Studying abroad hosts benefits in the job market


A view of an old chateau undergoing restoration


Last summer, senior Madeleine Leonard flew halfway across the world, stepped into the home of her new family and was unable to speak English for two months.

As a participant in the Indiana University Honors Program in Foreign Languages (IUHPFL), Leonard decided to travel to France to fully immerse herself in the French culture and language for seven weeks. She said her cousin influenced her to take part in the program.

Ericson and her friends stand in front of a cathedral in Leon
Ericson and her friends stand in front of a cathedral in Leon

“My cousin went to Spain last year with the program, and it just sounded so much fun, and so I wanted to try to do it for French and (I was) really happy that I got in just because, like I said, I love to travel, and being able to go and stay with a host family (is) even better,” she said.

According to an April CNN article, studying abroad has many benefits, particularly the potential to give young adults greater marketability and thus an advantage in the job market, which has become increasingly competitive. In a study by Global HR News, eight in 10 human resource (HR) executives surveyed stated that studying abroad was a major factor in jobs overseas, and 67 percent of the surveyed executives claimed that doing so distinguishes a candidate from others who have not had such an experience. In addition, studying abroad may give students not only language skills but also independence, greater maturity and increased cultural awareness.

A bike rests on a windowsill of one of the oldest cobblestone streets in Spain
A bike rests on a windowsill of one of the oldest cobblestone streets in Spain

Angelika Becker, world language department chairperson and German teacher, said she sees the benefits of participating in overseas programs.

“When you study abroad and you’re immersed in the language and the culture, your language skills go way up, but that’s not the only advantage. You get to experience the culture firsthand, and it’s an immersion setting. There will be people there from other countries, and you get to experience those cultures as well,” she said. “For our students here, they do the IU Honors program. It’s only seven weeks, but you are immersed in that culture, so yes, you do gain independence (and) confidence because you know you can do it. From the culture aspect, because you live there, you’re immersed, and you see the things that you may have learned in class or may have read in the book.”

Leonard said she believes being in the program has better prepared her for various situations and the future.

“I definitely think I’m more independent. I feel like (being away from home for a long time) will also prepare you well for college and dealing with new situations and people you don’t know,” she said. “(Another thing I gained was) learning how to move past some sort of social faux pas because all of us had at least one or two things that happened to us where maybe we said something or mispronounced something, and it just came out completely different from how we meant.”

Similarly, Becker said she has seen students undergo positive changes after studying abroad with the IUHPFL.

“It always helped young people learn more about themselves, (and) it helped young people gain that self-confidence because if you’ve been to a different country, and you know you can survive, you get more self-confidence, and I see that all the time when students return and they come to visit, they are really changed,” Becker said.

Senior Austin Ericson, who also participated in the IUHPFL and traveled to Spain, said she decided to do the program mostly for the language but also for the life skills.

A small group of students in IUHPFL eat lunch at a park in Madrid
A small group of students in IUHPFL eat lunch at a park in Madrid

“(I’ve gained) a lot of new friends, and my ability to speak Spanish is a lot stronger. I think I’m more confident because I had to do a lot of stuff in Spanish, which was really hard and scary, but now that I can speak English again, everything feels easier,” she said. “(I have also) definitely (gained) independence because you’re in a city, not alone because we had families, but we did a lot of stuff alone. We would go to school, I would take a bus, and then I would have to walk to school 30 minutes every day, and we would use the public transportation system. It was a lot of independence.”

As more people find jobs overseas and travel abroad, studying abroad has become increasingly important.

“Our economy will be more and more global, and if a company sees that you have already worked overseas or studied overseas, they know that if they need to send you somewhere that you can do it because you’ve already shown that you can,” Becker said. “Even if you don’t go overseas, even if you work here in the United States, for instance Indiana, (if you look at) how many Indiana companies have international connections, they bring people here and then you deal with customers or you deal with bosses from a different country, and having had a cultural experience that has taken you out of the United States will definitely help you in the job market. It may or may not translate into higher salaries too.”

Leonard said she agrees with Becker’s views.

“I think it does depend on what job you’re going into, but I do think it helps (give an edge in the job market),” Leonard said.

Leonard buys flowers for her host parents at a florist shop
Leonard buys flowers for her host parents at a florist shop

“I think that because our world’s just become so interconnected with so many countries having so much international trade and business now that it does depend on what field you’re going into, but I feel for in some job markets, being able to say you’ve had that experience of studying abroad (is) definitely almost necessary to have on your applications.”

For Leonard specifically, she said her experience may not be as useful for the job market as for college due to her aspirations of becoming a veterinarian, yet the language aspect is still beneficial.

“(This experience is) definitely (useful) for college because I plan on probably going for a minor in French, if not necessarily a major,” she said. “I think that being able to speak a different language is definitely a plus, even if like me, it’s not going to be readily applicable, but I know that there was a number of kids who were in the program who wanted to go into business, specifically international business, or wanted to be an interpreter (or) translator. You can find paths where you language skills will be applicable.”

Along with benefits in the job market, Ericson said she thinks studying abroad could help with college and beyond as well.

“I think definitely I’ve thought about it for colleges, because college essays will probably have a lot to do with stuff like that. For jobs, I think they like to see people who are not only well-rounded, but they’ve traveled and they know things about other cultures. I think they like to see that you have stepped out of your country,” she said. “I think that the language aspect will be helpful when I’m looking for a job (because) I want to look for a job where I can use the language. Because (I studied abroad) in high school, I’m still pretty young, not 18, so I think that’s one thing that will make me stand out.”

A scenic point near the caves of Valporquero
A scenic point near the caves of Valporquero

Although the cost and time away from school may deter some students from participating in overseas programs, Leonard said she would encourage students to travel overseas.

“I think more people should do it because even if you don’t go into some sort of international business or don’t get a minor or major that relates to where you studied abroad, I think it can just help expand your views on the world as a whole, and it can just make you see different things in a different light so that way you get different views as to how different cultures would respond to a piece of news or something like that. You definitely will become better at the language, even if it’s not necessarily full immersion like the IU program was, and you’re going to meet some of the most interesting people you’ll ever meet in your life. You’ll be able to share experiences which not many other people will be able to relate to, so you’ll just be that much closer. I’ve definitely gained friends and relationships that I never would have had without this program. All of (the other students) were just some of the nicest people I’ve ever met and being able to get to know them in a different language was really interesting, (and) I plan on staying in contact with my host family,” she said. “If you’re able to (study abroad), you definitely should look into it. Even if it’s not full immersion and even if it’s going to another place that speak English, you should definitely try to do it if you can.”

Ericson also said she would recommend the experience to others.

“For me, I just think it’s important to get out and see the world. I think if you want to see the world, then studying abroad is a really good way to do it,” she said. “The benefit of the program (is) learning about a new culture. I think that just that kind of benefit is something you don’t get from reading a book. You learn so much and you meet so many different people who teach you things you could’ve never known. Being able to speak to a lot of people and knowing more about cultures is really good, (as is) seeing how people live in a different part of the world. I think (studying abroad) is important for whatever you’re doing because it kind of brings a different point of view from the world, seeing how other people view things and the world, not just how you’ve always been brought up. It opens your eyes.”

Ultimately, Becker said the benefits of doing such programs would outweigh the cost and time in the long run and encourages students to go abroad.

“I think you can’t even put a money value on the life experiences you gain from there. Yes, it’s a little more (money), but I think in the big picture you will make that up later on in life by more earning potential and if you see that over the 40 or 50 years you have to work, it is well worth it,” she said. “Just do it.”