5 Ways Study Abroad Pays Off In The Real World

Smith School of Business student Victoria Tataw poses in front of the iconic ArtScience Museum during her study abroad in Singapore. Courtesy photo

GET READY FOR THE WORLD ECONOMY

Students’ abilities to articulate and draw upon their international experiences lends itself to a second benefit to working and studying abroad: it prepares students for the global economy.

In a 2014 research study titled U.S. Business Needs for Employees with International Experience, a survey of 836 executives from small- and mid-sized companies found that 43% believed their overall business would increase if more international expertise were available on their staff (up from just 13% in a previous survey done in 2003).

“This has obvious implications on how these organizations evaluate the impact of international expertise on their companies’ success,” the report states. “It also supports the need for more internationally competent business graduates.”

Of the specific competencies related to international business that managers and execs say are of greatest significance for professional staff include appreciation for cross-cultural differences, understanding of country legal/government requirements, and understanding of local markets/business practices. Of these three competencies, understanding of local markets/business practices increased most in level of importance from the previous 2003 survey. Another notable boost was seen for foreign language skills, which jumped from 18% to 49% of survey takers viewing this skill as greatly important.

Bellinger at the Smith School of Business says, “Globalization is happening whether we want it to or not. The truth is no matter what you do — whether you’re an artist, a teacher, you own your own a mom and pop shop, or you’re CEO of a Fortune 500 company — you’re going to be engaged in it. There may be people shopping in your store from other places, may be a member of a team or supply chain that has an international component. It is incumbent of educators to prepare students regardless of what their path is.”

So when it comes to undergrads gaining international experience, Bellinger says, “It’s not just studying abroad, but how you overcame challenges, worked with multinational teams, and were able to navigate ambiguous situations while you were there. Then, students must be able to articulate what they learned on their resumes and in interviews.”

Bridget Kibbe, director of undergraduate career services at the University Notre Dame, says this makes a student more compelling. “A lot of employers will look at it more closely. It makes students have a cultured background where they can talk about things other than just that industry, such as working with international clients, and can have a conversation with an employer that’s based on their own experience.”

BECOME DISCIPLINED IN DIVERSITY

It goes without saying that living, working, and studying in other regions exposes students to greater levels of diversity. The benefits of this exposure go far beyond simply working with someone who looks different or is of a different nationality.

“Studying abroad is the only way to learn to be business savvy and empathetic and respecting of other cultures,” says Tataw who’s heading to Deloitte after graduation to work in financial and risk advisory inside the federal sector. “As a black woman, there are not going to be a lot of people in the workplace who look like me, but there’s still so much to learn about different cultures. Studying abroad erases the mindset of ‘I’m me and they’re them.’ I’m open to identifying similarities and building on that.”

Bridget Kibbe at Notre Dame likens this to students’ ability to be flexible and adaptable. “These are key skill sets that employers are seeking,” she says. “Also, an intercultural fluency that students should have.”

Tepper’s Jennifer Wegner says with exposure to diversity also comes a broadening of students’ worldview. “It’s covered in course work but they’re living it when they go abroad. The classroom is an artificial environment compared to when you’re immersed. How do you understand difference and navigate through that? There’s a value students bring to a company when they understand different perspectives and different paradigms in the world.”