Resilience, confidence, and global cultural competence were all skills gained by the students, as well as second or third language competencies and often, real life work experience.
All the BA students speaking on the panel also had a mandatory internship as part of their degree programme.
However, Lizzie Fane, founder of study abroad network Third Year Abroad.com, urged stakeholders to make stronger links between study abroad experiences and greater employment outcomes.
“UK employers don’t understand the value of a year abroad and students don’t know how to sell it,” she said, explaining that many users of her website buried the global competencies and language skills acquired half-way down their CV.
Another hurdle was in articulating that a year spent studying abroad was a lot more than a “gap year”, and educating employers as to the real advantages that “global” graduates could offer. Fane explained she had founded a jobs website, Global Graduates, to help promote the USPs of international students.
Meanwhile, Brett Berquist, Executive Director of the Office of Study Abroad at Michigan State, said universities need to “up our game” when it comes to showing students the employability value of study abroad.
“We owe our stakeholders a stronger analysis,” he said. “We need to connect the rhetoric with the skills learned from study abroad and not just say study abroad and you’ll get a better job.”
Employers weighed in on the issue confirming that independence, confidence and adaptability are key qualities they look for in employees.
“When I employ people I want them to be comfortable with uncertainty in the future and there is no bigger indicator of that than study abroad,” said Manuela Doutel-Haghighi, Cloud Programme Leader at IBM.
However, several studies carried out in the UK, Germany and Italy showed that employers and recruiters aren’t sufficiently aware that a study abroad experience leaves students with a new and relevant skill set.
The student panel agreed that universities should help them assess the experience more holistically upon return.
“Don’t just give us a form to fill out, a face-to-face interview is a much better way to see what we’ve learned,” commented Anna Stewart, a British student who spent one semester in Nice, France and one in New York, USA. She said one of her semesters abroad did not match with her expectations.
During the sessions, one audience member observed that study abroad experiences shouldn’t be too easy or coddling, noting that the challenges faced overseas are what help students grow.
Stewart acknowledged that although she found one semester more seamless, she had learnt more resilience from the other study experience.