Alyssa Wyvratt riding a camel in Morocco during her Fall 2012 study abroad to Granada, Spain, a photo by LAUSatPSU on Flickr.
I like to travel as much (maybe more) than the next person, but when you're thinking about study abroad program options, think about them in the context of your academic program. Where can you study and take courses related to your major that will provide you with a new and interesting perspective on your field? This is something you will be able to highlight to future employers, reinforcing your interest and commitment to your field of study, while demonstrating your willingness to go a little outside of your comfort zone. Immerse yourself in your host culture through volunteer experiences and internships.
Don't confine your experiences abroad to classes and travel. Get involved in your host community and search for ways to make a contribution. Volunteering or interning abroad will give you a chance to meet people from your host country who may otherwise never cross your path. It gives you a chance to build a network of professional colleagues abroad, which could be very helpful if you're thinking about working abroad in the future. These experiences might be grouped on your resume under an "International Experience" category, or they may be woven into other experience sections. Regardless, they will be of interest to potential employers for their uniqueness. You may have questions about differences in work cultures, hours, processes, or just how and why you sought out such an experience. Make a concerted effort to meet natives from your host country.
There are lots of types of study abroad programs available to Penn State students, so regardless of whether you're studying in a center with other international students or integrated into classes with students from your host country, make an effort to meet and befriend natives from your host country. A native can provide you with insight into the country and culture in a way that few others can. This is something to talk about with potential employers when they ask about your ability to work with people from different cultures or who offer different perspectives. Work on that second language.
If you're studying in a location where a second language is required, take it seriously and work on improving your speaking abilities and learning local expressions and the intricacies of the language, even if the majority of your classes are in English. Even if you don't intend to achieve fluency, you never know when being able to say a few sentences in another language will be useful in the future. Also, working hard on learning a second language says something about your level of motivation and ability to adapt to a new environment. Document your experience.
Methods for documenting and curating your time abroad are ubiquitous. Maybe you want to blog about your experience on a regular basis, including both your challenges and achievements in adjusting to a new culture. Create an e-portfolio where you can include links to any volunteer or intern organizations, post your resume, include notes and links about your progress with language acquisition, or detail a specific project you decided to tackle, either as part of a course requirement or because of your own interests. Thinking about a career in communications? Then find someone working in that field in your host country and conduct an informational interview to learn about the required skills and educational background. Interested in working abroad in the future? Then start researching visa requirements and application standards in that country.
If you're thinking of studying abroad next fall or for the next academic year, Penn State's application deadline is January 20, 2013. You still have time to talk with your Liberal Arts academic adviser, research program options, and meet with an Education Abroad adviser to help you with narrowing down your options. Think studying abroad during the fall semester isn't a good idea? Then read Juliana Viau's post, "Top Five Reasons to Study Abroad in the Fall," to get a different perspective. If you're looking for other first-hand perspectives on study abroad, check out the Education Abroad category on the LAUS@PSU blog to read about Liberal Arts students' international experiences. To learn more about becoming a contributor of our blog, email LASocialMedia@psu.edu.
P.S. Worried about how you can afford to study abroad? Check out the Ed Abroad advice on keeping your experience affordable, and be sure to apply for Liberal Arts Enrichment Funds!
Susan Knell is the director of the Liberal Arts Career Enrichment Network and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 814-865-1070.