‘Where will that get you?’ – How studying abroad got me the job I wanted

Today’s guest post comes from Lizzey Rounding, our International Opportunities assistant. Here, she talks about how her time abroad help developed her skills and experience, and broadened her horizons…

When I began thinking about university in 2012, I had no idea what kind of job I would get at the end of it. It wasn’t something that crossed my mind as a seventeen-year-old choosing what to study. Instead, I picked my degree based on the subjects I enjoyed, what I was good at, and what I thought would be interesting enough to study for three or four years. I knew I wanted to study French, so I applied to universities all over the UK, from Newcastle to Bath, for combinations of French with other subjects like Russian and Linguistics. I ended up somewhere in the middle, studying French, Spanish and Politics at the University of Leicester.

Telling people (family, friends, teachers) that I was going to study languages was met with variations of: “Oh so you’re going to be a French teacher then?”, “Where will that get you?” and, my personal favourite, “What’s the point? Everyone speaks English anyway”. Although it was annoying, I couldn’t give them an answer. I had no idea where my degree might take me, or what the point of it was, until I came back from my year abroad with the skills and motivation to help me stand out from the crowd and take the first step into a career I really wanted.

Before I went on my year abroad, I was shy and had next to no confidence in myself or my abilities. Studying abroad pushed me so far out of my comfort zone that I actually got altitude sickness (climbing a 4600-metre dormant volcano in Mexico). When I came home, the confidence I had lacked started to grow, as did my enthusiasm and passion for my studies, the world and intercultural awareness.

There are plenty of people who would argue that studying or working abroad during university is a waste of time and money. For many, it is an excuse for gallivanting around a foreign country on an extended holiday. For others, it is a huge expense that just isn’t worth it. But for me, and the thousands of British students who go abroad every year, it is an investment in our futures, a change to see the world and work out where we want to be in it, and it is an experience that provides us with hard and soft skills that make us six times more employable than those who stayed at home.

Many of the skills you gain from a year abroad are obvious, they’re skills you gain from any extra work experience, at home or abroad. Skills like organisation and planning, time and money management, teamwork, confidence and independence. But people graduating with experience abroad have something extra, an ability to adapt to other ways of doing things and see things from different perspectives, an awareness of other cultures that is so important to employers nowadays.

It’s also true that you perform better academically, are more employable, stand out from the crowd and have the intercultural awareness and competence that so valued by employers nowadays. These are skills and abilities that look great on a job application, and they sound great at interview. I gained all these things while on my year abroad, but I also gained an appreciation for the world around me, an enthusiasm for learning about other countries, for getting to know people from other nationalities, and I became a passionate advocate for all students having a study or work abroad experience.

Studying Mexican history and culture with the largest pyramid in the world down the road and Popocatepetl right outside my front door and learning about the history and institutions of the European Union in walking distance of the European Parliament made what I was learning seem real and important. I came home with a renewed enthusiasm for my studies, learning and life. In my final year, I worked harder than I ever had before, reaching the potential I always hoped I had but had evaded me in the past. I was inspired to study for an MA in Professional Language and Intercultural Studies at the University of Leeds, which I completed last month. I developed my interest in intercultural communication and cooperation and I knew that I wanted my career to be in something that inspired others to get the opportunities I had.

I had no idea what I wanted to do when I started university in 2014 but because I studied abroad, I graduated with the intercultural competence, practical skills and enthusiasm for international experience that I was able to apply for and get my job as International Opportunities Assistant at the University of Bradford. Studying abroad gave me the confidence, motivation and enthusiasm to put all the practical skills I’d learned into good use in a role that fits my interests and experience perfectly.

Thanks Lizzey! If you’re interested in study, work or other experiences abroad, see the details on SharePoint, and come and have a chat with the International Opportunities team at their drop-in sessions, every weekday from 13.00-14.00 in Careers, Student Central. There’s also a Study Abroad fair coming up on 22 October in Richmond Atrium so please come along.