SCAD Bee Overseas: Five Reasons Why Studying Abroad Will Jumpstart Your Career Faster

Image courtesy of Abbie Foulke.

As the Lacoste quarter draws to a close, I’ve discovered that many SCAD students are holding off on going home for the holidays and moving forward with personal travel plans instead. This week, while coming up for air from the usual suffocating SCAD finals, students have been busy restocking toiletries, booking hostels and researching the best deals on plane and train tickets to France, Italy, Spain and the UK. In fact, some restless students have already ditched a few lazy Lacoste weekends to navigate the rich cultures of London and Amsterdam.  

But even though we miss our loved ones and prioritizing personal trips all over Europe may seem like an excuse for a glorified vacation, this additional traveling is actually doing more favors for our careers than slaving over a seasonal job ever could. It’s no secret that study abroad students have a lot under our professional belts, and recent studies have even shown that 97 percent of study abroad participants found stable jobs within a year of graduation, compared to only 49 percent of other college grads in the same time. So while cutting into holiday time with family to vagabond across Europe may seem irresponsible and even selfish, SCAD juniors and seniors are really expanding on practical international skills employers are bending over backwards for. If you need any more convincing on the career benefits of studying abroad, take a look at these impressive capabilities SCAD Lacoste and Hong Kong students can flaunt at their next job interviews.

1. Building Cultural Intelligence and Bilingual Skills

Image courtesy of Elle Friedle.

Usually the most popular reason for studying abroad is the exposure to other cultures and the chance to brush up on bilingual skills you might have half-assed in high school. By not only taking classes in a brand new physical environment but also a social one, students often dispel cultural misconceptions and develop international relations skills. This type of experience can arise at any time in the most ordinary of situations: going to markets, ordering at a bar or restaurant, visiting tourist hotspots and museums and even just asking for directions. Even if you aren’t fluent in a new language by the time your leave, just learning basic phrases or verbal cultural cues can help immensely when working for a company with international footholds.  

2.  Experience with Travel

Image courtesy of Elle Friedle. 

One of the most practical components of studying abroad that no one really thinks about until the last minute is the actual traveling process from one place to another. I’m not just talking about booking flights either. Checking bags, navigating international terminals and, most stressful of all, getting past customs are all crucial things to keep in mind when preparing to leave the country. Likewise, it's good to plan ahead for budgeting train rides, bus trips, taxis or renting a car in order to reach your destinations as well as booking hostels, dorms or hotels in advance. Staying up to date on important travel documents like passports and international visas is also a top priority. On top of all of this, you’ve got to be aware of pickpockets, scam artists or other shifty people and keep a poker face on at all times so as not to stand out as a clueless tourist that often becomes an easy target.  

These are all experiences everyone loses sleep over the day before driving to the airport and only become manageable after lots of practice. Of course, it always helps to be traveling with a group, but there have also been times when I’ve had to work out all of my travel details on my own. The sooner you develop a firm grasp on these navigational challenges, the more valuable you'll become to companies who know that they can trust you to manage work-related trips.

3. International Networking

Image courtesy of Florence Thruston. 

Studying abroad is not the time to stay cooped up in your room feverishly working on that independent art project. It’s meant to be a social experience that, for people like me who live with social anxiety, can be a tough but rewarding aspect. Our classes always encourage us to build up professional contacts – whether it’s our peers, teachers, managers or administrators – and if you have the opportunity to do some international networking, that just means that you’ll be one step ahead of your competitors back home. Study abroad programs employ and recruit a range of skillful people that you should push yourself to get to know, such as student service coordinators, professors, guest lecturers and, of course, your own peers. You never know when an opportunity for a collaboration, freelance job or artist residency will blossom from a new relationship.

4.  Strengthening Adaptability Skills and New Ways of Learning

Image courtesy of Elle Friedle.

Because studying abroad pushes you out of your comfort zone, you’re likely to be dropped into stressful situations that could change at a moment’s notice. Travel plans collapsing, getting lost or missing a class or lecture are just some of the everyday disasters that become increasingly normal as time goes on living in a new country. Also, a lot of study abroad learning happens outside of the classroom as professors frequently organize class field trips while studio classes are forced to adapt to new resources. This means that you’ll have to be flexible with all four primary learning styles – visual, auditory, read-write and kinesthetic (hands-on) – in order to successfully engage in classes and cultures in a whole new way.

5. Increasing Independence and Self-Confidence

Image courtesy of Elle Friedle.

While a local internship or job shadowing experience can also build independence and self-confidence, there’s nothing quite like throwing yourself in the deep-end by jet-setting off to a completely new place. It’s normal for students in their twenties to not have a broad range of life experience, but according to a TED Talk given by clinical psychologist Meg Jay, your 20's should not be treated as a throwaway decade either, and the time for soul-searching should start as soon as possible.

My study abroad trip to Lacoste was the longest I’ve ever been away from my parents; and I know plenty of other students in the same boat. It’s also the longest I’ve ever been away from my boyfriend, my best friends, my counselor and my dog – basically my entire supportive network, which at first, I’ll admit, had me pretty rattled.  For these very reasons, many college students choose not to study abroad, along with peer pressure or when a friend’s plans to study abroad with you fall through. However, flexing my independence and nurturing my self-confidence were actually my strongest motives to commit to Lacoste and because of this solitary time of self-discovery, I’ll be able to return to the U.S. knowing that I can navigate life on my own, even if I’d rather be surrounded by friends and family.

So the next time you're feeling tongue-tied when others start grilling you for reasons to study abroad in college, try hitting back with a few of these dynamic and life-changing answers. The world is moving into a digital and international direction, and the more you can prepare for this shift in career fluxuation and cross-culture communication, the more you'll stand a chance of not getting left behind.