Why Study Abroad is Crucial for Engineering Students

by Emily Hurt

Many engineering students look into taking a semester abroad, only to be told by their advisors: “engineers tend to get the short end of the stick when it comes to studying abroad.”  This assessment is certainly accurate; with jam-packed semester-by-semester academic planning and internship expectations, it’s difficult to fit in a semester (or even a summer) to study abroad. 

Construction engineer on the job in uniform

Construction engineer working on a city street

With the dozens of reasons not to study abroad as an engineering student being thrown at you, it can be difficult to take a step back and realize everything you may miss out on if you choose not to study engineering abroad. Studying abroad is a privilege, not a burden.

With a well laid out plan and some conviction, educational travel is an experience every engineering student can – and should – have access to.

Break the Shy Engineer Stereotype

Studying abroad is crucial to engineering students as an essential educational experience. Engineers across all disciplines have the bad reputation of being shy and antisocial. The famous joke goes: “You can tell an outgoing engineer because he is looking at your shoes instead of his own.” Studying abroad truly can improve your communication skills, because you will be exposed to different types of communication and education, if you’re willing to step into uncharted territory and experience new conversations, languages, and gestures. Traveling can be a big step to breaking out of your shell, and many employers are aware of this.

Employers are looking for sociable employees who can solve problems effectively, not just people to crunch numbers and turn in reports. Studying abroad teaches you to work with others, through language barriers and cultural etiquette obstacles. Engineering breakthroughs are a result of hard work, dedication, and the exchange of ideas, much of which happens internationally in the 21st century. Therefore, networking is of the utmost important in engineering fields, and studying engineering abroad increases your network -- professional and personal -- exponentially. Leveraging these skills on your resume and highlighting them in your interviews can set you apart from other engineering applicants. 

Go Abroad Before Settling In To Your Career

Engineers may have few times to travel once settled into a career, unless you’re one of the lucky few employed as a field service engineer or are involved in a lot of consulting. If you have a penchant for travelling, engineering can be difficult position to be in. A great way to fulfill your wanderlust is to take advantage of engineering study abroad opportunities before securing a position in the field. The world of professional engineering is somewhat difficult to break into, but once you do, most engineers stay with the same company for five to ten years before they have enough experience to move up in their business or move onto a different company.

In this early period in an engineer’s career, hard work is a requirement and travel is difficult. 

Other engineers may take the graduate school route, making it almost impossible to travel, or to study engineering abroad during a specific graduate program. If you want to travel and haven’t: the time is now! College is a time where everyone is figuring things out, and travel is an important part of that experience for many. It may illuminate a different part of engineering that interests you, or showcase new types of careers in other countries.  

Study Abroad Experience = A Stronger Resume

When trying to secure your dream job in a highly competitive market, like engineering, a study abroad experience truly can set you ahead of your peers. As the world itself becomes more global, employers are looking for those who are willing to travel, have experience doing so, and can represent their brand in a positive manner all around the world. Having engineering study abroad experience on your resume can indicate you have exceptional communication skills, you just have to make sure you are able to demonstrate the skills you’ve gained to employers as well as find a way to put the skills on your resume. The most important part of studying abroad for engineering majors is being able to apply what you have learned to your field of interest

Plumbing blue prints

An example of plumbing blue prints

Once you’ve returned, be sure to reflect on how your education was improved by studying engineering abroad, in order to effectively convey the positives to future employers. If you know another language or if you learn a new language while studying engineering abroad, make sure to add that to your resume as well. Be proud of having the foresight to organize your course demands in order to travel abroad (don’t forget about the possibility to studying engineering abroad in the summer). Consider talking points on how engineering courses in your country of choice differed from domestic classes and what that taught you about the subject itself. Your study abroad experience can be a monumental talking point about your assets if you’re able to talk about it thoughtfully. 

Solidify Your Goals

It all boils down to what you want out of your education. If you’re open to learning new things, taking on new challenges, and solving problems in new and informative ways, studying abroad can only benefit your engineering skills. An engineer is someone who looks at problems, considers the risk, and plots the best course of action.

When considering studying engineering abroad, the obstacles are surmountable, the risks are low, and the rewards are limitless. Studying abroad, therefore, has the power to take an engineering student and turn them into an engineer.