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Why you should go on an exchange semester and study abroad

Experiencing another culture is an excellent investment in your future career. Here’s why.   

Up until now, increasing globalization has been the trend of most businesses.

At the moment, given the current COVID-19 situation, there is some discussion that this might change in the future. Most likely, globalization will continue, though perhaps in a different form.

Even prior to today’s events, we were seeing a huge increase in live, virtual communication. Chatbots on websites with real-time humans behind them were becoming more frequent. Videoconferencing was on the rise. An interview with Zoom in 2018 reported that “51% of the Fortune 1000 and 58% of the Fortune 500” were using Zoom…and that was several years ago.

So, one way or another, businesses are going to continue to look for employees with skills which suit the international arena. Candidates will need to work well in multicultural teams and preferably be multilingual. They should have the mindsets of global citizens, able to fit in anywhere in the world.

 

Studies show that an exchange semester (aka a study abroad program) is one of the most effective ways of developing international readiness.

 

An exchange semester drops you into a new culture. Living and studying in a new environment increases your intercultural competencies. Data shows that students who study abroad become more tolerant of and adaptable to cultural differences. Chances are, you will make lasting friendships which will help create a more peaceful world. You might even pick up a few words in a new language—or end up speaking it like a pro.

Academically, an exchange semester may offer courses not available at your main university or graduate school. In addition, undergraduates who take an exchange semester at an educational institution tend to have priority when applying for graduate studies at that same institution.

 

There are, of course, challenges.

 

One is finances. Working is usually not permitted in the host country. As a result, students need sufficient financial support during their exchange semester. Some host academic institutions will offer full or part financial assistance. The Erasmus program offers significant monetary support for those who study at an academic institution in a European community member country.

Another hurdle is bureaucracy. University applications, course equivalency, and arranging a visa are all processes which can be very frustrating and time-consuming. Before choosing your exchange semester institution, get in touch with them. Ask some direct questions about how much help they are willing to give you with the paperwork.

Once in place, students may experience “culture shock.” A big part of that is differences in food. Another is contrasts in lifestyle, climate, and the unwritten “rules of the game.” Feeling like a fish out of water is normal at the beginning. Consider these aspects when choosing your exchange semester. How much out of your “comfort zone” will still be comfortable for you?

 

Overall, it’s more than worth it.

Besides the rewards of personal growth and development, analyses show that those who had done an exchange semester benefitted in their career as well. First, they were more likely to opt for graduate programs, giving them the academic edge when entering the job market. Second, those who took part in an exchange semester had higher starting salaries.