In my role as an international careers professional, I’ve been on a fascinating journey (so to speak) to explore the different benefits, opportunities and often challenges facing students and graduates looking for a global experience.
When we talk about enriching the student experience, it’s widely accepted that going abroad – whether through study or work – is an integral part of this. British students are exposed to some of the most amazing cultural and international influences and opportunities. There is the obvious chance to interact with the diverse overseas student population. And this is seen positively; a survey of UK university applicants believe studying alongside foreign students will help prepare them for work in a globalised economy. Plus we have the strong partnerships between UK and international educational institutes, companies and organisations, which means that students have ample avenues to become globally mobile. It’s hard to get an exact number, but figures suggest nearly 15,000 students went abroad as part of their degree in 2012-13.
Getting an international experience can be a very daunting process and there are a lot of things to consider.
So, I’ve come up with 5 common questions that many students have about going to another country with some practical tips and advice.
- Will going abroad make a difference to my future career prospects?
Well, evidence shows that a global experience does have a positive impact on employability and career prospects. Just this week, Go International published a report showing how internationally experienced graduates fared better in terms of employment outcomes and salary.
Employers want to see ‘Global Graduates’ with a blend of competencies such as cross – cultural interpersonal skills, global mindset and outlook, high resilience and drive, excellent communication and multilingual abilities and so on. So working and studying abroad is definitely a step forward to develop these attributes.
And if you want to boost your job prospects by becoming an expert in another language and culture, there is nothing like spending time in the country itself!
- Am I suited to going abroad and living in another country?
This is an interesting question, and I guess you can never really tell until you’ve actually made the step. Having said that, it’s worth reflecting on how you might cope with different scenarios and situations. I came across a helpful article by Stacie Berdan, a renowned international expert and author, who has a very useful thought exercise which you should (honestly of course!) use to assess your own views and feelings.
Also, take the opportunity to speak to people who have lived and worked in other countries, and get their honest feedback.
- I want to work abroad, but have no idea what I want to do or where I want to go!
Ok so first things first. Visiting your careers service is a must. Seek advice on your career options and potential job opportunities. Taking a step back and clarifying your ideas will probably be more helpful than randomly searching for jobs in any country. After all, the world is a big place! Take time to develop your own self – awareness and find out what is of interest to you, and where you can go.
To help you get started on what international opportunities there are, here is list of some resources and organisations:
- TARGETjobs Working Abroad pages: there’s a guide for students looking to work abroad, and profiles for 40 countries. Each country profile looks at the job market, application process, vacancy sources for both work experience and graduate jobs, and visa requirements.
- GoinGlobal is another commonly used resource, and again has country profiles, labour market and employment trends info and global CVs advice.
- Organisations such as BUNAC, AIESEC and Year Out Group can help you explore a range of international placements and work experience programmes.
- Generation UK – India programme: British Council have launched this exciting scheme for students and graduates to work in a range of diverse placements across India. I just attended the webinar this week and it looks set to be a great opportunity!
- Summer Camps in America: many organisations provide fun packed opportunities to work in camps across the States, Camp America, CCUSA, Camp Leaders are just a few.
- ERASMUS and other exchange programmes: your university may have partnerships with these schemes so check this out.
- I want to go to a really exciting new place, but am worried about ending up in a troubled zone!
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office Know Before You Go website is a useful reference point to check the travel and political situation for any country. It’s updated regularly and has information on local laws, customs, security and terrorism threats. So do make sure you know about any travel alerts and restrictions before you go. Your university may also have guidance and information so get in touch with international or other relevant departments.
- How can I ensure I get the most out of my global experience?
My top tips are:
- Plan and identify what you want to achieve from your time abroad. Think about what skills and knowledge you want to develop. That way you can ensure you have a productive time and also you will be better prepared to showcase your experience to prospective employers.
- Consider finances and any funding opportunities. Speak to your careers service and university about any travel bursaries, scholarships and grants that may be available.
- Research your chosen country, cultural issues and the language. Maybe enrol in some local classes as learning a few words and key phrases might help in establishing rapport with locals. Knowing about cultural etiquettes is critical if you don’t want to cause offence to anyone! Obviously monitor the security and political situation if travelling to potentially risky locations.
- Research the role and organisation. Find out about any volunteering projects you’re looking to do, is it well planned with specific objectives, do you have a defined role, how many participants are involved? Will there be training and support provided? Are you getting value for money? Also check out the organisation to see if they have any reputable endorsements, do they have a successful track record and what have been experiences of other participants? Do your homework so you can ensure you have a positive, valuable and safe experience.
So I hope these are some useful tips for going global, if you have any other thoughts you want to share, would be happy to hear from you.