Making the Most of Your Study Abroad Experience

By Yewande Alade

As an underclassman attempting to navigate the sinewy roads of college, I had often gotten into the habit of asking college graduates, recent and old, about their unique college experiences.  While discussion touched upon majors and campus activities, one question was inevitably asked (by me): “What is your biggest regret in college.”  The responses I had gotten to this question had been numerous—and not nearly sufficient (or appropriate) for this college careers services blog.  Yet, one of the most common responses relates to study abroad.  Whether one is willing to admit it or not, traveling abroad is a major part of a college student’s experience.  While many individuals will speak of this experience as a vacation from the regular school experience, it can prove to be much more than that.  In fact, many students don’t know that an experience abroad can help you fulfill your future job, internship, and post-graduate ambitions.

Exactly how does one market one’s experiences abroad?  It may not be as straight forward as you think.  While many people pursue abroad experiences in language intensive programs as a chance to develop a language skillset, many others pursue a different sort of educational scheme.  In fact, at Swarthmore, the same of percentage of students appear to pursue direct enrollment, languages acquisition, and English programs in Non-English speaking nations.   Given varying exposures to language development, what are students gaining from their study abroad experiences?  According to Patricia Martin from Swarthmore College’s Office of Foreign says, “It’s not just about figuring out things in other language, it’s about flexibility, problem solving, and negotiation.”  Often times when people venture out of the Swarthmore  bubble for their experiences abroad, they are faced with a host of different challenges—a new educational system in an environment where one must observe new cultural norms and mores.  For many job positions—may it be in the research, teaching, or the business capacity— these are useful and transferable skills that are important to highlight.

The benefits acquired from abroad are not limited to cultural enrichment.  Being abroad is a great chance to network not only with local individuals, but local institutions and organizations.  If you are interested in pursuing an independent research project for the summer or are interested in working for a company overseas, studying abroad is a great way to reach out and make connections.  For example, through direct enrollment at a foreign university, study abroad students are sometimes granted an “alumni” status.  This not only means networking opportunities at alumni events held worldwide, it can also include a tuition discount on a graduate school degree at the institution.   Also, for students interested in working abroad for the summer or after college, connecting with local resources can be a great way to learn of opportunities available and the proper course of action to explore them—particularly as a growing amount of study abroad programs now include an internship/practicum component.  If you are merely interested in learning about everyday life abroad and the transition one might make coming from Swarthmore, Swarthmore’s study abroad office has an up-to-date list of alums abroad who are open to speaking and/or meeting with Swatties in the area.  This list is also available online on the Swarthmore Career Services website.

While abroad, it is easy to get caught up in the experience, but equally easy to forget the specifics of your journey once you return.  As a result, consider recording your experience as it happens.  In this digital age students have turned to many mediums beyond the traditional handwritten journal.  According to Rosa Bernard of the Swarthmore Off-Campus Study office, students are now turning to blogs, video, and other forms of digital storytelling with growing popularity.  Through these methods it is possible to not only reflect upon your trip with greater clarity, but it is also a way to develop your technical skillset. 

When reflecting upon your studying abroad journey and marketing the experience afterwards, consider doing the following:

  • Highlight what you did besides coursework—consider talking about how you contributed to your campus/program culture abroad
  • Highlight your adaptability—while abroad there are many instances that call upon you to be a quick learner
  • When filling out a formal application, consider reflecting on objective skills/experiences (eg—technical skills) on your resume, while highlighting more subjective skills (eg—cultural immersion) on your cover letter
  • Be tactful when reflecting on experiences with prospective employers

-You don’t have to focus on the absolute positives of your experience;  you can show what you learned and how you grew from hardships that you faced

  • Again, be aware of transferable skills—Beyond language acquisition, there is SO much one learns from going abroad

As it currently stands, approximately 40-42% of Swarthmore students study abroad—which is high for a college that only sponsors year-long and semester-long schemes.  And while this article goes to great lengths to highlight the benefits of study abroad, it is important to note that it does not have to be the right decision for everyone.  Sometimes course major/minor requirements or other commitments make study abroad during the school year difficult or nearly impossible.  However, if you are currently undecided, keep an open mind as an experience abroad is an opportunity definitely worth exploring.

If you are student interested in going abroad (or have just come back from abroad) and are interested in learning more details on how to apply your experience to your job/internship search, attend the Marketing Your International Experience workshop being held on Thursday March 15th from 12:35 pm – 1:15pm in Parrish 159.


Spring Break, A Great Time to Tap Your Passion and Launch a Career

By: Kevin Li’ 13

Spring break is coming up! Now you will finally have some time to kick back, relax… and find a job or internship in the federal government? While Spring Break is definitely a good time to take a break from school work, the large chunk of free time that it gives you is the perfect opportunity to get caught up on all those applications you were going to get done before the break. Try and set up a few chunks of time each day where you can do some research on places or agencies you might want to work at.

If you’re just getting started with your search, don’t panic, there are still quite a few agencies looking for interns and employees to take on during the summer. The first you should do is familiarize yourself with what kinds of jobs are offered in the federal government and find out which agencies would best match with your interests and skill sets. A great place to start with your research would be on Career Services Public Service Careers Page. From here, you can find links to websites on where government jobs are located across the globe, general descriptions of each agency and the type of work they do, information on benefits available to you as an employee of the federal government, and much more.

After you’ve done some research and have found a few agencies that you think would mesh well with your interests, you should start searching! The government’s main database of jobs, USAJOBS.GOV, is without a doubt the first place to go. A key to using this website is to never use the basic keyword search. You should always use the advanced search to narrow down the results that you will get from your search. A good basic strategy is to plug in the city areas that you’d like to work and then plug in the agencies that you found would match well with you. This should turn up a good number of jobs that match well with your interests without even using a keyword. If the results that come up seem to match well with what you were looking for, it’s always a great idea to save the search (link for this can be found on the left side of any results page) and have the site email you whenever a new job that matches your search criteria comes up.

After looking at USAJOBS.GOV, it’s always a good idea to go each agency’s specific website to see if they have job or internship postings on their website. While USAJOBS.GOV is supposed to be the central database for all jobs in the federal government, many agencies also have their own database of job openings that they will post on their own websites so you should always make sure to check on every agency separately.

As convenient as these online job postings and applications can be, they can also be quite impersonal and don’t allow you to really let your personality show through. A good way to remedy this situation is to look through Career Services Alumni Online Directory and Alumni Career Profiles and/or do a search on LinkedIn for Swatties that have worked in the federal government and see if you can find anyone that has worked at one of the agencies you are interested in applying for. Take some time and draft emails to these people and ask them if they have any advice to give to someone who is very interested in pursuing a career in their respective fields or ask them if they have time to chat with you about their work in the federal government. You should NOT ask directly for a job or internship, people do not want to just field job requests from people that they have never met; however, they are much more willing to talk to a fellow Swattie about their career path and how they got to where they are. While these emails and conversations may not yield a job or internship offer right off the bat, you will be able to develop relationships with people in the federal government and when a job or internship posting does come across their desk, they will hopefully remember your name.

I know, it’s a lot to get do, but if you make sure to try all these suggestions, it should greatly increase your chances of getting a position in the federal government. You even get to tell your parents that you spent your spring break being productive!

"To find out what one is fitted to do and to secure an opportunity to do it is key to happiness."

John Dewey

Anonymous asked: When is Will working this week?

Will works Wednesday afternoons.


Career Peer Advisors
Parrish Hall, 135
M-F 1 PM - 4:30 PM