This fall, more than 200,000 American college students will set out on a glorious adventure. After receiving well wishes from worried parents, they will board planes for various destinations to spend either part or all of the academic year abroad.
My nephew, a junior at Middlebury College, for example, just left for Alexandria, Egypt, where he will be immersed in the language, culture and customs of his host country. Despite his parents' concern about letting their son study overseas, they understand the importance of doing so. They support his passion for mastering a second language and recognize that our country needs more citizens who think globally and understand the value of an international perspective. They also hope that his time abroad will enhance his ability to land a high-paying job after graduation.
In this, they have little to fear for Michael is studying Arabic -- a language that just about guarantees a job in these post-9/11 days. But there is more to a successful career as an internationalist than just mastering a foreign language. Knowledge and understanding of foreign cultures, social customs, regulations, economies and consumers give exchange students an edge when looking to land that first job. Studying abroad is an excellent first-step.
Just as more American companies are sending employees overseas, more students studying at American colleges and universities are going abroad -- an increase of approximately 10 percent every year for the past few years. Studying abroad continues to be a critical component to higher education today. Just last December, the Yale School of Management was the first U.S. business school to make a study-abroad course mandatory for graduation. Others will undoubtedly follow suit.
Although studying abroad is significantly different from working abroad, the experience effectively separates the domestics from the internationalists. In other words, a person learns whether he or she likes to live overseas and can do so successfully. This realization (or "pass/fail" credential) speaks volumes to employers who take a substantial risk sending someone overseas. Moreover, since returning students have experienced the personal aspects of living abroad, the odds of their doing so again in a job overseas are substantially higher. An overseas experience increases one's confidence level, especially for those who choose countries that are "less familiar", "more exotic", or so culturally different that their friends or colleagues wonder "why there?" -- countries such as Egypt.
Not surprisingly, more students are choosing to study in up-and-coming hot spots, such as China, India, Brazil and Mexico. And the odds are, if a student not only survives but thrives in these countries -- emerging with honed language skills and an increased sense of the culture, history and people -- then he or she will do well most any where. International experience is rapidly becoming a key asset in launching a business career.
For students like my nephew, I wish them well on their year of adventure in foreign lands -- and advise them to keep a journal for the time sure flies when you're having fun. For other students interested in riding the globalization wave, studying abroad can be a great deal of fun and a tremendous personal growth and learning experience, and it can jump-start a career. Counselors, teachers, parents and relatives should encourage students to consider it and help them do it. It'll be one of the best pieces of advice these kids receive -- and one of the best experiences of their lives.