&Quants for Undergrads. “I had an internship at the SEC last semester and it was definitely because of my experience working abroad. It was a main talking point during the interview and once I got the job I was still asked about it.”
In other words, studying abroad is more than just an adventurous trip. Rather, there are skills being acquired that are directly transferable to the real world and can help boost students’ position in the job market. Here are five key ways studying abroad can help students professionally.
As students embark on the hunt for jobs, acquiring an internship position or gaining full-time employment relies heavily on how well they’re able present themselves during an interview. To this end, David Vogel, director of career development and employee relations at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, says international experience is a unique way to break the ice when companies ask about previous academic, professional, and personal experiences. “It’s a great way to start a conversation,” Vogel says. “Or, it manifests in behavioral interview questions when employers ask students about a time they went outside their comfort zone, faced ambiguity, or showed an appreciation for different cultures.”
‘A MEMORABLE STORY TO TELL’
Vogel also says work and study abroad experiences give students greater depth when answering nearly any question that’s put before them. “It’s such a rich experience. There becomes a wealth of answers to specific questions asked in a job interview because students have such a wide portfolio of experiences that they can draw upon.”
Jennifer Wegner, executive director of the undergraduate business administration program at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, says, “What I’ve heard, anecdotally, is that if an employer sees experience abroad, they raise it as an interview question. They want to know what you’ve learned and what you’ve taken from the experience. It gives students another set of examples for interview questions they may encounter.” Wegner also alludes to students with international experience being more attractive in the employment market. “If a recruiter has seven students they’re interviewing, the one or two with international experience who can reflect and articulate their experiences may stand out among the seven that a recruiter sees.”
But for Rebecca Bellinger, executive director of the Center for Global Business at the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business, it’s about students being empowered to leave a lasting impression. “I think it gives students a memorable story to tell. Think about how many people they interview during the various hiring rounds. You know they’re looking for problem solving, confidence, and dealing with ambiguity. Students who have studied abroad can say, ‘I have all of these things and I’ve done them in a global environment.’ It ups the ante for students who can say, ‘I can do all those things and I’ve done it cross-culturally.”