After my study abroad experience in college, the most difficult thing I found was being able to talk about it when I got back. How does one accurately tell another human being about the overwhelming emotions and beautiful sights they visited while living in another country? How does one put into words the feelings that happened when the culture shock disappeared and the community took you in as one of their own? How does one describe the most incredible moment of their college career in a quick conversation?
For myself, the ability to talk about my trip took some effort. I really had to separate myself from the experience itself. I spent a total of four weeks in an accelerated course for Medieval Literature at Oxford University in England. I had the unique opportunity to stay in the University itself and also travel to places like London, Hampton Court, and the city of Bath. However, for me, these trips seemed more like traveling or vacationing, and less like applicable topics for interviews. It took me several weeks of brainstorming and preparing to really think about how I was going to turn these events into a branding tool for myself, something to market myself with. Instead of thinking about all of the memories I had made as scrapbooking opportunities, I started to think of them as professional development sessions. What did each of the destinations of my trip mean to my overall development as a person.
The first thing that I came across was the concept of adaptation. Anyone who is from an area with very little public transportation knows that going to another country, where you have little access to vehicles, takes a lot of getting used to. Unfortunately, those of us that have studied abroad know that figuring out your way around a city, or even a country, is a terribly complicated process and is one that has to happen relatively quickly. Knowing how to get from point A to point B in an efficient and affordable manner is essential. You learn the ability to adapt quickly, be quick on your feet. Knowing the language, the slang, the currency, the transportation, the food, etc. all requires adaptation.
Secondly, your experience has given you such a unique perspective on communication. Unlike many of the other students that are applying for the same position as you, you have had the opportunity to communicate with people internationally. Especially if you went somewhere that you had to use another language as your primary language while being there. Having real-world experience communicating on an international level is so important, showing the ability to break cultural barriers and still communicate.
This leads me to my next point, which is discussing your exposure and knowledge on diversity during an interview. For many companies and institutions, diversity is a prevalent issue and topic during interviews, making a point to show you that you will be working with people from other backgrounds and walks of life than yourself. Having your study abroad experience will showcase your exposure to people from different areas of the world. You can talk about specific experiences and the importance of understanding and accepting other’s diversity.
Think about things like time management, organization, autonomy, etc. and how to relate them back to your experience when formulating what you will discuss in an interview. You obviously won’t use all of them, but when the moment is right to introduce something you learned or gained during your study abroad experience. Don’t overload the interviewer with facts about the experience and don’t relate every single question about your trip to the employer, but focus on one or two things that you can relate back to study abroad. You had an extremely unique and rare opportunity, so let it be part of your brand!
And lastly, don’t forget that people want to hear about your experience! Don’t ever downplay your adventure. You had an amazing trip, let others know about it! Best of luck 🙂