Whether you are traveling for two months or ten years, there will likely come a time when you‘ll want to put your travels on pause to pursue a steady career. Many who study abroad find this to be particularly true. The idea of the “real world” may already be looming before you – the great unknown that must be tackled after your time abroad. Finding a job upon your return home can seem daunting to many, and the transition to a conventional lifestyle can be jarring after months of living out of a backpack, but it doesn’t have to be!
Studying abroad is often the most carefree time of someone’s life, but there are ways to make the transition into your post-travel life smoother and land a good job; it all starts while you are still abroad! Your time studying abroad should work to your advantage and can easily be what makes your résumé stand out. Here is how your time abroad can get you hired!
Be Career Oriented While Abroad
Many people travel with the resolve to explore, live in the moment, and partake in new experiences. These types of intentions are valuable while traveling or living abroad and are important habits to form when you return home. Live it up abroad, but having a career-oriented mindset at play in the background while abroad can help make the transition from free spirit to a settled lifestyle seamless.
There are many ways to be career-oriented while traveling without missing out on the many things each new place has to offer. You can start laying the foundation for your job search wherever you are. You can: fundraise for an organization you want to work for, create photography or video projects to add to a portfolio, or intern for a local business, school, or organization. Not only will these activities contribute to your resume, but they will connect you to the places you live and visit abroad as they require you to truly engage with local communities.
Know How to Market Your Travel Experience Appropriately
It can be challenging to discuss your experiences traveling abroad with those you encounter upon your return home. There is a fine line between talking at people, as if you have become infinitely more worldly and superior, and downplaying your experiences like they haven’t impacted who you are. It is valuable to master the ability to talk about your travels humbly, honestly, and thoughtfully, particularly when referring to your travel experiences in potential job opportunities. Here’s how:
1. Choose Your Words Wisely. One simple way to benefit from your travels is in your diction, specifically with the words travel and live. There is a difference in an interviewer’s mind between an applicant who lived abroad and an applicant who traveled abroad. Living in a different country signifies the ability to adapt, to work with people different than you, and to work in a state of ambiguity. These are often traits an employer looks for in a new hire, so stating that you “lived in Southeast Asia for a year” can lead to more valuable follow-up questions or interest from the individual you are speaking with.
2. Give Your Experience Structure. Conversely, traveling for a lengthy period of time can come off quite differently depending on the employer. Simply saying “I traveled in South America for a few months” could indicate that you can get restless, are unreliable, or you won’t pay attention to deadlines. Traveling, especially the concept of backpacking, sounds like you are moving from place to place, not getting involved in the communities where you are traveling, and may not lead to additional questions from an interviewer. However, stating that you lived somewhere often sparks a person’s curiosity to understand what you did while living in a different country or region. Lead with your study abroad period or a specific aspect of your free range travel rather than diving into the five weeks you backpacked.
3. Power Words. Because of the different connotations inspired by “travel” and “live,” it will benefit you to play up the aspects of your travels that might lend to the specific job you are applying for. Connect skills you acquired, specific experiences you had, or the projects you did, to the position you are applying for. Proving to a potential employer that you were already thinking about the next phase of your life, even if you weren’t quite sure what it would be at the time, will make you more memorable and you may even be hired for your ability to tell your stories of traveling well.
And Know What NOT To Say
Many people, although they loved their time abroad, find it incredibly difficult to articulate a meaningful sentence about it. Think of a short three to five sentence response you can use if the interviewer says, “ I see you studied abroad in France for a semester. How was that?”
Avoid generic, boring responses:
- It was great. I had so much fun.
- It was lifechanging.
- I had a wonderful time.
These tell the potential employer nothing and frankly are kind of boring. It doesn’t lead to further conversation, or highlight anything.
- It was the first time I lived away from home and I was amazed how independent I became. I even organized a trip to XXX for a weekend alone.
- It gave me an entirely different perspective on my own culture and society, highlighting what I really appreciate about home and what things I want to incorporate into my lifestyle from what I learned abroad.
- Traveling helped me understand who I am and who I want to become. It showed me my strengths in challenging situations and my areas for development when I am out of my comfort zone.
Discover Your Professional Path
You may have declared a major, but there is much more to do and explore when it comes to actually discovering what you want to do with your life professionally. You might not even realize the many career options out there. Although you can do online research to learn about potential career paths, nothing quite compares to actually connecting with others about their work.
Realize the Possibilities
You have the opportunity to meet new people every day while traveling abroad. Don’t let those hours spent on buses, trains, and planes go to waste. Don’t get in the habit of sticking your face in a book at a cafe or ignore others while you scroll through your amazing photos to determine which one to Instagram. Talk to people. Ask thoughtful questions and really listen to others’ stories.
You will learn that there are endless ways to live your life and apply your interests and skills in the work world. While traveling I was fascinated by the lives people made for themselves such as the family of four traveling the world while mother and father were between jobs, the middle-aged woman who waited until her kids were in school to become a writer and went to a new country every few months, and the nineteen-year-old who wanted more life experiences before starting university.
You will see that there isn’t one right way to live your life and the limits you may feel about what you can do and when you can do it are often completely self-imposed.
Make Real Connections
Truly listening to the people you encounter and discussing your own professional interests can lead to surprising connections for networking opportunities wherever you settle. Whether you are talking with a fellow traveler or a local, you might be surprised how small this world actually is. Listening for what you have in common could result in a job lead, an opportunity for an informational interview with a corporate executive, or maybe just a good conversation about someone’s life. There really isn’t too much that can go wrong by developing an interest in others and letting them be interested in you.
Having this career-oriented, forward looking mindset won’t stop you from living moment-by-moment. It will help establish deeper, more meaningful connections in each moment, so live it up while studying abroad knowing that it will also benefit your future!