How to Be a Successful Graduate Student Abroad

by Published

We all know there’s more to studying abroad as a graduate student than simply spending time in the classroom. Just as successful students at home find ways to broaden their horizons through athletics, model United Nations, and a plethora of additional extracurricular activities, so too do those who have made the decision to earn their degree abroad.

However, the perks of earning a degree abroad cannot be realized solely by living and studying in an international context. It takes effort, intentionality, and a bit of strategy to really take advantage of the opportunity at hand.

The potential to expand your skillset and knowledge multiplies exponentially in an international environment.

But what exactly can you do? What can you sign up for that will leave a marked impact on not just your educational background, but your life as a whole? What actions can you take now that will most benefit your long term academic, career, and personal development goals?

Learning new language with the locals

5 Ways Successful Students Spend Their Time Out of Class While Earning a Master’s Degree Abroad

Luckily, there are no shortage of outlets to maximize your time outside the classroom while obtaining a master’s degree abroad. Here are a few ways outstanding students amplify their time while completing graduate degree programs abroad:

1. Mastering the language of the locals.

Learning a new language is perhaps the most obvious way successful students spend their time out of class, especially for those studying in a non-Anglophone country. Though it certainly remains a viable option even if you are studying in a country where you do speak the language.

Considering the English language’s dominance in international circles, it’s as easy as ever to find a master’s program abroad taught entirely in English, even if it’s not an official language of the resident country. I, for example, studied at the United Nations-mandated University For Peace in Costa Rica, a Spanish-speaking country, in a program taught in English. I certainly could have spent my time abroad exclusively speaking English, but I knew that wasn’t an option if I wanted to truly make the most of my time abroad.

Ultimately, learning Spanish became an indispensable asset. In retrospect, Spanish in and of itself was a prerequisite to finding success in some of my most important hours spent outside the classroom. Traveling to El Salvador, for instance, required a confident level of Spanish in order to get around (something I’ll touch on more later).

Besides, having selected an international university for my master’s program, I was surrounded by students from around the world. Spanish was, without question, the second-most spoken language, but there was ultimately everything from Portuguese and French to Japanese and Hindi available within the student body. While my focus was on improving my Spanish, this time abroad taught me the true importance of being able to converse in as many languages as possible if I wanted to remain in an international environment throughout my career. While a master’s degree earned abroad will make you more attractive to prospective employers, an ability to communicate in multiple languages will increase your viability for employment even more so.

2. Taking advantage of the program location.

Wherever you go for your master’s degree program abroad, there will be something inherently special and unique about the location. When I was earning my degree in Costa Rica, I was in a mecca of biodiversity for anyone and everyone who was studying in the environmental department. For those earning a degree in human rights, we had an international court right in San José. For myself in media, I had the unique opportunity to explore Spanish-speaking, Central American media that I had never seen before.

Successful international students working at a graduate level take advantage of their program location to strengthen their dissertations or expertise in their chosen field, and they don’t confine these efforts to the classroom.

While earning a master’s degree abroad, you will be exposed to a number of professors and faculty members who have a wealth of experience; they might even be one of the most influential and well-respected thought-leaders of your industry. Successful graduate students will actively cultivate relationships with important people in their field of study who live/work in the area. Conscious and intentional networking, as well as involvement in internship and job fairs hosted by your international university, can lead to strategic post-graduate work (or further study) opportunities.