Marketing Your Study Abroad Experience

Thank you to Lehigh Career Services Office and Katie Welsh Radande for allowing us to reprint this article.

In a competitive job market you need to highlight everything that might set you apart from other candidates and your experience from studying abroad can do just that. As our economy becomes more and more global, our ability to communicate and interact with people from backgrounds and ethnicities different than our own is imperative. It is important to incorporate your experience and the valuable skills you gained from studying abroad on your resume, cover letter and in job interviews.

Including Study Abroad Experience on your Resume

When including study abroad in your résumé, think about the skills you gained and what you learned while abroad. Did you become proficient in a language? Did you gain research experience through conducting an independent study project? Have you become well versed in some aspect of your host country’s culture? Remember that you must make the connection to the actual skills you gained through the experiences you had—it won’t always be obvious to an employer.

  • Focus on your accomplishments and skills (see examples below). Your resume should focus on the “results” of your study abroad experience, not simply where you went or what you did.
  • You can include your study abroad experience under education or relevant experience (see examples below). If your experience was heavily academic (large course load, research work, etc.), it may be best to include it under education. However, if you completed a professional internship while abroad, you might choose to include study abroad under relevant work experience. You can also include study and work abroad programs in a separate category titled International Experience. This option may be the most appropriate if you’ve had multiple experiences abroad. Be sure to include key skills you developed through these experiences.
  • Adjust your resume to your audience. You likely won’t submit the same resume to a graduate school and to a potential employer. It is important to note that you may need to develop an alternate résumé for applying to positions overseas, dependent upon the country. Career Services can assist with developing “foreign” résumés (a.k.a. “curriculum vitae”, or, “CV”).
  • Don’t forget to include any other relevant aspects of your experience – such as volunteer work, independent studies, etc.

Skills and Attributes Gained from Study Abroad Experience

Spend some time reflecting on your time overseas and what you learned from the experience. Think about the person you were before you left and how you changed during your time overseas. Studying abroad is often an eye-opening and self-changing experience. Be prepared to discuss this. And, be prepared to discuss the skills, credentials, and awareness you gained, as this can be attractive to potential employers.

Communication Skills

• Foreign language skills• Effectively participate in group discussions with people from diverse backgrounds• Identify and manage different needs of people and groups

Interpersonal Skills

• Global point of view• Appreciation of diversity• Cultural awareness• Establish rapport quickly• Understand an organization’s culture• Understand global dependence• Sensitive to other cultural values, norms, customs and communication patterns• Tolerant of differences• Open to new ideas and practices• Empathetic toward other perspectives

Organizational Skills

• General travel and navigational skills• Successfully juggle multiple demands• Able to prioritize• Time management skills

Intrapersonal Skills

• Patience• Function with a high level of ambiguity• Achieve goals despite obstacles• Take initiative and risks• Accept responsibility• Handle stress and difficult situations• Learn/adapt quickly• Flexible• Assertive/self-confident• Inquisitive• Independent

Including Study Abroad Experience for your Interview

Although you are excited about your study abroad experience, not everyone will be, so make sure that you mention it at the right time during your interview and focus on its relevance to the position for which you are applying. Remember, first impressions are key and anything on your resumé is fair game for questioning.

If the employer asks about your travels as a conversation starter, use the opportunity to break the ice and highlight it as a life-changing experience. Be prepared and articulate—talk about deciding to study abroad, where you traveled, and what you learned. If the employer incorporates study abroad into an interview question, then answer that question only, being brief, focused, and clear in your response. Often returnees get carried away with enthusiasm, going off on tangents and rekindling memories or situations that happened overseas. You can easily lose your potential employer in a long-winded and vague response, making your study abroad experience more hurtful than helpful in the interview.

You can and should always find a relevant way to incorporate your study abroad experience into an interview. In many ways this experience sets you apart from your peers, bringing a completely different skill set and outlook to a potential employer. As a study abroad returnee, you have gained a tremendous amount of transferable skills during your study abroad experience. These may seem general to you and go overlooked or unmentioned in an interview, but they can almost always connect in some way to any job description.

Helpful Hint: Develop a Stock of Career Stories for InterviewsEveryone who has studied abroad has their own list of “wild and shocking” stories to share with friends. These edgy cross-cultural experiences are fun to share, but not with potential employers. You need to modify them or devise a new set of cross-cultural career related stories about your study abroad experience. Craft these stories ahead of time, and build them to reinforce professional skill sets. Here are a few examples:

  •  Describe your role when working with student teams while abroad.
  •  Describe your encounters when meeting professionals working in your field.
  •  Speak about personal encounters that gave you insight into the local culture.
  •  Speak about the link between your country and the host country, especially in terms of  the work place. Describe your professional skills through a story about a cross-cultural encounter that went wrong.


Sources/Additional Resources

  • Abroad View “Packaging your International Experience”

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I have my internship placement. Now what?

Once you’ve been given your internship placement, there are several things that you can do to prepare for your EPA Internship in Europe.

  • Read as much as you can about the organization and your supervisor online.
    • What type of projects or committees are they involved in?
    • What population do they serve?
    • Have they won any awards or accolades for what they’ve done?
  • Revisit your resume and add any experience or skills that directly relate to the organization.
    • Be prepared to discuss this experience at your initial meeting.
  • Prepare to network.
    • Have business cards printed with your name and email address that you can hand out including your name and email address.
    • It’s best to have the business cards printed in the European format (55 mm x 85 mm) using black ink on white or cream paper.
  • Update yourself on the current political and economic issues facing the country that you will be working in. People in Europe tend to me much more aware of political and economic issues. They may even seem to know more about the issues in the US than the typical American.
    • Is there an election coming up?
    • Is this organization affiliated with a certain party?
    • Are there current issues that may directly effect this organization?
  • Update yourself on the current political and economic issues in the US.
    • Europeans like to discuss politics and economics and will likely ask you for your opinion – especially on issues facing the US.
    • Don’t be surprised if someone asks you whom you plan to vote for and why.

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Future Posts

We want this blog to be helpful to you. Please take a moment to list topics that you would like us to cover in the future.

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Add Experience to Your Resume

Don’t forget to add your study abroad and internship experience to your resume when you return. Go back to the goals that you made before you started your internship. Did you accomplish those goals? What challenges did you have? How did you meet those challenges?

The fact that you now have international work experience sets you apart from other candidates, but you need to learn how to articulate the skills and experience you’ve gained in terms that employers value – so that they can work for you. Remember to review the Skills and Experience Keywords.

The international work and study abroad experience can be highlighted in several ways:


  • Education Section
  • Career Profile or Qualifications Section
  • Skills or Highlights Section
  • Experience or “International” Experience Section

Cover Letter

  • Write an opening statement that introduces your experience.
  • Mention the organization’s name and location.
  • Describe what you learned and how this will help you in the position you are applying for.

Interview – Prepare for anticipated questions.

  • Why did you study abroad?
  • What made you choose the program and location that you went to?
  • What skills did you learn? How will these help you in the future?
  • What did you learn interning abroad that you wouldn’t have learned interning in the US?
  • What differences did you see in the work place? Were they positive or negative?
  • Describe a challenging situation while you were abroad and how you handled it.
  • Describe a situation where you took a risk.

The international experience in and of itself may not mean much to the interviewers, but they will value your ability to articulate what you learned and what skills you developed while you were abroad.

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Skills and Experience Keywords

Don’t underestimate the skills and experience that you’ve learned abroad. Here’s a list to get you started:

  • Flexibility
  • Adaptability
  • Motivation
  • Initiative
  • Organizational Skills
  • Time-Management Skills
  • Communication Skills
  • Ability to Identify ,Set, and Achieve Goals
  • General Travel and Navigational Skills
  • Problem-Solving and Crisis-Management Skills
  • Stress Management
  • Patience
  • Independence
  • Self-Reliance
  • Responsibility
  • Perseverance
  • Inquisitiveness
  • Foreign Language Proficiency
  • Sense of Humor
  • Awareness of Global Issues
  • Appreciation of Diversity
  • Tolerance
  • Cultural Awareness
  • Sensitivity to Culture and Customs

Others? Add yours to the discussion!

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Interning abroad: How to make the job work for you

If you’re embarking on an EPA Internship, the idea of work is probably not new to you. Many students who participate in our programs have had summer jobs or have been employed on their college campus, but a professional experience in a foreign country is completely different. An international internship feels a lot like that very first job, even for those students whose resumes could compete with those of the average recent college graduate.

Students who have been exposed to other cultures via their family or friends, or who have taken cross-cultural studies will know that their new office culture will likely be different from anything they have experienced in the U.S. But even for seasoned leisure travelers, the attitude you encounter from the person serving you at the souvenir stand is likely to be different from the one who is going to be supervising your work. Even if the internship is at an American company, the fact that it is located in Europe means that many or even most of the employees will not be American. European colleagues may appear to be less cordial, at least at first, than most American students are used to. A lack of hearty and frequent “how are you?’s” should not automatically be interpreted as unfriendliness. By remaining positive and friendly yourself, you will demonstrate that you are open and willing to get to know others, but do not be discouraged if your coworkers do not share personal information with you.

The views that your coworkers have of Americans may also be polarized due to the media, and they may be curious about your political views. Europeans are often considerably more liberal, politically and socially, than Americans. Many of our interns in Brussels get wide-eyed when they learn they are going to be interning for a political member of a socialist party – as one student put it, “we have nothing of the kind back home!” But an exchange of cultural and political beliefs can be extremely enriching both for the intern and the employer, assuming that each is willing to learn about the other. The employer has already agreed to be open to an intern coming from the U.S., so it’s equally important that the intern realize that he or she is in the minority in the new working enivronment and therefore offer his or her views or opinions on how to do things with respect.

In class and possibly at work in the U.S., you’ve probably been used to having a fair amount of feedback on your work. European employers, however, expect good work as a rule and therefore may simply not comment if the work is fulfilling their standards. Students used to the positive reinforcement they may get in an American workplace have found it frustrating to have feedback be negative, when they do get it. We have also heard from previous interns that the criticism they receive during their internships is not “sugar coated”, which can be uncomfortable for the thinner-skinned. European employers may be more blunt, but their ultimate goal is to teach rather than to criticize the person.

When it comes to how you fill your day at your internship, clearly most students would rather sit in on a high-powered meeting han do filing. But a good internship includes both sorts of tasks, and not just because the intern is at the bottom of the organizational hierarchy. Even tasks that may initially appear simple or repetitive can turn out to be surprisingly educational, as one of our students working for a Member of Parliament discovered. She was assigned the task of entering all the invitations into the electronic calendar that her employer had received, which taught her more than just how to organize an important clerical task. In betweeen all the typing, she learned about political factions and the unwritten rules of politics involving how to respond to those invitations.

Of course, an internship is not meant to be all grudge work, and EPA Internships in particular are all about getting a large amount of substantive work that goes beyond the administrative. Sometimes it is necessary to demonstrate that you are both interested and capable of doing something even more challenging. Suggesting your own assistance or finding ways in which you can make yourself useful will be most appreciated by your supervisors. Another of our students also working for a Member of the European Parliament was having a slow week in the office, so she established a program for herself to attend various committee meetings on subjects that interested her and take notes on the proceedings. The student was able to further her own education, demonstrate to her office that she was motivated and interested in the work going on around her, and as a bonus she was able to provide the potentially beneficial material of her notes to the office.

Some of the most positive internships we have heard about involve interns who can take charge of projects themselves and don’t require the supervisor to micro-manage them. It’s important to be able to detail the steps of a task, to prioritize tasks when there are many to accomplish, and to be able to grasp the bigger picture. For example, one of our students who interned with the International Diabetes Federation was given the task of a blogger outreach program to increase awareness of World Diabetes Day. The organization gave her the tools with which to work, but they did not specify how the task was to be accomplished. In the end, IDF was thrilled with her work, stating that “the results were tremendous…We estimate that her support has added the equivalent of more than 15,000 EUR in PR value to our World Diabetes Day campaign.”

An EPA student once summed it up well by stating, “Internships are not given to students, they are made by them.” We hope that you will make your internship into the experience of a lifetime.

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Before You Leave

Perhaps you’ve been looking forward to study abroad for a long time, or maybe you just decided to study abroad a couple of months ago. Whatever the case, most students who study abroad remark that it was one of the highlights of their undergraduate studies. Many find that it changes their lives in profound ways. It may be that you’ll finally achieve the level of foreign language fluency for which you’ve been striving for years. Maybe you’ll form relationships that will lead your life in new directions. Maybe you’ll discover an academic topic that will become the emphasis of your doctoral dissertation. Or maybe you’ll find yourself navigating both physical and emotional geographies that you never thought you could explore on your own.

Right now, you can’t be certain what might come of your overseas studies, but you can prepare yourself for this transformative experience. A key part of that preparation is to consider how your studies abroad might affect your career and your life plans. Most jobs and graduate programs require you to function in transnational contexts. You may find employment abroad, or you may be stationed overseas for employment or graduate study. If you remain in the U.S., you’ll still find yourself constantly interfacing with colleagues across national boundaries. Your study abroad experience will provide you with relevant preparation for these challenges. Think about how to articulate this on your resume, and as you go overseas, be prepared to make contacts that can help you with your career plans.

Tips from the University of  Rochester Career Center

University of Rochester Career Center
Meliora Hall Box 270028, Rochester, NY 14627
Phone: (585)275-2366 | Fax: (585) 461-3093

Before you leave:

  • Prepare for life after your time abroad, (for example if you want to do a summer internship, job after graduation, etc) and make contacts or apply for available positions, and inform potential employers how they can contact you while you are away.
  • Pairing your time abroad with a volunteer or internship experience can strengthen the skills you pick up, including language abilities and career field knowledge. Talk with a Career Counselor, Study Abroad staff, and even your program site coordinator to determine if a career-related experience might be a possibility.
  • Schedule an appointment with a Career Counselor during the semester before you leave. Make sure you are familiar with your Career Center’s web site so you can utilize it while you are abroad.
  • If you are considering graduate school after graduation, determine what kind of test preparation will be required for standardized tests and when is the best time to take those tests.You may also want to consider when particular graduate school admissions interviews might occur, and plan your time to fit with these.
  • Create a resume to take with you. Once you add new experiences, update this document, but always feel free to use this networking tool.

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