How to Talk About Your International Degree Without Humblebragging

by Mary Ellen Dingley

I’ve often found myself being that obnoxious person in conversations who chimes in with “Well, when I was studying in Peru,” or “I had something similar happen when I got my degree in London!” Nobody likes that person, as my siblings pointed out (I retorted that not being that person meant literally keeping silent about my last few years of life, an idea which they seemed to like. Siblings, right?) No matter that I thought I was just sharing a story of my life; talking about my time abroad, and especially my international degree, came across as humblebragging.

Cambridge University, England

Cambridge University, England

Being able to articulate your international experience is important on things like your college applications or your resume, but it’s also important in everyday conversation.  When it comes to something as major as an international degree, whether an undergraduate or masters degree abroad, it can be even harder to speak gracefully on the topic. So, check out some tips on how to talk about your international degree without humblebragging:

Be Real

I went to the London School of Economics. This is a fact. I survived LSE and made it out with a degree which I am really proud of. This is not a humblebrag. This is a brag brag. I am full out bragging. I am super proud of that degree because it was super hard and there were a lot of late nights where I thought I wouldn’t make it but I did. A Harvard Business School study shows that regular bragging is actually received better than humblebragging. So be real about it. Don’t force your degree into conversation, but state it as a fact, and if the conversation continues and you are bursting with pride then go ahead and say that. Maybe don’t walk around with a laminated copy of your diploma, but a simple “yeah, earning that degree was super hard and I’ll admit, I’m proud of myself!” Is a genuine way to express your feelings.

I also think we should be able to be real about the tough times. Nothing drives me crazier than when people are upset at others for being honest about hard stuff. We shouldn’t have to paint our lives as rainbows and sparkles. An international degree is amazing, but it can also be a time of intense mental and emotional strain. Let’s be real about that too, just don’t combine it too closely with the realness of bragging because then (oops!) you’ve made a humblebrag.

Let me break it down for you. Real Pride in Your Accomplishment = Awesome. Realness about the tough times = Important. Real Pride + Realness about tough times = dangerously close to humblebrag.

Humblebrag Example: “Man, it was soooo stressful trying to balance living abroad in a beautiful foreign city with all of Europe beckoning me while also trying to study for a fancy degree! My life is sooo hard!”

Realness Example: “I’m proud of the hard work I did for this degree. There were some tough times and late nights, but I made it through!”

See the difference? Authenticity. Sincerity. Realness.

View of Guilin Normal University in China

Guilin Normal University, China

Be Grateful

A small dose of gratitude goes a long way. Show that you are grateful for the opportunity you had to gain a degree abroad. An attitude of gratitude (rhyme totally intended) lets others know that you realize how fortunate you are, and that you aren’t taking anything for granted!

Some of the most amazing people I’ve met are those that started in unfortunate circumstances and have since gone to prestigious universities, started their own nonprofits, written books, and won awards. But it’s not just their accomplishments that makes them amazing, it’s their gratitude. They all have people or organizations that helped them on their journey and they continuously drop them into conversation. One accomplished woman I know still refers to her first grade teacher as the person who first invested in her. Her gratitude toward that teacher for making sure she was taught a love of learning and was given that extra push to work hard is still strong enough for her to mention it frequently.

A very generous foundation gave me the funds to complete my international degree, and I am eternally grateful to them. Whenever I talk about my degree, I try to mention them and say how insanely lucky I was for their support. They took a chance on me. I couldn’t have done it without their funding and their advice, and I want people to know that I was helped along the way.

Humblebrag Example: “Sigh. I wish I could go to the concert, but I have to fill out this scholarship form so that I can get all the cash money to pay for insanely cool international degree. Ugh, choices.”

Grateful Example: “I could never have earned this degree on my own. Organization So-and-So is amazing, and has been a huge support to me!”

Tell a Story

If you want to talk about your international degree (or other accomplishment), put it in story form. Don’t just drop it into every other sentence - “Oh you like tea? As do I, because I drank so much tea while accomplishing the amazing feat of earning an INTERNATIONAL DEGREE!” No, no, stop that.

Instead, tell the story. Tell them why you wanted to study internationally, what lead you to choose your school, what you loved and what you hated about studying there, how you chose your field of study, and the challenges you overcame. Don’t go overboard - we don’t need an entire cast of characters or a description of your childhood. Obviously, don’t just start monologuing in the middle of dinner, but if the topic comes up, couch your international degree inside a story. This makes it easier to relate to and see the big picture of you as a person, rather than a boastful sound bite.

Humblebrag example: “Yes, I have a degree from Prestigious University X in Country Y and I’m so sad because I miss it so much there! Woe is me!”

Story Example: “I was really looking for a very specific degree and I didn’t see anything offered like it in my home country. So I widened my search to look abroad and when I found that degree in Country Y, I leapt at the opportunity! I really thrived there and enjoyed my courses and I think the degree will help me get to where I want to go in my career.”

Building at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico

Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico

Just Be Cool

If you really aren’t looking to tell a story of your proud accomplishment, then just keep it casual. “You went to That Cool University? Nice, I went to This Other Cool University.” If someone asks follow up questions answer politely and then ask them open ended questions about their own educational, career, or travel experiences. If they really want to hear more about your international degree, ask why they are so curious. Maybe they want to study internationally as well, in which case you can be a useful resource. Maybe they want to hear how you did it, so you can tell your story and mention all the people you are grateful for.

Be conscious of expressing interest in others’ lives and educational experiences, too. Just because they took a more traditional, domestic approach to their university education doesn’t make it less meaningful, impactful, or important.

Humblebrag example: “Oh it’s really not a big deal, honestly, everyone is so curious, it’s so difficult always having to answer questions about my fascinating international degree.”

Cool and Casual Example: “I’m happy to answer your questions, it was, indeed, a cool experience getting a degree abroad. Are you interested in studying in another country  yourself?”

Getting an international degree is an exciting accomplishment and a part of the story of what makes you, you. You don’t need to hide it away for fear of humblebragging. Let your accomplishment shine, but be real, be grateful, and tell the full story. Your authenticity will impress people just as much as (if not more than) that shiny degree of yours!