When I was the resident director of study abroad programs in Brazil, students from more than 300 U.S. universities always expressed interest in developing skills for graduate school applications, scholarship applications, and job placement. They all expressed interest in learning how to plan their experience abroad around these goals—students consistently wanted to directly apply their hands-on learning to concrete applications to grad schools, scholarship programs, and, always, employment opportunities. They knew the experience would be transformative and they wanted to know how that would translate into enhanced career opportunities. Faculty and study abroad administrators who visited the study center always asked for input on this critical translation, as well.
After hearing the same hope across all of the programs that I was running, I started to build students’ career interests into online pre-departure orientations, on-site workshops throughout the programs, and even designed theme-based independent studies seminars around the Fulbright application. Everyone who wanted to be part of the seminar had to design a research project before they even left the U.S. and the project had to fit the requirements of the Fulbright application. This was exciting to students! Not only were they preparing for their study abroad experience, they were seeing ‘return’ on their investment (these programs are expensive!) and directly connecting the time abroad with re-entry goals.
Not only did a good percentage of the students receive Fulbright awards, many of them used their projects to get into top U.S. graduate schools. As candidates, they had compelling profiles: excellent projects rooted in a specific city with a hands-on, field component. From there, I started running workshops for ‘how to turn your study abroad experience into job placement’: same results.
When I returned to the U.S. to work with major scholarship programs at Harvard University's Laspau office, I found incredible organizations that deeply value study abroad and even alternative, globally-focused employment agencies that actively look for study abroad experience (especially alumni of programs that support language acquisition and intercultural abilities) in their pools of candidates. The translation was an easy one: from Fulbright to job prep, I could now build specific applications and candidate profile documents into the study abroad workshops. Students, even more with these concrete documents, could see that this incredibly rich experience that opens doors into self-awareness and critical vision of our roles in an interconnected world also prepares -- in tangible, direct ways -- for entry into jobs.
By contracting Blue Sage to build, enhance, or expand study abroad programs, universities and providers also inherit programming that prepares students for careers that use the language and intercultural skills developed during study abroad. All students value a unique point of entry into the job market, grad school, or scholarship programs and Blue Sage trains university or provider staff on how to build career enhancement into the programs. This is crucial for all and especially for underrepresented groups in study abroad. It is another step in the direction of showing study abroad as an important tool for careers.