In late 2014, in an effort to equip youth with experiences that will allow them to be more competitive in a global workforce, the Obama administration introduced the #studyabroadbecause campaign. But while the benefits of study abroad are being brought to light, figuring out how to get overseas can remain a challenge.
To find out more why study abroad matters and how to make it happen, we spoke with the experts:
• Alexandra Gerstner is the Director of the DAAD Information Centre in Toronto, an academic exchange service that offers programs and funding to students interested in studying in Germany
• Netanya Trimboli is the PR & Communications Manager for Hostelling International USA, who partnered with the White House to organize the first Travel Blogger Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship
• Kerri Regan is the Associate Director for the Centre for International Management and the Master of International Business program at Queen’s School of Business
• Beth Alaksa is the Coordinator for International Mobility Programs and Phillip Shea is the Associate Director at York International
Why should students consider studying abroad?
Netanya: HI USA's non-profit mission is to inspire a genuine understanding of people, places and cultures to create a more tolerant world. We support study abroad because it also fulfils this ideal. Study abroad removes stereotypes and cultural boundaries, and when this happens, we create more peaceful communities.
Alexandra: Studying abroad an opportunity for students to spur their personal growth while developing skills that will set them apart from their peers when they enter the working world. Students who immerse themselves in a new culture develop independence, resilience and language skills. In our globalized world, intercultural skills are in increasing demand—a study abroad stay is a great way to acquire these.
Beth & Phillip: Living in a country where English may not be the primary language, will also allow students to learn a bit of a new language or greatly improve their existing language skills. Taking language learning outside the classroom makes it real, relevant and easier to practice.
One of the biggest critics of study abroad can be parents. What are your suggestions for students who are trying to convince their folks to let them spend a semester, a year or even an entire degree overseas?
Alexandra: Study abroad should be seen not as a detour, but rather an opportunity to enrich a student’s studies. If well-coordinated with one’s home institution, a study abroad semester or year does not need to lengthen a student’s degree studies and will provide experiences and skills impossible to get any other way. (The DAAD has also prepared an English-language brochure that addresses parental concerns.)
Kerri: Look at your parents as your investor or boss. You need to prove to them why you should be given this opportunity. Create a budget, highlight the benefits, prove to them that you have earned their trust and are ready for this next phase of growth. Have them speak to other parents who have enabled their child to go aboard. Show them that you are also committed and willing to financially invest.
Netanya: Explain how going overseas will help you meet your career goals. To complement your personal manifesto, do a search for "benefits of studying abroad," and you'll find countless articles from education and business leaders about its importance. Having these reference materials handy will help drive your point home.
Safety is often another factor for parents. Learn common safety concerns for the area you’re interested in visiting and find out how your school addresses those issues. By "thinking of everything," you'll prove you're capable of being on your own in a foreign country, while alleviating any concerns your parents may have.
The cost of a semester overseas isn’t cheap. What are your recommendations for accessing funds for studying abroad?
Alexandra: Because of this and the relatively low cost of living in many German universities towns, pursuing studies at a German university can be among the most cost-effective ways of acquiring a post-secondary degree. Information on scholarships and grants open to students at all stages of their studies is available online. For students considering doctoral studies in Germany, the website “Research in Germany" is another resource, which includes details on how to fund PhD studies in Germany.
Kerri: Most Canadian universities and colleges have bursaries, awards and scholarships to help students fund their approved international partnership programs. In addition to private donors, students should also look both to provincial and federal funding options. Most Canadians don’t realize that programs like OSAP can also help fund your international studies.
Netanya: For American students, the State Department offers a plethora of scholarship programs, so that's a great place to start. You also don't need to go through the university you're currently enrolled in to study abroad. There might be another school that offers a partnership abroad for cheaper tuition, so you could actually save money by going overseas! And consider countries where the dollar gets you farther. Europe is the most popular destination for Americans, but it can also be the most expensive.
How should students relate their experiences to employers after they return from studying abroad?
Netanya: Being able to leave your comfort zone and submerse yourself in another culture says a lot about your independence and ambition—two attributes employers love. If you've learned a second language while you're there, that's even more of a bonus as our economy becomes more and more globalized.
HI USA hostels can be a great place to connect with other world travellers in your backyard, while adding more fodder to your resume. Often times, returning travellers will volunteer to do a travel talk; from an employer perspective, this shows that you are an inspirational leader who cares about giving back. It also helps you stay connected to the life-changing experience you just embarked on.
Phillip & Beth: Work on an “elevator speech;” that one-minute speech that shares the sense of excitement or something unusual, but leaves people wanting more. Work with a career centre advisor to identify soft skills that employers are looking for and pull experiences from the education abroad program that show the skills in action. Add the soft skills to your resume and be ready with the stories to share at interviews. Getting lost in a strange city, with limited language skills, but finding your way and making it safely back to your residence, is an example of problem solving.
When speaking to people about employment positions or during interviews, watch for people who seem interested in the education abroad experience or for those who say they have had an international experience themselves; ask them questions, find common ground, show them you are like them. Fit in an organization is as important as skill set and shared experiences show fit.
Want to take part in the conversation and ask our experts for more advice? Join Verge Magazine, Hostels International USA for “The Global Student” Twitter chat on Wednesday, February 4th. Log on at 3:30 PM EST and look for the hashtag #travelwithpurpose and #studyabroadbecause.Add this article to your reading list