8 Unexpected Benefits to Studying Abroad as a Graduate Student

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Studying abroad can be a life-changing experience for students. From enhancing your global network to experiencing a new culture, the benefits to your education and career are significant.

Given this, it’s no wonder that the number of students earning a degree outside of their home country has tripled over the past 25 years. Currently, there are 100,000 more American students studying abroad compared to the previous decade, along with more than one million international college students in the U.S. What’s more, the student profile of those who study abroad continues to change, including an increase in the number of graduate-level students who choose to study internationally.

“When talking about studying abroad, you’re taking concepts from the classroom and watching it play out in real-time, in real life,” says Marissa Lombardi, assistant teaching professor and director for the Master of Science in Global Studies and International Relations program at Northeastern University.

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Can You Study Abroad in Grad School?

If you didn’t have the opportunity to study abroad as an undergraduate, you might be worried that you’ve missed your chance.  

Fortunately, some graduate programs offer students the option to study internationally during their studies. In fact, the number of graduate-level study abroad students continues to grow–more than 12 percent of students who studied abroad during the 2017-2018 academic year were enrolled in a graduate program.

Students participating in IFSE in Zurich, Switzerland. Photo credit: Michal Holland, CPS

At Northeastern University, for example, students enrolled in programs like the MS in Global Studies and International Relations are eligible to participate in the International Field Study Experience program. This 12-week course includes a one-week, on-ground international experience in which students work to solve a real-world issue for an established multinational organization. During this time, students act as international consultants and apply their learning to a practical scenario.

Although this course is offered as a capstone for the Global Studies and International Relations program, all College of Professional Studies students are invited to enroll as an elective to enjoy the benefits of international experience that are widely applicable across disciplines. 

Not only are students able to study abroad in grad school, but doing so can have tremendous benefits to your education and your career. Below is a look at the advantages of studying abroad at any stage in your education, but especially at the graduate level.

8 Benefits of Studying Abroad

In an increasingly globalized world, studying abroad is now more important than ever. If you’re considering studying abroad in graduate school, here are eight ways it can benefit your education and career.

1. Improves Your Language Skills

By studying abroad, you’ll have the opportunity to hone your language skills. While studying a language in class is rewarding, applying it to the real world is an entirely different experience. It’s likely you’ll learn the language faster because you’re practicing it regularly. You’ll also be able to pick up conversational language you wouldn’t study in class, enabling you to speak like a local.

Developing your language skills can have a positive impact on your career, as well. Fluency in a second language is often helpful (if not required) when working at organizations with a multinational or global presence. If you’re interested in breaking into the world of international business or global health, for instance, having strong foreign language skills and experience that demonstrates those skills can help your resumé stand out to employers.

Many careers in international relations and diplomacy also rely heavily on foreign language skills. Although there are no specific language requirements to become a foreign service officer, proficiency and experience with a foreign language is a key component of a candidate’s competitiveness during the selection to become a diplomat, ambassador, or other positions with the United Nations

2. Exposes You to Different Styles of Teaching

Each country has its own unique style of teaching. Studying abroad can help you expand your academic horizon and develop the capacity to adapt to various educational settings.

Adapting to different styles of teaching can also help you adjust to different management styles, making you more versatile in the workplace. Teaching styles you may encounter abroad include:

  • Authority Style: A teacher-centered style where a professor is the authority figure and frequently gives long lectures or one-way presentations. There is a focus on set rules and expectations, and students typically take notes to retain information.
  • Facilitator Style: Professors promote self-learning by emphasizing the teacher-student relationship. They help students develop critical thinking skills by teaching them how to ask questions and find solutions through exploration.
  • Delegator Style: Professors assign lab activities and give students in-class projects to help them stay engaged. This is a guided learning style that places the teacher in an observer role while helping students remain active participants in their learning.  

3. Impresses Employers

Studying abroad can help launch your career and make you more competitive in the workforce. It gives you the opportunity to show future and current employers that you have the open mind, resourcefulness, and drive needed to adapt to a different environment.

Many employers are looking for graduates who have international experience. According to a survey, 64 percent of employers consider study abroad experience to be important, and 92 percent of employers look for transferable skills that are typically gained from the experience, such as flexibility to new challenges.

“Students who study abroad offer more to the workplace than those who don’t,” Lombardi says. “They offer a fuller package than just a student who’s looked at how things are theoretically, as opposed to students who have the opportunity to apply the concepts in their studies to real jobs and experiences across various cultures.”

Another survey found that nearly 40 percent of companies missed out on international business opportunities due to a lack of personnel with international experience. Studying abroad can be a powerful resumé booster that shows employers that you have the skills they need to achieve their business goals.

4. Enhances Your Network

Studying abroad helps you build invaluable relationships with people from all over the world. You broaden your international connections while having the opportunity to meet people that could turn into life-long friends. Some connections can even lead to career opportunities, including internships, job offers, and business partners.

The university where you study will often have a large community of students from local regions and abroad, giving you the opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds and cultures. The wider your network, the greater the likelihood you’ll be connected to exciting career and social opportunities.

Northeastern’s International Field Study Experience, for instance, allows students to work with established multinational companies on a real global issue that they are facing. Doing so is a unique opportunity to build relationships and expand their global networks.

5. Teaches You About New Cultures and Perspectives

While some might be concerned about the culture shock of studying in a new environment, many confirm that an experience with a different culture allows you to expand your worldview. By studying abroad, you’ll learn about new perspectives and develop cross-cultural awareness.

For example, you may work with people from other countries in your next job. By studying abroad, you’ll be more comfortable with people from different backgrounds, value their unique experiences, and establish a stronger relationship with them.

Oftentimes, our cultural background has a huge impact on how we react to different situations. Gaining a variety of perspectives can help you look at experiences in an entirely new way. By studying abroad, you’ll meet people with different upbringings, helping you widen your horizons and broaden your mind.

In addition, the best way to experience another culture is to immerse yourself in it, and the ideal way to do that is by living in another country.

6. Boosts Your Confidence

By immersing yourself in another culture, you develop valuable life skills needed for personal growth, including independence and adaptability. These skills can give you an added boost of confidence in your personal and professional life.

Studying abroad can be overwhelming, but the challenges you overcome can help you become a more mature person. You’ll find out that you can often thrive in new, unexpected circumstances, and you’ll boost your communication skills by speaking a new language—helping you further improve your self-confidence.

“It’s a great opportunity to work on cultural competencies, like being sensitive to other cultures, learning how to adapt to new situations, and tolerating ambiguity,” Lombardi says. “These skills are important to almost any job.”

Quickly adapting to your new environment will hone your self-reliance and resilience. From small tasks, like going to the doctor, to larger issues, like learning how to negotiate with a professor or adapt to a different culture’s management styles, your daily life can help you become a more capable person.

Studying abroad can also help you gain more confidence by improving certain skills that help you connect with others, such as:

  • Leadership: Strong leadership and team management skills are important in almost any environment. Knowing how to lead and inspire the people around you can help you establish stronger relationships, whether you’re working on a class project with a group of international students or completing an internship abroad.
  • Communication Skills: Strong written, public speaking, and negotiation skills are important to communicating effectively, particularly in an unfamiliar environment like a new country.
  • Cross-Cultural Awareness: Our experiences, values, and cultural backgrounds guide our viewpoints and actions. Studying abroad reminds you to be cognizant of others’ perspectives. Remember that what is considered appropriate in one culture can be inappropriate in another.

7. Allows You to See the World

Studying abroad allows you to see the world and travel to new places you would otherwise not have visited. During your time away from your studies, you can go sightseeing in your new city. You’ll also get to know your region more intimately than if you were just visiting for a shorter period of time.

When studying abroad, you can also visit neighboring regions and countries, as you’re not limited to one place. For example, if you’re studying in Milan, you can visit Florence or explore the Tuscan countryside by train. With international budget airlines and travel deals, exploring the world is becoming increasingly more affordable.

Your newfound connections can also show you areas that a tourist otherwise wouldn’t experience.

8. Uncovers New Career Opportunities Abroad

Studying in a new country exposes you to increased career opportunities, depending on your field of study. If you’re interested in finance, for example, consider studying in a region such as London or Hong Kong—two cities well known for business. If you’re interested in tech, then look into Berlin or Tel Aviv.

Oftentimes, organizations hiring international employees want to see evidence that candidates can thrive in a global environment. Studying abroad, especially in an area where you are interested in working, gives you the chance to showcase key skills and relevant experience on your resumé, like cross-cultural communication and an understanding of international policy. 

Skills Gained From Studying Abroad

Studying abroad can broaden a student’s academic experience by acquiring various skills that go beyond the classroom, including:

  • Provides opportunities to experience foreign cultures, improving one’s ability to work and communicate effectively with people from different backgrounds
  • Creates adaptability and resilience as students navigate unfamiliar environments and overcome challenges
  • Encourages students to learn independently and manage their daily tasks and responsibilities, giving them critical leadership skills for their future endeavors

Skills you can develop studying abroad include communication, adaptability, resilience, cultural knowledge, and independence.

The global perspective gained through studying abroad is an invaluable experience to have in today’s interconnected world, providing a competitive advantage for professionals who take the opportunity during their academic career.

Choosing a Graduate Study Abroad Program

The advantages of studying abroad are tremendous at any stage in your education. But, for those students looking to study abroad at the graduate level, finding the right program to fit their needs can be challenging. It’s important to find a program that will help you meet your goals. If you are balancing work and school, for example, a short-term program may be a better fit for you than a one- or two-semester trip. 

For those pursuing a Master of Science in Global Studies and International Relations, for example, Northeastern’s International Field Study Experience is designed to give students the experience they need for a global career.

“Our International Field Study Experience offers an experiential learning opportunity matching students with international organizations,” Lombardi says. “It’s truly an immersive program where you have the opportunity to learn about the culture and work with an industry partner. You are learning about different cultures and gaining work experience at the same time.”

In addition to career-specific benefits, Northeastern’s program also fosters personal development. International education promotes global learning, fosters understanding among groups from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, and develops globally-minded individuals.

“Being able to take all of what we’re learning, focus it in the classroom, and apply it out into the field and world is amazing,” Lombardi says. “All students should take advantage of this incredible opportunity.

To learn more about advancing your global career, download the free guide to breaking into Global Studies and International Relations below. 


Download Our Free Guide to Breaking into Global Studies and International Relations