Is working abroad a good idea? What skills does working abroad give you? Why is it important to have international experience? Should I study abroad?
If you’ve ever asked these questions or a variation of them, then this article is for you. As someone who has lived abroad for a year and a half, working and studying, I encourage others to pursue their own adventures abroad. There is a world out there to see! So if you’re on the fence about international experience, here are some benefits of working abroad and living abroad that just might tip the scale.
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Why International Experience is Important
When I first began learning French in high school, I never expected to actually have the opportunity to travel there and speak French with native speakers. But at sixteen, I got my passport, hopped on a plane for the second time in my life, and went to France.
And I was terrified.
Looking back, I, one, can’t believe my parents sent their sixteen year old daughter abroad without them, and two, can’t imagine what I would have missed out on if I had not gone. What if I let the fear control me, stuffed my passport in a drawer, and forgot about it along with my high school French?
But I didn’t do any of those things. I got on the plane and went to France. Now, I write this post as someone who has studied abroad in France for a semester, taught English as a Fulbright Teaching Assistant in Andorra, and visited 18 countries…and counting.
But why is international experience so important to me? Well, I grew the most as a person while I was abroad because of the reasons I’m about to outline below. I experience the benefits of living abroad and thus encourage others to step outside of their comfort zones and into a new world.
Advantages of Studying Abroad – Educational Benefits
Living abroad comes with many educational benefits. You’re exposed to different ways of thinking, able to explore new ideas, and take specialized regional classes. Even if you’re planning on working abroad versus studying abroad, why not sign up for a local cooking class? Take a class on local history and explore the area.
With learning, the possibilities are endless!
1. Choice of Courses & Classes
If you’re studying abroad, this advantage is huge for you. The benefit of studying at a different university in another country is that you have access to classes that aren’t offered at your school. Take advantage of the opportunity to explore a new subject or take a specialized course. Just confirm with your advisor first that the course will count towards your degree.
2. Advancement in Foreign Language Skills
If you’re in a country where other languages besides English are spoken, you can benefit from some authentic foreign language practice. Being surrounded by native speakers is rare and probably not something you will get in the US. In my experience, being immersed in an environment where your target foreign language is spoken improves your language skills and speeds up the language learning process.
3. International Knowledge
What languages do they speak in Switzerland? What are the labor laws in France like? How does a country as small as Andorra have one of the highest GDP per capita?
I answered all of these questions by just living abroad, traveling, and interacting with people from these countries. As long as you keep your eyes peeled and your ears open, you’ll learn random things like this as well. (BTW, the four official languages of Switzerland are French, German, Italian, and Romansh.)
4. A Break from the Pressure
Now this particular benefit depends on the policies of your home university and your host university. Since the grading system of universities abroad differ from one to the other, usually your home university will convert your grades as a pass/fail. That means a “pass” would not directly affect your GPA, but simply give you the credits for the course.
So, while studying abroad, you can focus more on learning the content and taking in your surroundings instead of “playing the system” to make sure you get the highest grade.
Take advantage of the opportunity to focus more on the knowledge instead of the grade.
Career Benefits of Working Abroad
On top of the educational perks of living abroad, there are benefits of working abroad, too. These benefits will impact your career and skills development as a young professional.
5. Improve Communication Skills
Besides the knowledge you acquire during your degree, future employers will often be looking for soft skills, like communication skills. If you can manage to communicate with people who a) don’t speak English fluently or b) operate in a different cultural context, you probably have strong communication skills.
While in Andorra, I worked mainly with 3 teachers, an Andorran, a Spaniard, and a Russian. Even within the same school system, they all had different communication styles. They planned lessons with me and executed their lessons with the students in their own unique way.
As the English Teaching Assistant, I had to learn quickly how to change my communication style for the different audiences. That type of critical thinking is what employers are looking for, but it’s a skill that’s hard to teach in a training course. One of the reasons why international experience is so important is that it helps you develop those skills quicker.
6. Develop Cultural Competencies
One of my favorite analogies for culture is that it’s like an iceberg. Above the surface are the things that are visible to the eye, like clothing, art, fashion, and language. All of those things you can pick up with an easy google search.
However, the majority of the iceberg’s volume is beneath the surface, and it’s the same with culture. The cultural norms, customs, beliefs, and values are harder to understand, but those are the aspects that impact society and everyday life.
By living abroad, you will naturally pick up on those aspects. The cultural competencies you learn will be invaluable knowledge to apply to future work with any international company.
7. Adaptability & Flexibility
You don’t have to learn yoga in order to be flexible. If you go abroad, you will quickly learn how to adapt, be flexible, and think on your feet. I guarantee you: not everything will go as planned.
When your 5 am flight gets cancelled at midnight because of an unforeseen storm and you have to teach school the next day, you will quickly learn how to adapt. Yeah, my trip to Porto was at the mercy of an incoming hurricane, and I had to adapt and find an umbrella. ☔️
8. Experience Working with International Teams
As an exchange student, you may be in classes with local students or international students or both. Either way, any group projects or group essays that you are assigned will give you experience working with international teams. While I was teaching English, I was working with teachers from Spain, Andorra, France, and Russia.
With more and more companies outsourcing or hiring remote workers, you’ll likely find yourself working with international teammates. You’ll be able to leverage your overseas work experiences when talking about being a team player and being successful on teams with people from different backgrounds.
What skills does working abroad give you?
Overall, you’ll develop your professional skills and your soft skills or people skills. Nowadays, companies are looking for more people to bring soft skills to the table since they are so hard to teach. If you work abroad, chances are you’ll develop those soft skills rather quickly. In addition to the soft skills, you’ll improve your communication skills, gain more cultural knowledge, and learn how to collaborate and work with international teams to reach company goals.
Personal Benefits of Overseas Work Experience
When you’re living abroad, don’t limit your growth to academia and career development. Here are some personal ways that you should expect to grow while gaining overseas work experience.
9. Understanding different perspectives
Why are the French people seemingly always on strike? Do Spanish people purposefully eat dinner at 10 pm at night? Why do the British seem so rigid?
Even after a year and a half abroad, I still can’t give a definite answer to these questions. As an American, I’ve often been frustrated by these questions. But by staying with a host family in France & Andorra, I’ve been able to stop looking at things through the lens of my American culture and heritage and put on the lens for these different cultures.
I do not necessarily agree with the values and customs of all of these cultures, but by living abroad, I’ve been able to understand their perspective.
So now, when there is a strike and the metro line is closed, I just shrug my shoulders, say “This is the French way,” and carry on.
10. Greater Independence & Confidence
When I initially went abroad, I would respond to my problems in a very adult-like fashion…texting my mom with a message with 12 emojis of mixed emotions. Now, I’ve learned to take the problems in stride and be proactive in finding solutions on my own.
Apart from family and in a new environment, I’ve become more independent and confident. Before, I used to let mistakes disrupt me.
Now, I’ve realized that mistakes really aren’t a big deal, but how you handle them is much more important.
I learned how to work transportation, to call an uber, to read a map, and to not freak out in those moments where everything is falling apart and you missed the last bus and the door to the AirBnB is firmly locked. There is always a solution, and if you calm down for a moment, you can find it.
11. Exercise in Self-Care
Being abroad really exposed me to my own limits mentally and emotionally. Since I was in a foreign environment everyday, I was extremely tired at the end of most days. If I didn’t take time to rest, rejuvenate, and care for myself, then I would find myself completely exhausted at the end of a couple of weeks. And exhausted, I couldn’t interact with people or do the things I loved just because I didn’t have the energy and mental capacity.
Once I started to exercise self-care, setting time aside to unwind and focus on myself, I found that I could actually do more and do it better. The habit of self-care, which was a necessity abroad, has become a regular, healthy part of my routine back in the US.
12. Try New Things
While being abroad, I’ve been able to have so many cool and unique experiences. In France, I skied for the first time. In Andorra, I tried fresh snails and fois gras (honestly, it’s probably better if you don’t know what that is).
I also got to ice skate in Geneva, ski in the French Alps, pay my respects to the American cemetery at Omaha beach, swim in the Mediterranean, walk on a volcano in Santorini, lie on the beaches of Monte Carlo, and even catch sight of the Pope in Italy.
I never would have had any of these experiences unless I had dared to try something new. Ironically, it’s these moments and memories that really made my experiences abroad unforgettable.
Is working abroad a good idea?
In summary, working abroad is a great opportunity to hone your professional skills and put them to work in a true multicultural environment. While you’ll make mistakes as you adjust to the new country, you’ll also gain new communication skills, confidence, independence, and composure.
Spiritual Benefits of Working Abroad
God taught me so much while I was working abroad. While living overseas, I felt like I had to rely on Him even more than I did at home. He continued to work in me and through me during my time abroad. And when I came home, my relationship with God was definitely stronger.
13. Nothing Taken for Granted
There are small things like spicy food and restaurants open all day that I took for granted before I went abroad. But after living without those things for an extended period of time, I thank God for the little things. In the same way, I am so much more grateful for my loving family, my friendships, and my church community. These are things that I will never take for granted again.
14. Letting Go of Control
Before I went abroad, I was a control-freak in denial, Monica Geller from Friends in most areas of my life. I wanted things done a certain way (my way) and was extremely rigid on those things. But after spending time abroad, God did a miracle in me by wrenching away everything that I thought that I could control.
After a series of French strikes that grounded me in my apartment, travel plans gone awry at the last minute, and unexplainable grading rubrics, if I wanted to survive life abroad, I had to set my need-to-control aside. Instead of relying on myself to make everything perfect, I had to just pray and trust that God had everything in control.
Since my time abroad, I’ve actually been able to find more peace by letting go of control and giving it all to God.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)
- Related: 3 Anchors for Coping with Change
15. Daily Need for God
Before I went abroad, I had been trying to get into a regular cadence of spending time daily with God. While I had almost established that routine before jetting off to France, I didn’t really achieve it until I was there. Why?
Being abroad really exposed my human limits in a way that I’d never seen before.
Away from family and the church community that usually supported me, my relationship with God really fell on my shoulders. At first, I struggled to maintain and grow my relationship with Christ and as a result, I couldn’t rely on God’s strength or peace to equip me to face the challenges ahead.
But in the struggle, I recognized my feebleness without God. I came to genuinely crave His Word and time with Him, and that desire still fuels my heart today. I’ve accepted my weaknesses and declare:
General Benefits of Living Abroad
Last but certainly not least, here are some general benefits of living abroad. If nothing else has convinced you to go abroad, maybe these 3 benefits will make you think again. Whether you are studying abroad, working abroad, or living abroad doing something else, you’ll see these perks in some form or fashion.
Of course! This one seems so obvious, but definitely worth calling out.
I speak specifically for Europe when I say that once you are over there, it is extremely cheap to move around thanks to a lot of competition and a lot of budget airlines. Just check that your suitcase is small enough to fit their stringent requirements before booking a flight.
Because of the cheap transportation and plethora of public transportation, it was super easy, affordable, and safe to get around in Europe. So even though I went to study abroad and work abroad in France and Andorra, I was able to visit and experience many different countries and cultures.
17. Having a Passport
So this wasn’t an actual reason that I went abroad, but now that I have a passport, I do appreciate the convenience. When you have to show proof of eligibility for employment, it’s the only document you need. Just an added bonus in my opinion. 🙂
18. Stimulation & Thrill in Challenges
If you’re someone who enjoys challenges or is a thrill-seeker, living abroad or studying abroad might be for you. When you live abroad, every time you step out your door, there is a new experience, a new challenge, something that will surprise you or stimulate you. This is what I missed the most when I came back to the US and back to “normal”. I missed that excitement & thrill that comes from the unknown and inherent challenges of living abroad which I was stimulated by daily.
Interested in Working Abroad for a Year?
So if you’ve arrived to this point in the article and are interested in working abroad, Yay! If not, keep thinking and praying about it. It’s a big decision, and there are some disadvantages of working abroad to consider, too. So, take your time because…
Living abroad is just as challenging as it is rewarding.
How can I get the experience needed to work abroad?
If you’re wanting to work overseas, I suggest reaching out to your work mentors and your manager. Ask them if there are existing opportunities at your company to work abroad. Work with them to determine what skills you might need to develop in order to prepare for an overseas work experience.
Second, be patient.
Just because you’re not working abroad right now doesn’t mean you never will. Sometimes it takes time for the right opportunity to line up. Letting your manager know that you’re open to international work opportunities is the first and most important step.
Resources for Finding Fellowships
Another way to go abroad is to do a fellowship or international program. There are programs and fellowships out there that allow you to teach, volunteer, and work in different countries. University study abroad and fellowship offices are usually a good place to start exploring this option. Even if you’ve graduated a while ago, reaching back out to the office as an alumna is well worth it.
Tip! Proceed with caution. Always carefully research any program you do, and try to talk to someone who has done the program.
Another resource I recommend is ProFellow, which has a directory of competitive fellowships, including those that include overseas work experience. They also include tips for preparing applications and interview questions for these fellowships. One of the international fellowships mentioned on Profellow is the Fulbright.
Fulbright ETA Experience and Application
Fulbright is a way for recent college graduates to be working and living abroad as a student, researcher, or teaching assistant. I worked abroad as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA). I talk about the Fulbright application process as well as my overall experience as a Fulrbgiht ETA right here on my website. You can also see my article about my experience working abroad on Profellow.
Whatever you decided to do, I hope you find these benefits of working abroad and living abroad in your next adventure and right where you are now.
What do you think? Why is it important to have international experience?
Leave me a comment below!
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