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Make study abroad relevant to careers, urges IIE Summit

In order to make study abroad a more attractive and viable option among American college-goers, university and business leaders must make the experience more relevant to the careers that students hope to pursue once they graduate.

Ruth Ferguson, SVP of HR at Bank of America, was one of several business leaders underlining the inherent value of study abroad.Ruth Ferguson, SVP of HR at Bank of America, was one of several business leaders underlining the inherent value of study abroad.

"What’s important for us in global investments is people who have an understanding of different cultures"

That was one of the major themes that emerged at Generation Study Abroad IIE Summit 2015 which took place last week, building on the initiative from IIE to dramatically increase US participation in study abroad to 600,000 students.

“More than ever before, students want their experience to prepare them for their future,” William Gertz, president and CEO of the American Institute for Foreign Study, or AIFS, told hundreds of international education professionals who attended the summit.

“Students are not only looking at the next day and month, but the future,” Gertz said. “They want study abroad to be an integral part of their lifelong journey.”

The summit, which drew over 600 attendees from countries as diverse as Guatemala, Australia and Vietnam, abounded with examples of recent college graduates who had successfully used their study abroad experience to help them launch careers.

Ashley B. Blackmon, an assistant marketing manager at PepsiCo, spoke of how she spent the first 15 minutes of her job interview conversing about her time studying abroad in Barcelona.

“It was the first thing the interviewer brought up,” said Blackmon, a 2011 Clark Atlanta University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and finance. “It goes a super long way,” she added, urging students to feature their study abroad experience prominently on their LinkedIn profiles.

A number of corporate leaders explained why they value candidates with international experience.

“They want study abroad to be an integral part of their lifelong journey”

“When we talk to candidates, what’s important for us in global investments is people who have an understanding of different cultures, the different ways they communicate and do business,” said Ruth Ferguson, a senior vice president and human resources executive at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

While one researcher lamented that employers don’t do enough to signal in their recruiting and hiring practices that they value international experience, Ferguson intimated that interviewers at her company never ask a candidate whether they’ve studied abroad.

“But the ‘with it’ and intuitive student will offer that up early on because they understand that to work in a global organization you have to have an understanding of the global economy,” she said.

Beyond discussions about the advantages of study abroad for employment, speakers offered divergent views on how to help students make the most out of their international experience.

Jessica Kuntz, a consultant at Deloitte LLP, recommended that students be allowed to “screw up” and learn from their mistakes, citing a personal example of visiting a hospital in Bosnia while studying abroad.

Her suggestion drew at least one critic who warned that universities could face lawsuits if they don’t do enough to protect students.

IIE Gen Study Abroad2

Daniel Obst (right) of IIE presents a certificate to the Alejandro Alba, winner of its Generation Study Abroad Voices video competition.

Other speakers called for a more supportive approach, particularly with first-generation college students whose parents immigrated to the United States.

“They need more of a push, guidance throughout the process, not just preparation at the beginning and ‘you’re good to go,’” said Giuseppe Céspedes, Supervising Immigration Paralegal at Catholic Charities Community Services of the Archdiocese of New York. “Pay attention to how they decide whether or not to go.”

Generation Study Abroad has made a commitment diversify the study abroad population as well as double the number of students studying abroad by the end of the decade.

The IIE-led initiative now has more than 600 partner organisations including 350 US colleges and universities and 100 from outside the US and last week revealed that more than US$185 million has been committed over the next five years by partner organisations to achieve their goals.

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