Studying abroad is an excellent and obvious way to gain international experience. Increasing numbers of the top universities are scattered across the globe, as evidenced by the 2017 THE World Universities rankings, which means the opportunities for students to study in a foreign country are growing. What’s more, it may not be as difficult to grasp those opportunities as some students fear. We’ve written before about how valuable international students are to the UK; likewise, UK students are valuable to universities in other countries. According to NAFSA, “the 1,043,839 international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities contributed $32.8 billion and supported more than 400,000 jobs to the U.S. economy during the 2015-2016 academic year… The economic contributions of international students are in addition to the immeasurable academic and cultural value these students bring to our campuses and local communities.”
There’s also plenty of funding available to students who want to study abroad. At Harvard, for example, international students are eligible for the same amount of aid as US students. In fact, many of the USA’s top universities, including Duke, Stanford, Williams College and Wellesley, are among the most generous in international student financial aid; there are scholarships out there.
But how exactly does studying abroad add to a graduate’s employability? According to the Wall Street Journal, as many routine tasks become automated or outsourced, employers are increasingly looking for candidates with “soft skills” such as the ability to communicate, problem-solve and get along with co-workers. All three of these skills are almost inevitably acquired in the process of moving to a foreign country and adapting to life in a different culture. Moving abroad requires flexibility, endurance, independence and the ability to adapt to different systems and structures. It offers the chance to see global issues from a different perspective and gain understanding of the country you’re in and the country you come from.
However, studying abroad is not an option for everyone, nor is it an automatic ticket to cultural competence and greater employability. Some recruiters are suspicious of what is known as “academic tourism”, and it’s important to be able to show how international experience has strengthened your abilities and skills. What’s more, students shouldn’t focus on international education to the potential exclusion of their best interests; they may feel they want the continuity and stability of staying within their system, building networks that will last after graduation, and gaining certain qualifications that are not internationally transferrable. The question is, how do students who study in their home countries also gain this all-important global awareness?