Travel broadens career horizons

Year abroad pays rich professional and personal dividends, case studies show. Matthew Reisz writes

April 5, 2012

Credit: Alamy
Destination unknown: study abroad can lead to numerous options

They may have gone on to work as everything from a brand manager at Boots to a human rights activist in Sumatra, a broker for a yacht company in Monaco, a researcher at the Dachau concentration camp memorial site and even an interpreter for the Miss World competition.

Yet all these graduates agree that the skills and confidence they acquired during a year abroad as part of their degree played a crucial role in their subsequent careers.

These are just a few of the case studies that form part of the Year Abroad Graduate Project, which has gone live on - a website with information on the administrative, financial and practical challenges of living, working or studying overseas.

The case studies - gathered through a partnership between the site, the British Academy and the University Council of Modern Languages - break down assumptions about the careers open to modern language students and provide examples of the long-term returns on investment of a year abroad.

For Helen, who studied Spanish and French at the University of Exeter, "going to Mexico as a 21-year-old female was quite a daunting prospect", but she soon "became more confident - if you can teach English to a group of 60 young 'macho' guys, you can walk interview [or] a new office with your head held high". She is now a sports journalist at the BBC.

Even more unexpected is Tim's career path. While studying modern languages at the University of Oxford, he spent "probably the laziest, and yet the most beneficial year of my life" as a language assistant in the German town of Gottingen, "hanging out with my mates...meeting up for drinks and watching football...I was basically doing all of the things I would have done at home. Except in German."

Although his language skills helped to land him a job at KPMG, Tim soon opted for a "massive" career change and now works as a cabaret performer and compere in Berlin, noting that "none of this would have happened if I hadn't 'invested' the time talking to my mates in the pub in Gottingen". - which was founded by Lizzie Fane in 2006 to help solve the problems she experienced during her own year abroad - was also a partner in the British Academy's Valuing the Year Abroad position statement, launched on March. It sets out how the skills acquired abroad benefit individuals and the UK economy.

While the statement may help to promote degree courses that include a year abroad to policymakers, perhaps case studies such as these will sell them to students.

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