When you decided to study abroad, you probably didn’t think much about how your international experience could impact your future career.
Employers are supremely interested in learning whether you took advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to develop the skills that will make you a valuable asset to them – more valuable than everyone else who is applying for the same job. Skills like resourcefulness, problem-solving, and working effectively with a diverse group of people.
Networking is one of the smartest ways for study abroad students to accomplish this and add real value to your job search upon graduation. So don’t omit participation in networking events from your to-do list.
There are lots of ways to do this so don’t feel that you have to be a social butterfly in order to expand the professional component of your time abroad. You can find networking opportunities with your fellow college students as well as in actual professional settings.
The key in every instance is to talk, talk, talk. Any form is fine – face-to-face, email, phone, online. Just make sure to talk to any and everybody.
Six Options for Student Networking Abroad
1. Join a student work team through courses that require group interaction with other international students. No such thing as culture shock here, you’re all in the same boat. You’re getting a great education packed with diversity.
2. Intern or volunteer to do research with professors or graduate students in your field. They’ll appreciate the help and you’ll gain valuable experience.
3. Use your English language skills to help a professor, tutor fellow students who want to improve their English, or assist an organization looking to polish the English content on their website or in written materials.
4. Meet professionals in your field of interest. This is my favorite. Arrange visits to local businesses and firms in your host city or nearby, either on your own or by organizing a group of students to join you. You’ll gain personal exposure to the inner workings of the company AND initiate relationships with the business people you meet.
Later, let’s say you want to work for a global company. What a plus to be able to talk about the ins and outs of your industry with first-hand knowledge.
There’s one more surprising, not-so-typical way to meet professionals which I’ll talk about later. So keep reading…
5. Volunteer off campus. Any type of volunteer opportunity is beneficial, but if you can find one in your chosen field, all the better.
6. And finally, consider extending your international stay if you can, with an internship, intense foreign language learning, or cross-cultural travel. Any of these will enhance your global education dramatically. There’s nothing like hands-on work placement and experience with local culture to upgrade study abroad programs anywhere in the world. Imagine the impact they will add to your resume.
Make a Plan Before You Go
Before embarking on your international travels, be sure to discuss these options, and any others you might think of, with your study abroad advisor. Work very closely with your advisor before setting up a networking program (like volunteering or an internship, for example).
The last thing you want to do is over-commit and find yourself feeling overwhelmed.
If possible, also talk with students who have attended school and had work experience in a foreign country. If you can find someone who has traveled to the same country as the one you’re going to, all the better.
Exchange students are great resources, too, because they can give you the inside scoop on the networking options in their home country and how to navigate them.
Networking is a bonus for study abroad students that could prove to become a career-enhancing opportunity. But it’s not usually part of the study abroad program or an automatic benefit; you have to put in some effort to make it happen and reap the benefits.
To network for professional purposes, you need to cultivate the relationships you start, both in social and academic settings. It’s worth the effort. The outcome could be important professional gain when you begin your career.
Network as You Travel Around
I heard this piece of advice a long time ago and it has served me quite well in the past so I thought I would share it here:
When you study abroad, you’re going to move around a lot.
I consider this one of the most exciting perks of the entire experience. So venture away from your host city, visit new places, and soak up as much cultural perspective as you can. These are the adventures you’ll remember all your life.
Try This – It Works
Here’s where that not-so-typical networking option I mentioned earlier can come in handy. If you find yourself in a city in a foreign country without anything to do for a night, go to the nicest hotel you can find and post up at the bar. I have done this several times and one of three things seems to always happen.
Before we begin, let me pose one question to you: who do you think is staying in the nicest hotels in the world? Industry leaders? Senior executives? Business professionals? Potential future employers? Exactly!
Whatever words popped into your head are probably accurate. These are the kinds of people you want to meet and speak with to maximize your study abroad experience. If you read Study Abroad 201 you will find out how to take these interactions to the next level. How to go from a nice story or memory, to an actual contact who can help you with your career upon graduation.
I digress. On with the article…
1. You Get Wisdom
You’ll find someone older and they’ll tell you one of the most fascinating stories you have ever heard. You should act like a sponge and soak up everything he or she has to say.
They’re more experienced in life, and the wealth of information they have to impart is priceless. I have met veterans, entrepreneurs, and artists as a few examples; all of them with diverse backgrounds.
It is refreshing to talk to a person who comes from a completely different field than you. They can open a door to a world you’ve never been to and give you a tour: labs and tests that biologists conduct; the process an architect goes through when designing a new building; or what it takes to write a screenplay.
You’ll be amazed at what you can learn in one simple social interaction. I’ve exchanged book recommendations, emails, websites, and stories with all of the above.
Drink Recommendation: Scotch
2. You Get Family
A couple enjoying their retirement, as an example. Here you can talk about family and happiness, among many other things. This is one of my favorite conversations.
It may be obvious, but parents love talking about their children and grandchildren. I was in Buffalo, NY, not too long ago and spoke with a father about his daughter.
She just so happened to be studying abroad in Italy and we were discussing staying in a hostel vs. Airbnb vs. a hotel. We talked about the pros and cons of each. Our points were jotted on a cocktail napkin:
The father wanted his daughter to stay in a hotel for safety, and the daughter wanted to stay at an Airbnb or hostel to save money and soak up the culture.
Dad was just wary of the safety of anything but a hotel. I assured him that you can vet everything online by reading the ratings and reviews. My personal recommendation is to stay in a hostel. You can meet more interesting people this way and really experience their diversity. We’ll talk more about this in future episodes and posts.
My ultimate favorite is the couples with big families.
You listen to them tell you about their children and it is almost a routine, as if they’ve given the speech thousands of times before. They’re proud to “introduce” you to their loved ones and share their accomplishments with you.
You’ll find they also are happy to help wherever they can. And if you are fortunate enough to be interested in something that they or their children are involved in, you may be able to get some kind of referral.
Networking opportunities (so to speak) like this could open the door to a beneficial internship or, better yet, real work after you graduate.
Drink Recommendation: Wine
3.You Get the Unexpected
That’s right, sometimes you just don’t know what you’ll get.
And that is the beauty of a hotel bar. No one really knows what to expect, but the opportunities are immeasurable.
When people are traveling they have two things in common: First, they’re looking for a story they can tell their friends when they return. Second, they’re going to be more open to starting conversations with complete strangers.
I was in Scottsdale, AZ, not too long ago and there was a group of executives who actually invited me to a dance performance. The show was spectacular, and they even paid for the Ubers to and from the venue and my admission to the show.
Drink Recommendation: Not Too Much
One of the above three interactions will happen almost every time you go to a nice hotel bar. Keep in mind that it is not a bad idea to go on a week night. International business travel is common and most professional travelers are home on the weekends.
About 2/3 of students who are studying in another country are female, so if environmental uncertainty and safety are concerns, bring a friend or two.
They’ll want to talk to you, too. You’re young, you’re on an adventure, and they’ll want to hear that story.
If a Relationship is Worthwhile, Hang On To It
Did you feel your interaction was worthwhile? If so, don’t let it vanish. Always exchange contact information and follow up with a polite email the next day in the afternoon referencing something about your discussion from the previous night. Make sure to thank the people you have talked to and ask clarifying questions, if necessary.
Most of us don’t do this because we are either afraid or embarrassed. You won’t get a response every time, but you will most of the time, and that is what matters.
If your contact makes a referral for you, by all means keep in touch with them. And if you think that resource has good potential, check back periodically. Once you’re back home, stay in touch with the individuals you connected with abroad to broaden and preserve the relationships you formed.
Social media simplifies this.
Keep Reading If You’re an Introvert
I realize a lot of what I just wrote seems impossible to you the same way passing a math test without studying and going to a tutor was for me. Here are some tips on how to start a conversation while at a hotel bar in a foreign country.
1. Go to the bar and order a drink. Don’t get nervous if you’re the only one there. More people will come, I guarantee it. If you don’t have anyone to talk to right away just start playing a game on your phone, or peruse your social media. Someone will come soon, and they’ll probably be alone, too!
2. When someone sits next to you wait a little while to see if they’ll initiate the conversation, if nothing happens simply say “so where are you from?” or “so what are you doing here?”
3. Believe it or not, it is mostly downhill from that point on. As soon as it is your turn to tell what you’re doing there just say you’re studying abroad. This will automatically make you more interesting than they are.
You’re still in college, they’re older and will cherish an opportunity to reminisce about the good old days.
This is exactly where you are in your life right now and you’re embarking on an exciting international experience – the adventure of a lifetime. They’re going to be curious.
Because of this, networking as a student is easy and natural. And it just might prove to be a life-changing opportunity.
4. From there, just keep the conversation going and approach it with an open mind. Remember, you’re in a bar so try to keep pace with how much they’re drinking while still being articulate in your speech.
“To be interesting you have to be interested.” — Dale Carnegie
Have an open mind and, most importantly, have fun! Some of the most interesting people I met on my trips wouldn’t be considered to have “the gift of gab.” But I have had some of the most lucid and illuminating conversations with these folks. And the most beneficial. You will, too, so give it a try.
“It’s not who you know, it’s where you go.” — Gary V