One of the most overlooked upsides to studying abroad is how much it helps individuals scale hurdles quickly in their chosen professions. Limitless opportunities, new cultures and customs, and the opportunity to meet people from all around our planet. The change in disposition towards people and things in the professional workspace. A sudden leap in your skills and competences. All within a two or four-year window.
One chilly morning in my Lagos home, I reflected–as I do from time to time–on my experience studying for a diploma in Sweden. While reminiscing on the experience, I figured out details that had slipped under the radar before then. I remembered that in one interview, a colleague kept going on about how the Human Resource Manager wanted me hired at all cost because “he studied in Sweden.” I didn’t immediately realize it, but I could tell that things had changed for me professionally and I had moved into the next level
You have made plans to study abroad, but at what cost to your career? In what ways will you grow professionally? I took a list of them and here are ten benefits I think are the most telling indices for growth.
Improves Your Language Skills
It goes without saying that moving into a new country may present language challenges for you as an international student. This problem is exacerbated when you move as a student to a country where they speak a different language from your home country-especially if you can’t speak the foreign language. According to research carried out by Education Research International,more than 60% of international students who arrive find it difficult adapting to the new language. It often takes a few months for students to overcome this challenge, as cultural knowledge is also part of learning a new language.
However, as you will find out, this challenge is temporary, and in due time, you will find yourself with a new language in your kitty. “But how does this help me professionally?”, you may ask. Well, first, depending on the language of the country where you travel for international study, you may get the opportunity to live and work in different countries of the world. Languages like French, English, Portuguese, Arabic and Spanish are languages that can help you live and work in at least 5+ countries each if you learn to speak them.
There is also the advantage of not being restricted or unqualified for jobs in your country of study. Many developed countries are adopting programmes that help to retain/absorb the best international students after their studies. Language is an influential factor, and it could open the door for limitless opportunities for you.
Makes You More Self-Reliant
It also goes without saying that studying abroad helps you make your own decisions as an adult. Every so often, international students find that they have to navigate the difficulties of moving to a new country on their own. From the point of arrival at the airport to the search for a home to settling into your environment, a lot of the things you need to get done will have you at the center of decision making. This process helps you become more independent of others. Depending on how you harness your increased level of independence, it could help you in your career. How so?
In a global workplace that is constantly evolving towards remote and unsupervised work–worsened by the advent of Artificial Intelligence–employers are increasingly looking to favour workers who are not only competent but also require little or no supervision or constant instruction. Quite simply, you have to be able to get the job done with little or no supervision.
Be careful though: finding the right balance between being independent of others and enlisting their assistance to help you adapt to your new environment is key. How do you embark on the journey alone while building your sense of self-reliance?
Develops Your Confidence
I personally relate to this point as my study abroad experience helped me grow a lot more confident as a whole. Back home in Nigeria, you could study for a degree while being a poor public speaker. You could make the best grades with low self-esteem. This is because the educational system in Nigeria, as in many African nations, does not allow much room for the student to express themselves and challenge university authorities. Where this room exists, it does not give room for confident individuals to do so.
Enter Sweden. Many times, I had to carry out presentations in class, lead group studies, and at one point, the lecturer encouraged me to challenge her on a subject. Eventually, I became much more confident and I felt much better about myself than I felt while in Nigeria. The complete immersion experience allowed me to grow and do more than just learning a new language or following my study abroad program.
Similarly, your study abroad experience is one that is sure to boost your confidence too- if you are open to it. As you take care of personal stuff, you feel more confident. As you lead a small class project or group discussion in your field of study, you will feel better about yourself. In your professional life, this will come in handy as you will discover that climbing the professional ladder requires lots of confidence.
Helps you Expand your Network
Another upside to studying abroad is that you get to meet and connect with future leaders and great minds. The opportunity allows you to build a worldwide contact base, many of whom will go on to work in International Business. As I have stated elsewhere, one of the most important gifts which my study in Sweden gave me was the brilliant minds I met, some of whom taught me and many of whom I studied with.
While studying abroad, consciously or not, you get to network and make lifetime connections that will go a long way in helping your career. It could be in form of a Professor who recommends you for a job or a fellow student who runs a start-up and co-opts you into his or her team. You may also meet potential business partners or co-founders with which you could start that potential million-dollar business.
If you decide to return home too, your friends from abroad could help you push a few buttons if you want to climb the ladder at a multinational. A great network of friends is one of the most valuable instruments in your possession for navigating your career. Many Africans within the elite economic and political class understand this, and that is why they enrol their children in the best educational institutions across the globe. The opportunity to make a wide variety of contacts is one of the benefits of studying abroad.
Trains You for an International Career
Depending on the country where you study, studying abroad could pave the way for an international career. Most developed nations in Europe, Asia and Central America have programmes and schemes that allow for highly skilled international students to stay back and work after their studies. For instance, the United Kingdom has a Graduate Route policy that encourages international students to stay back and work. Canada also has a similar program – a great plus to international study there.
If you migrate to a high-income country from a low-income country (many of which are in sub-Saharan Africa), you should seriously consider working there. Not only are the income levels higher, but you also get international exposure through training and other educational expeditions abroad.
Most Africans who go abroad to study understand this, as a large number of Africans who go abroad stay back to work. Many of them eventually return, but they will have gotten some international exposure to help them navigate the global market when they return to their benefit. Very important African entrepreneurs like Aliko Dangote, Strive Masiyiwa, Anna Phosa, and Folorunso Alakija, followed this trend, and you could too.
A Better CV Means More Employment Opportunities
Studying abroad is something I always advise people who ask me because of this. Sometimes, having just the name of a university or college on your certificate or diploma is sufficient to land you a job at a top firm anywhere in the world. In the labour market, in addition to your individual competence, your institution matters a lot. Attending top universities in the world will open doors for you and place you among many other job applicants.
While job hunting back in Nigeria after my diploma in Sweden, I once received an offer for a software development job simply because I attended a top foreign university in Europe. My potential employers felt that the education I had received must have been good enough to qualify me for the job all by itself. With very little questioning, I got the job. In the same manner, you will get more job opportunities coming for you if you attend a top university.
It is worth stating that institutional prestige will only count for you if you are competent by yourself. If you are not good enough, you will have next to zero employers coming after you irrespective of your institution of study.
Become a Problem Solver at Home
After your educational sojourn abroad, if you decide to return to your home country, you are likely to return as a better person, a better thinker, and a better problem solver. As I have mentioned earlier, some of Africa’s finest innovators — some of who went on to become business moguls — studied abroad.
Studying abroad helps you approach most complex situations as problems requiring solutions. Unlike here in Africa, most institutions in the developed world train students who graduate to become great innovators and excellent problem solvers. On a continental scale, many of Africa’s brightest technocrats have studied abroad. Some of these individuals include Sir Seretse Khama, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (who is the current Director-General of the World Trade Organization), Amina Mohammed, Daniel Faure, Hage Geingob, Akin Adesina, to mention a few.
Historically too, most of Africa’s founding fathers studied abroad. The Azikiwes, Nkrumahs, the Nyereres, and the Khamas consist of a group of great African minds who were national icons and shining lights for their countries to the rest of the world.
Impress Employers, Clients, and Supplies
Another way in which studying abroad can help you in your career is that it inculcates in you a personality that could easily impress and convince potential business partners. As I have earlier mentioned, studying abroad exposes you to many scenarios where you have to develop your ideas and attempt to convince a (business) prospect of the viability of your idea.
As you encounter these case scenarios and explain your ideas, in addition to being more confident, you find that generally, you are more capable of generating brighter ideas. These bright ideas will in turn able to impress whoever you are pitching them to.
In addition to this, two valuable attributes which you are likely to pick up while studying abroad are discipline and honesty, two very important values you will need in your career or business. While studying, the presence of deadline for assignments and projects to be turned imbibes the spirit of discipline and honesty, albeit to an extent which you will determine. With discipline and honesty, everyone you transact business with will be impressed with your work ethic.
Improved Academic Career Opportunities
As an African studying abroad, there are numerous academic career opportunities for you. After graduation, some universities reserve a few spots in their faculties for students from low-income countries (which you most likely are) or BIPOCs to fill. Filling these spots will help you if you plan to be an academic. This is because not only will you earn more than your counterparts in Africa, you will carry out research in better conditions, rise the ranks faster, and become a world-beater in your academic field quicker than you expected. Of course, you’ve got to put in the work.
Besides, when you migrate to study for a postgraduate degree or diploma in a developed country, you’re going to be paid as a Research Assistant. This will help prepare you for your academic career. Overall, the earlier you migrate to study abroad, the better for your academic career.
Opens Your Mind
Perhaps the biggest advantage for study abroad students – for your career and for your personality – is that it opens your mind and broadens your horizons. It changes the way you see things. It positively affects the way you approach challenging situations. It sharpens the way you interact with the world, and how seriously you take your career.
The extent to which studying abroad opens your mind is down to three factors. The first and important factor is you. If you refuse to shed the dangerous worldviews you have, if you shut your mind to new information, if you hold on to a warped mentality and work ethic, then there is the very little system can do for you and your mind.
The second determinant is the quality of the interactions you have when you meet people. Quite simply, if you network and interact with brilliant minds, you will discover that by and by, you have a different view about things and you are a better person because you are constantly learning, unlearning and relearning.