Studying abroad is the highlight of many student experiences. It’s an opportunity for a completely new context, culture, friend group, and set of expectations and experiences. If college is the chance to begin again, study abroad is the chance to temporarily restart and go all-out.
It’s also a pivotal experience for many students. Travel is broadening, inspiring, and clarifies many passions, preferences, likes and dislikes. It's disruptive. It can prove, once and for all, that you’re meant for open road and adventure…or that you prefer your life experiences in more controlled, short-term servings.
Whatever the outcomes, studying abroad is often described as transformational. Its impact echoes far beyond what might be expected from a short-term experience.
But studying abroad rarely shows up on students’ resumes.
Having visited a place and feeling transformed is not something that’s easy to record on paper for a hiring committee or grad school admissions board. Many people travel. Many people claim transformation. So how do you make sure studying abroad is something you can claim and celebrate in your ‘on paper’ future?
Resume-friendly study abroad activities
Simply traveling or living somewhere does not qualify as ‘work or volunteer experience’ on most resumes. Nor is it a skill, at least in the sense that most employers mean it. So here are some ideas on how to make studying abroad “count.” (Note: these tactics will not only go on your permanent record; they will also make you a more engaged, enthusiastic, and connected person during your experience. This is one of those win-win scenarios)
You can list your study abroad university under “education” on your resume, particularly if you have some good grades and relevant coursework to back this up. This is very effective in the case of second-language study, or if you form strong connections while there. Some specific academic options:
- Present at a conference
- Find a research assistant position
- Work with a mentor closely enough that they could serve as a reference
- Complete a class assignment or group project of a scale and quality you can use in the future (particularly effective for computer science or ‘hands on’ classes)
The culture around academic involvement and student research might be different at your host university than you're used to at home (I found this to be the case while studying in Belfast), but it's worth exploring your options and finding out what is available to study abroad students in your department and at the university as a whole.
Become active in your host university’s campus life. This is always a good idea, regardless of where you are in the world. You will meet interesting people, make deeper connections, and generally have a ‘real’ experience of being part of the college. Some specifics:
- Join a student club or organization
- Play on a campus sports team
- Volunteer to participate in (or event take a leadership role) campus events
- Continue an activity from your home university (taking part in the choir, being on the debate team, joining a crafting group, rock climb, etc)
- Try something completely new and different
While some of these activities make better resume items than others, it’s more likely that involvement in these kinds of activities can enrich your ‘other skills’ category than if you do not actively participate in your campus life.
3. Get a job
Depending on your student visa, the amount of time you have in a country, and your schedule’s flexibility, working while abroad may or may not be an option for you. However, it might be both possible and advantageous to look into jobs in your local community. This could be an interesting opportunity to explore an entirely new direction for your employment track, and/or an incredible chance to apply past experience in a new culture and context, which would make for a strong resume item and talking point, even if the duration of employment is relatively short.
4. Get Involved with the Community
Get off campus and into a local organization or social group. Take on volunteering or internships in the local community, just as you would do at home. Join a religious group. Become a member of local cultural/outdoors/meetup groups.
Your participation in these kinds of off-campus activities could lead to all kinds of additional opportunities that could someday be opportunities. I was invited to appear on the radio in both Belfast and Honduras because I knew activists, and they were interested in hearing an informed American's perspective. Involvement of this kind could also lead to a solid network of opportunities, from jobs to friendships to places to visit.
5. Leverage Your Language Skills
If you are in a non-English speaking country, your language skills are an incredibly valuable commodity. You could find yourself a huge range of opportunities, on-campus and off, paid and unpaid, which could put your skills to use and result in great resume experience. Some ideas:
- Tutor fellow students in English
- Volunteer in English classrooms in local schools
- Help edit written English
- Translate materials into English (some ideas might be university website information, student recruitment, NGO websites, and other internationally-focused publications)
6. Ongoing Work/Research/Publishing
Even if you don’t begin this kind of resume-building work while abroad, you can craft opportunities connected with your experiences once you return. Did any issues, cultural elements, foods, organizations, or places catch your eye? Look into options to continue to engage with your study abroad location once you return to your home university. Some ideas:
- Stay connected with organizations or individuals from your study abroad location, and continue to help them with English or other needs.
- Take classes or conduct research connected to the places or issues you engaged with while studying abroad.
- Write about the culture, places, or current events in your study abroad locations. Look into publishing in your campus publications, on travel blogs, or in other venues.
I’ve thought and written for a long time now about the importance of being strategic about your passions. When you have an opportunity like studying abroad, you benefit in every imaginable way if you commit to taking one or two intentional, strategic steps toward making the experience part of your permanent record as a student, an employee, and a citizen of the world.
There’s a new phrase I’ve been kicking around for a little while, and it certainly applies here: “Passions become actionable through experience.”
Have you found a great way to add travel experience to your resume? Please share your tips and strategies below, as well as any questions you might have. You might also enjoy "A Student Travel Mentality," "Campus Involvement Leads to So Much More," and "How On-Campus Jobs Transformed My Student Experience."