Translating Your Study Abroad Experience Into Resume Material


Translating Your Study Abroad Experience Into Resume Material

Whenever I meet with students who have just returned from their study abroad trips, I can see that their smiles are still glowing from the experience.  They have an awesome new profile picture to showcase their adventure and many stories they’re itching to share about their international journey. However, when I review their study abroad experience on their resume, all I see written are the following details: the program name, the location, and the dates.

From the perspective of the employer, the resume’s translation of the experience is not clear. While you may realize the importance of the trip, it is much more difficult for the employer to understand its value and they will not clearly see why the study abroad experience sets you apart from the many candidates in their applicant pool.

The good news is that unpacking your study abroad for your resume is far easier than learning a new language! 

Sit Down and Reflect

Perhaps you’re still a little jetlagged or perhaps you’ve been adjusted for a while now. Either way, it is important for you to sit down and reflect on what you’ve gained from this experience.

According to the Institute of International Education, around 65 percent of employers consider international experience an important factor in employment, and over 90 percent of employers are looking for transferable skills from study abroad experience. These skills include openness, curiosity, global competency, problem solving, and decision-making.

While you were having fun abroad, chances are you learned a lot from your time there. You learned more than just language skills or the best foods in Spain! While adjusting to a new country, you were improving your skills in many areas that companies are looking for in an employee.

One place to start is with the classes you attended. Beyond just the name or type of classes these were, ask yourself the following questions: What kind of projects and assignments did I complete? What role did I play in the class or project? What themes did I come across? Did I gain or improve any skills?

However, the value of your experience extends beyond your time in the classroom. Think about your time exploring a new city or culture—did you ever get lost or figure out a complicated train system? Or perhaps met someone new? Take a moment to ask yourself a few more questions: What was my biggest lesson while traveling? What obstacles did I overcome? What am I most proud of doing? 

Sell The Value of Your Experience

Now that you’ve thought in depth about your experience, it’s time to articulate why these skills make you a competitive candidate.

Be sure to treat your study abroad just like a job experience on your resume. For this reason, it can go under the “Experience” or “Education” section on your resume. Underneath the program name, location and dates, you should include detailed bullets that answer the above questions. When writing your bullets, be sure to not just include the skill you’ve gained, but more importantly, how you gained said skill. The example below is a common mistake found on resumes:

  • Gained skills in communication and global competency

However, when you take the time to include details of your experience, your bullets can look like the following:

  • Enhanced communication skills by navigating five new international cities and interacting with native speakers
  • Developed global competency through immersion of the Spanish culture and language while living with a host family in Madrid

Other skills you can consider include:

  • Foreign Language
  • Problem Solving
  • Exposure to Diversity
  • Awareness in Global Issues
  • Budgeting
  • Organization and Travel Planning
  • Independence
  • Adaptability
  • Intercultural Communication

If you put foreign language skills down on your resume, your level of proficiency should be clear and honest. Don’t write that you are fluent in a language unless you’d be comfortable proving that to an employer in person. However, you do not have to be fluent to put a language on your resume. You can indicate your level of proficiency with the following terms: Elementary, Intermediate, Fluent or Native. You can also indicate if these levels differ based on Speaking, Writing, or Reading.

Beyond the Resume

It is important to note that the experiences on your resume won’t get you the job—just the interview! When in person with an employer, be sure you are able to talk about your bullets in the form of relevant story telling. Bullets will only hit the key parts of your experience, but a well-spoken and informative story with further examples can make you memorable.

If you’re reading this before you’ve gone on your study abroad, there are several ways you can think ahead and prepare. One effective way is to keep a journal or blog of your adventures. Write down your daily activities, thoughts, lessons you learn, and all the places you visit. A journal is a great way to reflect and process, but a blog can help keep you accountable if you share it with your friends and family.

If possible, you can search for opportunities to intern, volunteer, or work while abroad. Even if these aren’t for class, they will certainly benefit you professionally. If none of this works with your schedule, you can try to complete an independent research project. Not only can you share with a potential employer that you gained global skills abroad, but you also took the initiative to complete extra work on your own.

You have so much to offer future employers because of your study abroad experience. Just like navigating a new city, you’ll have to do the same with potential employers in order to share your story effectively.

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