In college you’re not only expanding your brain horizons, you’re being handed a silver platter of beautifully wrapped life and career opportunities. One of those is the gift of studying abroad. A 4-month party, you say? In some ways, yes, but that’s not what you should get out of it.
Studying abroad is a legit interview topic, and you should know how to own that conversation. You can sell your experience in remote Africa or rive gauche Paris as something far more important than a semester of easy classes and travelling. Here’s how:
Tell them why you chose that destination.
“I just really wanted to go where all my friends were going” is an interview killer, guaranteed. You might as well say, “I gave it no thought. None at all.” Think about why you really wanted to visit that country. Was it because you wanted to get out of your comfort zone? Because that respective country has a certain problem you want to be able to work towards solving? Was it because you wanted to become fluent in a language or because of something you were desperate to learn more about?
Whatever it is, you need to give employers a clear reason why you leapt into the unknown for a semester. In short, you need to be able to tell your story. What was it that really drew you there? What were your goals going into the experience? How did it work out?
Show them you had a unique experience.
Hopefully everyone makes new friends and maybe learns a bit of a new language, but that’s not what you should focus on when describing your study abroad stay. Instead of talking about how amazing it was or how much it opened your eyes to a whole new world, talk about what was tough. Was there a moment when you thought you were in over your head? How did you handle the challenges of being in an unfamiliar place?
This experience is not your typical classroom setting. There are hurdles to jump over and mistakes to be made— and those are a great way to evaluate how you grew as a person. As a former study abroad student said, “You’re always testing yourself to see if you are able to handle challenging situations in an unfamiliar environment.” Show that you took risks and can reflect on how they made you a stronger person. It’s a winning combination.
Communication all day, every day.
A lot of the time, students are traveling to places where the mother tongue is not English. Even if this isn’t the case, you’re working those communication skills in every way. Idioms are different. Social norms and manners are different. It’s all a new way of living your day-to-day. Because of that, you’re constantly fine-tuning your communication skills, verbal and non-verbal, to succeed in your environment. Sound familiar? It should. Being able to adapt your communication style is a vital life skill, and something that will resonate with employers during an interview. Can you adapt to your environment to be your best, most productive self? Of course you can, you studied abroad.
P.S. Don’t forget to stay in touch with as many people as you can. Having a worldwide network might just come in handy one day.
Kristen Hamilton is the Co-Founder and CEO of Koru, the leader in predictive hiring. As a technology entrepreneur and executive with a passion for impact, Kristen has a successful track record driving value for customers and investors. She co-founded e-commerce pioneer Onvia and took it public in 2000. Kristen built the organization to 500 people, raised over $300 million of investment capital, and led the M&A team to acquire and integrate four private companies in two years. Kristen then shifted focus to education and talent acquisition, as head of educator strategy at Microsoft, and COO of World Learning, where she ran operations in 66 countries.