Sometimes, when a student returns from a foreign country, the temptation to go abroad again, this time to work, can be high. How are the two experiences different? Studying abroad programs offer a wealth of opportunities for college students. Whether it’s a couple of weeks during summer vacation or for an entire academic year, studying in another country not only enhances a student’s college education, but also helps to make a student more marketable after graduation and adds a new perspective to a student’s life experiences.
For anyone thinking of going abroad to work after spending time overseas as a student, there is much to consider. Despite similarities such as culture shock and foreign language immersion, the two experiences can have dramatic contrasts.
Level of Independence When Working Abroad
A study abroad program often involves at the very least a little bit of basic guidance from a university or an independent study abroad organization. Unless participating in some sort of official program (such as a Fulbright teaching assistantship), support in finding housing, getting acclimated to the foreign country, and improving foreign language skills (if necessary) will be minimal.
The Challenges of Culture Shock and Making Friends
Again, unless participating in a program that involves some sort of orientation (i.e. the opportunity to meet other participants), friends are not as readily available as they would be on a study abroad program. While making friends during time working abroad can be a challenge, it is a wonderful opportunity to work up the courage to get to know locals. In addition, without support of a program (and fellow travelers also experiencing culture shock), adjusting to a new place may be more difficult. This is another great reason to meet new people.
The Need to Maintain Professionalism
One other major difference of being a student abroad versus being a working professional abroad: appropriate conduct. Sure, it’s fun to go get a drink with coworkers after hours, but the days of the social freedom of being a student are more or less over. Who knows, the boss may be watching. Keeping old stereotypical college habits to a minimum is important.
On the Positive Side: Money!
As a student, chances are funds were at a minimum. Even if a job doesn’t pay all that well, at least it’s giving back something. Every little bit helps, especially when Wanderlust strikes and pricey train tickets need to be bought!
Another Positive Side to Working Abroad: Experience
The professional development gained through an overseas job can help add fantastic substance to a resume. Language skills, confidence, international knowledge, cosmopolitanism, and the ability to handle a challenge, among others, all look great on a resume.
While there are some challenging differences between studying and working abroad, such as increased independence (which is of course also a great thing), fewer ready-made opportunities to make friends, and the need to be a grownup in certain situations, there are also rewarding differences, such as the paycheck and the professional experience. But the best part is the one glaring similarity: the opportunity to live abroad again!