Study Abroad and Beyond: Effects of Global Learning on Career Outcomes and Skill Development
Global learning, whether it occurs in local communities or abroad, provides an array of skills and experiences that follow students throughout their civic and professional lives.
To measure the impact of study abroad and global learning on skill development and career outcomes, the Institute of International Education (IIE) conducted a survey and interviews with higher education alumni who studied abroad since the 1999–2000 academic year. Overall, respondents said that the global learning provided by study abroad significantly enhanced nearly all skills covered by the survey, and most said that their experience contributed to a job offer.
Since only 1.5 percent of students enrolled in US colleges and universities study abroad, institutions also need to work with community partners within their local communities and at other institutions to make sure all students can receive the benefits of immersive global learning experiences. “Global Learning–Beyond Study Abroad,” a webinar recording available for free for AAC&U members, provides insight and advice from a panel of experts on leveraging global learning opportunities for all students.
According to the survey report, “to enable the development of a range of employment-related skills, a variety of program types with different work-related learning objectives should be offered to students, including study abroad programs of varying duration, programs that emphasize independent learning or teamwork skills, and both classroom-based and experiential opportunities such as internships and volunteering."
- Overall, a majority of respondents said that their study abroad experience improved skills in fourteen out of fifteen “key skills desired for employment in today’s workforce.” Technical and software skills were the least likely to be developed (see figure below).
- Approximately three-quarters of respondents saw “significant” gains in several areas: intercultural skills, flexibility/adaptability, self-awareness, curiosity, and confidence. More than half of respondents also reported significant gains in problem-solving, interpersonal, and communication skills.
- Study abroad experiences that were highly structured, and especially experiences that included group projects and activities, “emerged as a common factor among [respondents] reporting significant gains in collaborative, interpersonal, teamwork, and leadership skills.”
- Life and physical science majors were the most likely to study abroad in an academic field outside of their major. In interviews, these respondents “often described study abroad as one of the only opportunities during their undergraduate studies to develop skills like flexibility, written and verbal communication, interpersonal skills, and intercultural skills.”
- More than three-quarters (78 percent) of survey respondents said they discussed their study abroad experience in a job interview, and 53 percent said that their study abroad experience helped them secure a job offer.
- Students who considered their career prospects when choosing a study abroad experience were more likely to say that the experience had an impact on their career. The report recommends that global learning programs “integrate clear employment-related learning outcomes into the design of study abroad programs.”
- However, respondents said “that many employers do not systematically ask about study abroad experiences during job interviews, leaving it to the interviewee to incorporate their study abroad experiences.”
- Study abroad experiences were brought into job interviews in response to questions “about difficult situations or challenges they have faced.”
- Study participants who “took the initiative” to describe study abroad experiences noted a stronger connection between study abroad and employment offers. The report recommends that global learning educators train students to effectively communicate about their skills and experiences.
- Science majors in non-science programs were much more likely to say their experience helped them get a job offer (47 percent) than those who studied in the science-related programs (28 percent). The report recommends that global learning educators work to “increase STEM students’ participation in study abroad.”
No matter what a respondent’s major or career is, the interviews showed that alumni consider study abroad to be “some of their most meaningful experiences they had to convey their strengths in overcoming obstacles to potential employers during interviews.”
Information and graphics in this article are included by permission of the Institute of International Education (IIE) from Gaining an Employment Edge: The Impact of Study Abroad on 21st Century Skills & Career Prospects in the United States, 2013–2016.