Study Abroad: A Time for Personal and Professional Development
by Ben Parker
Posted: March 7, 2014
Ben at the Yunnan Province Gorge
Experiences abroad always seem to be singular and transformative. My time abroad was both of these things. I learned much a new place, had experiences I never could’ve imagined, and discovered strengths and weaknesses in myself. But beyond that kind of personal growth that is so important in the development of a mature person, my time abroad was also a time to hone my skills and craft my experience so that I can go where I want to professionally.
Many students study abroad primarily because they want to go abroad, and this is a good reason. But developing a study abroad program that dovetails into your career interests after college can be even more rewarding, especially in the long run. In my case, I plan to work in the design and construction fields in China, as well as in academia. Thus, I chose to study architecture at Tsinghua University through direct enrollment, meaning I took regular coursework with Tsinghua undergraduates. This not only helped me to a) learn architecture, b) be exposed to the Chinese University system in which I may later work, but also c) to understand the education of my Chinese peers whom I will later be working with in architecture. This is knowledge I can carry with me long into my career.
Also, try to take next steps that build off of your study abroad experience, whether it means returning to the country or not. Next semester, I plan to intern with an office based in New York, but they do work in China and I see my time abroad as something that can differentiate me from other candidates.
On this note, studying abroad was my greatest move next to my degree in terms of employability. American firms wanting to expand into China are looking for hires with China experience, and Chinese businesses are more at ease doing business with someone with a basic knowledge of their country. While my first summer in China two years ago improved my Chinese drastically, it took this semester to elevate it to what I consider a level useful in a professional environment. Studying abroad was essential for honing these concrete skills such as language ability, but also helped me to develop soft skills: patience and perseverance in pursuing new directions, understanding and firmness in dealing with unfamiliar work environments. Overall, I can say confidently that my experience abroad will make me a better employee.
If you don’t know what exactly your end goals are, don’t hesitate to study abroad! If you’re intentional about the experience it can help you make those long-term goals. For me personally studying abroad led to minor alterations in my trajectory, namely that I decided to start my career in the US and later shift or expand to China. But it could form the foundation of your entire life. And definitely don’t let financial barriers cloud your vision. There are so many extra scholarships for studying abroad, I actually paid less for a semester abroad than I would at UT.
Go, go, go! I did, and I’m all the better for it.
Ben Parker is a fourth-year undergraduate pursuing degrees in Architecture and Chinese. He was a 2012 recipient of the US Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship in Beijing, and spent the fall 2013 semester studying Architecture and Mandarin at Tsinghua University. He plans to work and teach as an architect in China and the United States.