The Value of Getting a Masters Degree Abroad: What it Doesn’t Say On Your Diploma

by Joe Baur

If you’re considering master’s degree abroad programs, irrespective of location, chances are you have matured since your collegiate years (but don’t get us wrong, we, too, still enjoy midnight pizza binges and wonky dress up nights every now and then). The undergraduate college experience is about living away from your family for the first time, becoming more independent, and getting started in (some semblance of) a career by dabbling in a variety of disciplines.

What’s the first image that comes to mind when you hear the word college? If you pictured an empty cardboard box (once full of cheap, watery beer) on top of someone’s head, you’re probably not alone. Few can honestly speed through the annals of their collegiate memory and instinctively land on a memory inside the classroom. 

A book and a pair of eyeglasses

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, many associate their college years with social development. However, earning a master’s degree is a more serious endeavor that will require a more serious effort on your part. In fact, it might not only be an enriching academic adventure of the mind, but it might also be necessary for you to succeed in your field. But don’t confuse a master’s degree as a free ticket to employment. Unfortunately, many graduate students are still finding it difficult to get an edge in competitive fields.

So, what’s one way you can set yourself apart from your peers earning their master’s degree? That’s right, by getting a master’s degree abroad. Just like those who earn a master’s degree in their home country, you’ll study under renowned professors in your field, gain applicable field experience, read more books than you care to admit, and write summaries and theses and white papers. Those are all great take aways, but your international degree is actually way more than that.

1. It shows you have maturity.

Those days of washing away facepaint the morning after a blurry night are over (or at least should be with the very rare exception). Getting your degree abroad is an opportunity to develop your level of maturity beyond whatever growth you may (or may not) have had in college. Doing so internationally will only force you to further push yourself to adult, something many of us resist like a cat recoiling from their first bath.

In college, most students maintain a number of crutches to lean on, such as parents paying for college or simply the knowledge that he or she can always go home for almost any reason regardless of validity. Robbed? Go home for the weekend and regroup. Have a stuffy nose? Mommy and Yiayia are on their way. Tired of dorm room ramen? Check!

How many reading this are guilty of running a hamper of clothes home to be cleaned?

None of the above scenarios will fly while you’re getting a master’s degree abroad (unless you fly Yiayia out on the weekends). Whether something truly bad happens or you’re presented with a minor inconvenience, you’ll have to deal with it on your own. Nothing forces you to grow up like handling foreign bureaucracy or simply navigating a new city in a foreign country, doubly so in a foreign language.

Now flash forward, and imagine having a conversation with a prospective employer. Being able to maintain your studies, finances, and a life abroad reads more impressive than any number of similar applicants who followed a more weathered path and says something about your level of maturity.

Cambridge Castle

2. It has given you real-world context to your studies.

Furthering your studies abroad allows you the opportunity to learn beyond the classroom. Again, it’s about getting away from those crutches of the comfort of home. Back home, you could rely on friends and family to fill out your social life. While abroad, you’ll likely be interacting with people who come from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

Recounting professional sports scores over a few beers won’t win you any friends. You’re going to have to learn about where other people come from and be genuinely inquisitive. Of course, this shouldn’t be a problem if you’re studying abroad. Hopefully your interest in the world outside of your home country extends to people, too.

We already hinted at this in the previous point, but there is no universal chart for how to run your day-to-day life across the globe. No matter who you are, your day-to-day in, for example, France will be different than your home country. Paying bills, communicating with your landlords, grocery shopping, transportation, everything will be different.

Best of all, you’ll get to live your studies. Studying environmental science? Being in Costa Rica isn’t a bad gig. Archaeology in Israel? Well, nothing beats walking outside and living your textbook.

All of these experiences are your classes outside of the physical classroom. You’ll be constantly learning as you navigate what works and what doesn’t. Then, when you speak with prospective employers, you can use those experiences as examples that show you know how to identify a problem, react and adjust.

People smiling

3. Intercultural experiences are this century’s jam.

Few things in this world are as valuable as intercultural experiences. Best case scenario, intercultural experiences make people question and fight against war. After all, it’s impossible to hate some fantastical stereotype of your supposed enemy when you know it’s all propaganda. Intercultural experiences break barriers, stereotypes, and political narratives that would rather we saw the world in black and white.

That’s the view of the grand scheme. As far as your personal development, the benefits are obvious. Think about it. Who’s the most attractive candidate to an international company? Someone who has never met someone from outside your country or you with your experiences learning about different cultures and interacting with them? There’s no question who wins that job or assignment. 

The candidate with a long list of intercultural experiences on their résumé will always both appear (and be) more valuable.

4. It shows you have good communication skills.

Different countries and cultures harbor different communication styles, forcing you to be a more active and empathetic listener. In our home countries, we have the tendency to try and fill in the gaps, interrupting one another because we think we know where the thought is going. Often times we do. However, that won’t work when you’re getting a master’s degree abroad. In fact, it might even seem rude to your host culture.

Learning how to interact with folks from different cultures and languages will leave you with improved communication skills whether you share a language or not (hint: you should probably start studying your host language if you haven’t already!).

Even if you do share a language, one of you might not be fluent. This will require more patience on your part if it’s the speaker’s second (or third) language. If you’re speaking a second language, you’ll notice that your brain is working noticeably harder. It’s not entirely uncommon for someone in a mixed-language conversation to become frustrated.

Confused yet? Well, that’s part of what going abroad for your master's degree is all about. Communicating with people across linguistic and cultural lines will teach you to speak slowly, enunciate, and to listen attentively. Remember those listening exercises where you occasionally repeat the speaker to make sure you understand? You probably thought they were corny, but it’s a great way to ensure you’re not lost in a sea of words when communicating abroad.

Now let’s head back to the workforce. Who’s going to be the more appealing candidate? Someone who has experience communicating with an international audience or the other candidate whose idea of international communication is yelling in English louder?

Students in a library

5. You’re confident and self-assured.

There’s a sense of accomplishment that comes with college beyond the diploma. At the end of those four years, you realize that you actually can take care of yourself, pay some bills, and resemble something of an adult. Now, imagine doing that in a foreign country without some of those crutches we mentioned before, like family nearby. It’s incredibly empowering to live abroad as a student and will incite an enduring can-do attitude that you can carry with you in your future career.

Not only will you truly be a full-fledged adult after earning your master’s degree abroad, but you will have done it in a foreign country. That accomplishment will translate into increased confidence that will help you secure a job and start a successful career when you return home.

In conclusion…

Simply put, earning a master’s degree abroad is an incredibly attractive line on your résumé that, as we’ve shown, says far more than your physical diploma will. It’s an obvious conversation you’ll be having in any potential job interview. The person sitting across from you will be genuinely interested (at least more so than the typical, “name three weakness you have without turning them into positives”); with the right angle and articulation, he/she will be quick to understand the incredible value of hiring an individual with an international master’s degree.