Here are some tips and resources on how to utilize your study abroad experience in a professional context.
Before You Go
Being aware of where your strengths lie beforehand could help you improve upon them while abroad and excel at them in your professional life. The Be Better @ Iowa StrengthsFinder initiative for first-year and incoming students is a great way to figure out how your top Strengths can help you navigate your study abroad experience. More information about this initiative can be found on the about page of the Be Better website.
Also, self-reflection is a great method to determine what you'd truly like to gain from your time abroad. Talking with your academic advisor and/or a study abroad advisor can also help you identify specific personal and professional goals.
Here are some things you can think about/discuss with an advisor:
- Study abroad program start and end dates and how they align with internship dates and opportunities for graduate and professional applications
- Whether to focus solely on academics or to build in volunteer, work, or internship experience
- How an international experience can make you stand out on a resume
- How an international experience fits in with your professional and personal identity
- What kinds of experiences you should record for future reflection
- What cultural/professional lessons you hope to learn
You can also meet with a career advisor in the Pomerantz Career Center prior to departure to discuss how study ties into your future career goals.
While You're Abroad
After figuring out where you want to go and discussing your aspirations with your advisor, you’re ready to start putting your plan into action! The best way to do this is to keep a journal and record moments during your study abroad experience that could prove helpful on a resume or in a job interview. There are various ways of journaling, so don't feel like the process has to be too tedious. You can write little blurbs or full-length entries in paper journals, blog/vlog about your experiences, create a Google doc to maintain over the course of your program, or use a diary/journaling app such as Penzu. You also might consider becoming a student blogger while abroad, either for International Programs here at the University of Iowa or for your program sponsor (IES and USAC, for example).
Here are some things you might think to note:
- Challenges you face and overcome
- Skills you're developing and how you're developing them
- Languages you're gaining proficiency/fluency in
- Key points from conversations/meetings
- Experiences that improve your cultural awareness/sensitivity
- Experiences that improve your confidence and sense of independence
- Notable accomplishments (academic, professional, or personal)
- How your strengths are being used productively and how they're being challenged
NACE (National Association of College Employers) has an annual survey that lists which attributes employers seek out on resumes. Familiarize yourself with these attributes so that, when you record your experiences, you're aware of which ones will look best to a potential employer in the future.
Other things to consider while abroad are: building a network (professional and personal relationships), cultivating your personal brand, practicing sharing your experiences with others, and seeking out a mentor. Mentors are especially helpful– not only do they serve as teachers and supporters, but also as good references and connections for future academic or job-oriented endeavors.
For tips on how to continue thinking professionally about your study abroad experience upon your return, go to the Career Integration section of "Returning Home."