Although every ‘Why Study Abroad?’ list contains the classic ‘enhanced employment opportunities’ point, I can confidently tell you that not a single student goes on the Erasmus programme with this strongly in mind. Instead, they’re dreaming of the friends they’ll meet from all over the world, of the trips they’ll go on and of course, of those infamous Erasmus parties – and for me, particularly as a science student, I thought ‘nah, what laboratories will hire me just because I speak French? That employability stuff is for the business and arts students’. Now, and you won’t catch me saying this often, but I was wrong.
Maybe speaking French won’t give me an advantage when applying for scientific jobs, but the whole year abroad experience will – and that’s what I’d failed to think about. You must be a pretty independent person if you can successfully move to a foreign country all by yourself and conquer all that endless bureaucracy, so you’re probably not going to be an annoying employee who’s uncomfortable working alone on set tasks. You also must be confident and self-assured, so you’re not going to need a pat on the back every time you do something right or doubt yourself in every task you undertake. You’ve probably made a lot of foreign friends from a lot of different cultures, so you’re going to be accepting of and compassionate with the many patients that may not be English (I want to work in a hospital). And these are just three examples; there are so many other ways that your year abroad gives you that edge:
- You have initiative and resourcefulness – the amount of times you encounter some sort of problem abroad (my personal thanks again, French paperwork) and you have to think of an ingenious way to overcome it
- It makes your CV stand out – a classic ‘Biological Sciences BSc’ may be skimmed over, but add 6 more words to make ‘Biological Sciences with a Study in Continental Europe BSc’ and bam, you’ve grabbed the reader’s attention as they decipher that unexpected degree title
- Along the same lines, it’s a great ice-breaker. I tell people I study Biology and French (a little white lie I suppose, oops you caught me) and it’s always met with ‘oh that’s weird’ (thanks) and a conversation about what that entails – it’s likely to be mentioned at interviews and this will be a great way to subtly bring up all of the skills you gained during the year
- As for ‘extra-curricular activities’, it’s probably the best one you can have (aside from you know, giving all of your spare time to helping out at a soup kitchen or something)
- It shows you’re okay with being out of your comfort zone – you’re going to have the guts to do the big things that will ultimately benefit the workplace (e.g. maybe you’ll be the one to dare to give a presentation to a big funding body)
- Speaking a foreign language – okay, I know I said this one wouldn’t get you a job, but perhaps the laboratory does a lot of work with a partner institution abroad? Perhaps they work with a foreign supplier? Perhaps they have a lot of foreign patients or staff? You never know, you could be exactly what they’re looking for.
So do you see what I mean? The words ‘year abroad’ on your CV say so much more about you than simply ‘speaks a foreign language’. They say ‘hire me’.