Working while studying abroad increasingly common

Students wanting to study abroad have many things to consider: classes, living arrangements, social life and — increasingly — work experience. More than ever, study abroad programs are offering or incorporating internships and other job skill-focused activities into their programs to help students in their careers.

Marquette’s Office of International Education and the Career Services Center work together to incorporate job skills into study abroad programs and help students present their international experiences to employers, said Matt Myers, a counselor at the Career Services Center.

“Anyone can go over to a foreign country, just hole up in their dorm room and not get much out of the experience,” Myers said. “(Employers) want to see that you gained certain kinds of skills over there, whether it’s cross-cultural communication, problem solving, or whatever it might be — that’s the real value of a study abroad experience.”

Mindy Schroeder, Marquette’s study abroad program coordinator, said the Career Services Center participates in pre-departure orientation sessions and post-trip “Marketing Your Study Abroad Experience” workshops. These get students thinking about how they might make career connections overseas that would benefit them for internships or career opportunities upon graduation.

Andrea Tarrell, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences and a spring 2010 alumna of the “Marquette en Madrid” study abroad program said it’s up to students to make the most of their experience.

“I think employers are catching on that all students going abroad aren’t necessarily having the most studious experiences,” Tarrell said. “So I think adding hands-on experience like internships is proof that you are really learning something and working hard while abroad.”

Schroeder said there is a variety of options in study abroad that translate into job skills, from internships to service-learning programs.

“I think that any practical experience (in study abroad) is going to speak volumes (to an employer), especially if they can articulate what they learned from that experience,” she said. “That’s the key thing … students sometimes can’t articulate what they learn from other experiences or how they can translate to how one interacts in the work world.”

Tarrell, who volunteered for Democrats Abroad while in Madrid, helped coordinate events and plan meetings for the organization.

“Through that, I learned to be flexible, make the best of a situation and adapt,” Tarrell said. “I had no expectations going abroad, but it taught me to accept changes that occurred, which is how working in the real world will be.”

She also said it’s unfortunate that some students spend a semester or summer overseas having a solely “American” experience. Usually, students who do choose to participate in an internship or service-learning experience find that they have more of an immersion experience, get to know the culture better and meet more people.

And that immersion can translate into a career advantage back home, Myers said.

“If you have the opportunity to have any kind of experience, take advantage of it, even if it’s for one day working in a soup kitchen while abroad, or just volunteering — that still counts,” Myers said. “That might be something that can really translate back … in a more professional-type setting, and that can only help you down the line.”