I log onto Facebook and see photos of my friends in various locations of the world – I have US friends in Germany, Spain, Japan, Australia, Costa Rica – and my adventure abroad in Brussels, Belgium somehow seems less impressive than I had originally imagined. I recall a fact my study abroad adviser shared with me before I set out on my ISA adventure: less than 10 percent of US students actually experience a study abroad trip! Although studying abroad can seem like a simple, almost expected stepping stone in many students’ lives, it is nevertheless true that these students gain valuable experience that would be unattainable in the US.
For example, have been surrounded by a whirlwind of languages, have experienced traditions of a few handfuls of cultures, and have learned to travel between countries and cities with the ease of traveling from state to state. The United States was never designed to be filled with English-speakers practicing the same traditions and the same religions – and it never will be. Learning to develop cultural adaptability is valuable because the US is a country of diversity, and the best way for a student to learn how to adapt is to be placed in an environment where they have no choice but to learn to do so.
Why I am more valuable in the job market than when I left:
- Being in a conversation where I am at a loss for words doesn’t really frighten me anymore. Coming to Belgium, a country speaking primarily French, Dutch and German, without knowing any of those languages is a risky move, but it has helped my communication skills blossom more than I could ever expect. I have learned to communicate no matter the language. In fact, I have received emails for my internship in French, Dutch, German, and as of today, Portuguese… It’s just another step along the way!
- I have made a new home for myself in less than three weeks. Adaptation has begun to come naturally, and my little twin bed in my ancient apartment has begun to welcome me each night, similar to my own bed at my real home. I’m learning the streets–by their landmarks, not their names–and I know which convenience stores have the best shampoos, and the owner of the Indian restaurant on the corner knows my order when I walk in. I am comfortable here, and I feel prepared to be successful.
- My mind has opened, and I have learned that there is more than one way to do things. It’s okay to kiss someone to say ‘hello.’ It’s normal not to tip your waitress. You might have to pay to use the restroom. Chances are, your house won’t have a clothes dryer – and that’s all just fine! When you learn to take differences like this in stride, your mind expands and becomes able to accept new situations with ease.
I have studied abroad, and I am useful. I can communicate, I can adapt, and I have an open-mind. With a study-abroad story attached to each of these qualities, why wouldn’t an employer be interested?!