Explorer to Executive: Why Studying Abroad Will Set You Apart After College

Written by Sydney March 13, 2017

Studying abroad will make you feel like you're on top of the world; and sometimes, you really are!

If you want to "blend in" during Venice's famous Carnival, wearing a masquerade mask is a must!

Proud Hawkeyes representing IOWA in Greece

I'll never, ever get tired of flying over the Alps.

Happy graduates of CIMBA's Leadership Institute For Excellence

Before embarking on my journey with CIMBA this semester, I was told that one of the “selling points” of studying abroad is that employers will specifically look for it on resumes as something that can set you apart from other applicants. Did I buy it at this time? Not necessarily. In fact, I didn’t believe this tidbit until I actually got to Italy and learned that only 2% of students in the United States study abroad.

Now, if you have a business mindset like me, you probably like the facts and figures an awful lot. But what I’ve experienced in the 8 weeks after learning that I am “the 2%”, I have quickly figured out so many more ways that studying abroad will set me apart from the crowd after college.

As you can probably guess, studying abroad is a great conversation starter during interviews with future employers. I’ve already noticed a significant difference in the level of comfort and familiarity I feel with my interviewers while interviewing for internships for this upcoming summer. In fact, all of my Skype interviews so far have started out with the question “So you’re studying abroad in Italy right now? Tell me about that.” Not only is this a comfortable topic because three months of worldly experiences gives you quite a bit to talk about, but who doesn’t like to talk about things they love?!

But aside from the initial resume or interview process, studying abroad will set you apart from your colleagues once you are placed in the professional world. One way studying abroad has shaped me into being a more successful professional (and human in general) is by making me not afraid to ask for help, yet very independent at the same time.

Studying abroad is fueled by drive and independence and is where you’ll experience of lot of personal firsts. For example, I’d never flown internationally, I’d never been away from home for more than 9 weeks, and I’d definitely never booked 8 round-trip plane tickets (or even one if I’m being honest).

But aside from independence, I also learned how important it is (and how okay it is too!) to ask for help. Sometimes it’s asking a local in Paderno del Grappa where the post office is in your elementary Italian (that’s even being generous) when Google Maps leads you astray. Sometimes it’s trying to pronounce how to get to Haarlemmermeerstation to Amstelveenseweg to a Dutch bus driver.

Regardless of the situation, I can tell you that it’s week 8, and I’ve never been denied help. Not only can that help restore some of your faith in humanity, but it completely squashes the fear of any sort of rejection. In the workplace, this is incredibly important since the last thing your employer wants to do is babysit you, but they also want to make sure that you understand your tasks clearly, and that you don’t let the fear of looking silly or feeling like a burden hinder your personal progress, or the company’s for that matter.

Finally, studying abroad not only teaches you how to be a good leader, but it also teaches you how to be a good follower. Now if you’re a skeptic like me (and perhaps a management major like me as well), you might be thinking “why would you want to be a good follower?!” Well, as I learned through CIMBA’s Leadership Institute For Excellence (or LIFE, as we call it), in order to be a great leader, we must first learn how to be the best follower that we can be. Without knowing a culture (be it an international culture or a company culture), its values, and its people through personal experiences, it would be very difficult to lead efficiently and effectively.

So to my fellow 2%, past, present, and future, as my CIMBA professor Simone would say, “You are a star!!” Your commitment to strive to become a well-rounded young professional, improve your cultural competency, take initiative, and push yourself outside of your comfort zone does not go unnoticed. Jumping into this journey wasn’t easy, but it’s pretty amazing what a big splash you can make in the world, no matter how small you might feel.