When I was deciding to study abroad, the last thing on my mind was my impending senior year job search. For one, I never really considered that study abroad would help me in any way down the line. I didn’t study abroad to better prepare myself for my career, I studied abroad to have an amazing experience. But as it turns out, I got a lot more from studying abroad than I could have imagined. The main benefits of study abroad will ring true regardless of which job you apply to, which is that you will leave your country as a better and more culturally-informed version of yourself.
Study Abroad Shouldn’t Be About Getting a Job
At first I thought choosing to study abroad at the University of Edinburgh would actually be damaging to my future career search. At my home institution, I study Economics and Asian Languages & Civilizations, so I had many reservations about not studying abroad in China. I figured studying abroad in China would have offered me the benefits of infinite career opportunities in Asia, but studying in an English speaking country would offer negligible benefits. It’s true that studying abroad in China would have opened up a different series of jobs to me. But I’ve actually been quite shocked at how useful it has been to have the University of Edinburgh on my résumé.
As such, I would never suggest planning your studying abroad as a means to make you a better job applicant. Studying abroad is about so much more than that, and in my opinion, it’s unfair to reduce it to such a superficial thing. So go abroad, learn about yourself, learn about other people, learn about other places, and really welcome the experience as a time for immense growth. Moreover, remember that:
You Never Know Where Life Will Take You
In short, I ended up abandoning my original career plans and pursuing other things.
I traveled to Scotland in the fall of my junior year and expected to spend most of my time there applying for finance internships back home. As an Economics major at a school that sends many graduates to Wall Street, I had always felt trapped in my college’s bubble, consumed by the pressure to make it in a world of investment banking (a world where the only thing I knew was that everyone was doing it).
Then I got to Scotland and met a bunch of both American and international students. I met some Australians studying Biology, Law, and Graphic Design. I met Californians who aspired to code and those who aspired to be veterinarians. I met a Russian girl on track for the U.N. and a Turkish girl on track for art school. Suddenly my world became bigger. In Scotland, no one had heard of my liberal arts school and no one cared whether or not I was going to work on Wall Street—and that was liberating.
In short, I ended up abandoning my original career plans and pursuing other things instead. And to my surprise, the University of Edinburgh came in handy a lot of the time when I was pursuing these things. For one, it’s made a huge difference in the interview process. Just talking about living in a different country and studying at a large university with employers proved those were huge benefits. Also, it has made me appear (at least on paper) an “expert” on the UK, a region I previously knew little about, but one that often interacts with American corporations. I actually interviewed for one entry level position that was focused on expanding the company to the UK, China, Canada, and Mexico. It shouldn’t be surprising that there weren’t many other entry level applicants well-versed on both the UK and China (not to mention, I talked to my Canadian and Mexican friends I met abroad for advice on their respective countries).
What I’m really trying to say is that study abroad will help you out in life in many ways, but in ways that are impossible to anticipate. I couldn’t have predicted my own unique trajectory, so I certainly can’t tell everyone else about theirs. But regardless of where your interests take you or where you study abroad, you’ll come back as a better-rounded applicant with a perspective on the world you could have never gained otherwise. I am eternally grateful for the people I met abroad and the experiences that helped shaped the way I view the world and my own life. And if one of the perks is that employers see that too, then all the better!
Sarah Ressler is an Economics and Asian Studies student at Amherst College and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland in 2015.