Travelling, meeting people, learning a new language, partying and (even!) going to class are some of the things you will usually do on your year abroad. Whether you are a seasoned student traveler and have studied abroad several times or you’re a rookie facing the unexpected, your experience will likely include all the activities mentioned above.
And it’s great. It’s definitely one of the best things you can do as a student and it will truly change your life. This is, at least for a few months. You will get back home with the feeling of returning to normal life. But what if you could truly change your life through an study abroad experience? Here are some tips:
1. Make yourself more employable
I get it. It’s not all about doing crazy stuff, and you want to do something that will matter when you get back home. That is actually a smart move, and your study abroad experience can be a great time to make yourself more employable in your home country.
Any student can get an internship in their home country. For us milenials we are living in such a competitive job market that finishing school with a college degree and a couple of internships won’t impress anyone. It doesn’t matter if you have spent summers doing unpaid internships for companies that have no interest in training you and just want free employees. Or if you haven’t really learnt anything useful. You are just doing it because everyone says you need to.
But what if you did an internship abroad? What if you took advantage of your study abroad experience to also take on a full or part time internship? That would look a lot more impressive on your resume than almost any internship back home. You would have to deal with bosses, coworkers or clients in a foreign language, clearly outside of your comfort zone.
Companies nowadays (independently of their size) are operating on such a global scale that people who have spent their whole lives in their comfort bubble won’t be selected to take part in those projects. They will look conservative, closed-minded and unable to take risks. Don’t be one of them.
2. Take risks. Start something new
Not interested in internships? No problem. Not into working for someone else’s company? I can see that. How about starting your own business instead?
Starting your own venture should always be an option, whether you’re studying abroad or employed back home. During my time abroad in Poland, a group of Portuguese students started a company specializing in organizing parties. Sounds good right? The company, like some famous and successful start-up stories begin, started off in their dorm room. One day, they decided to throw a party for some of their “dormmates” from other European countries in their 200 sq ft room.
It went pretty well, about 20 people showed up and they decided to repeat it. And again. And again. More and more people started coming to the parties, and only 6 parties later their number of attendees raised to 400. Instead of cancelling the party, they decided to call a few local clubs to host their event there instead. It worked so well that they kept organizing parties, not only at clubs but also on party buses! So well, that three years later their business is still up and running…
They are not the only example I know. Another friend of mine from the US that I met while he was studying abroad in Barcelona launched his own custom-designed shirt brand. And one of Tuenti’s (the Spanish version of Facebook) started working on it during his study abroad in Spain and was bought by one of Spain’s biggest telecom companies for 70M €.
3. Make Facebook friends, but also LinkedIn connections
You are going to meet great people during your study abroad experience. And by the time you leave you will have made both friends in a new country, but also friends from back home who traveled with you. And those friendships are made to last forever.
Those friendships will mean future trips to your new favorite country, or visits from your foreign friends. But what if you could also increase your network outside of your university and/or dorms? If you’re doing an internship abroad it also means that you will have the possibility of meeting local companies, entities or entrepreneurs. The power of having connections is that you are planting the seed for future collaborations.
When I landed my startup job in Santiago, Chile, I did it through a friend of mine who I met during his study abroad. And during the time I was in Poland, I had the opportunity of meeting a company that is now one of our best clients, and have been working with them for over a year now.
You never know where your connections will take you. You could also be helpful to someone in the future, even if you are located on the other side of the world.
4. Try what you always wanted but were too afraid to. No one knows you.
And I’m not trying to say it in a mean way. Seriously, probably no one in your new town knows you. Of course, if you spend months just hanging out with your friends from home you won’t really leave your comfort bubble, but if you make the effort of socializing with people from your new country (even if that means speaking a foreign language) you will have a totally different experience.
And most importantly, you will see yourself in a totally new and unexplored environment. No one knows who you are, what you’ve done before, or what your status is. Everyone is new and you are new to them. It’s the perfect opportunity to do all the things you’ve always wanted to do back home, but were afraid of, or were too worried about “what they would think about me”.
Next time you are thinking of going abroad, take a few minutes to ask yourself: how can I really turn this into a life-changer?