Friday, May 10, 2013

Internationalising your degree; adding an extra dimension.

Times have changed. Our world is getting smaller and a journey that would've taken almost a week by transatlantic cruise liner not so many years ago can now be referred to as ‘Crossing the pond’ and have the traveller home in time for dinner. It is in this landscape, in a world where we can communicate to a friend or colleague from thousands of miles away with the click of a button, where we as current and future graduates, find ourselves taking our degrees, our skills and our talent out into.

Since beginning university in 2009, I have realised that the whole ‘University Experience’ goes far beyond what we do inside of the classroom. Indeed, what I’ve learned is that your whole experience and what to gain from university not only goes out with the classroom, but can go out with the city, country, or continent you study in. When coming to the end of my first year, I discovered the opportunity to go to America and work at a summer camp. I was 18, had never been further than other countries in Europe and had certainly never travelled independently. Since then I have participated in the Study China programme run by the University of Manchester and have been to the states to not only work in retail and for charities, but have met up with friends I still keep in touch with in my very first summer at camp.

This blog won’t turn into a trip advisor account of my experiences – promise.

Now what I don’t want this blog to be is a travel log of everywhere I’ve been and everything I’ve learned from it, because that’s really not going to have any impact for you. The aim is to share with you not only how easy it is when you have the confidence to, but also how much of a benefit is, to add an international dimension to your time at university.

The opportunity to travel and experience new cultures, new ways of thinking, new languages and ultimately meet new people is becoming more and more available to students for what I believe are two reasons;

1) Agencies now specialise in providing opportunities aimed towards students that are affordable, supported and tailored to provide the best overall experience.

2) The famous long university summers. Now, these aren’t really that new, however, there is now more emphasis than ever on making the most of our summers at university. Summer provides us with countless opportunities; the increased offerings of summer internships for penultimate year and graduating students are testament to employers buying into the value of you making the most of your summer.

The benefits for YOU.

For me, there are four key personal benefits to going abroad and they might be obvious but it’s worth pointing them out;

1.       Having cool stories to tell about your travels can make you seem very interesting to an employer, either at networking stage or at an interview. (Your work in class on financial spreadsheets may be important when it comes to your degree but that summer you spent backpacking around Asia on a shoestring budget is far more interesting, sorry!)

2.       You meet people you would never have met before. We like to throw the term ‘Network’ around a lot with advancements in social media but travelling is one very effective way of building a real network of friends (possibly futures colleagues) around the globe.

3.       You’ll be tested, and that’s a good thing! Without a doubt, when travelling without supervision or support from parents or a large group, things will go wrong! The term ‘Outside your comfort zone.’ Is never more apparent when you realise that the Chinese metro system doesn't run on a Sunday and you have to sell a pair of earphones in the street to pay the taxi fair to the airport, making it on time for your flight with no time to spare. Sounds nuts, but I use it in an interview whenever I can!

4.       Independence!  Internationalising your student experience; whether it’s an academic exchange, a summer programme or simply travelling, will give you the independence to make decisions, to conduct yourself and to live the way you want to live. This may sound strange but being acting independently allows you to think independently; to gather new knowledge about new cultures and people and interpret it. Independence allows you to become the unique person you want to be.

 Now, being interesting, connected, hardened and more independent  are great characteristics to develop and should begin to or have already sold a lot of you internationalising your degree.

What industry wants!

However, I haven’t outlined the main benefit of doing this throughout your time in academia. The world isn’t only getting smaller for us as ‘world citizens’, it’s also getting smaller for organisations. More and more of the employers we are applying to are already or are becoming world players, they are expanding and operating in new cultures, with new languages and with completely different ways of working.

As a result, although not yet a necessity, employers are now looking for students who have an understanding of different cultures, who have immersed and understood other ways of living and interacting and have proven, through either travelling or work experience, that they are willing to learn and develop in a whole new, probably daunting environment.  Only by being in a country can you get a true, real-life, understanding of how the people interact, what etiquette exists, maybe even the language.

Employers aren’t looking for you to have work extensively in these countries or developed business opportunities in emerging markets – YET! By showing and proving you are confident and competent enough to immerse and comfortably identify differences and embrace those, employers will see you as adaptable and that’s only going to become a more desirable attribute.

The Final Word.

Adding an international dimension to your degree not only helps you get a job in what is quickly becoming a world economy but it provides you with additional life skills, the ability to take yourself out with your comfort zone and to adapt in unfamiliar environments. Also, if you've added an international experience to your CV, it really stands out and you’ll no doubt talk about it in an interview or when networking. Yes, there are other ways to become employable; but for me, getting the chance to go abroad is the most fun and exciting way to do it and the opportunities are available more than ever when you’re studying!

Chris Milborrow 
10th May 2013
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