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Further your career prospects by studying abroad

Students and employers explain why international experience helps graduates get ahead in the workplace.

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Carly Minsky's avatar

Carly Minsky

September 21 2015
Glasses resting on a map


Studying far from home is an exciting prospect, full of new places, people and adventures in an unfamiliar land.

But what if your desire to go abroad is more strategic? Securing that sought-after graduate job is a worthwhile aspiration to keep in mind, and a study abroad experience can be important for your future career.

Whether or not you hope to use multiple languages in the workplace, international experience gives you precisely the skills that employers are looking for in a global business environment.

These skills include openness to new challenges, curiosity and tolerance towards different values and behaviours.

An Erasmus Impact Study by the European Commission found that 92 per cent of employers are actively seeking graduates with these so-called “transversal skills”.

And the further you travel, the more transferable skills you could pick up.

If you are planning to move across continents for your study abroad, the process of adapting to unfamiliar social, cultural and professional environments could make the key difference in your future profession.

This is the view of Danny Kalman, who was Panasonic’s global head of talent management and oversaw a leadership programme that sent employees from Japan to Europe to refine their global outlook and business skills.

He believes that international experience is essential for an all-rounded leader.

In his work, he saw that Japanese employees who had already studied at European or American institutes were at an advantage with respect to English language skills, confidence and openness to new working environments.

So if you ultimately aim to work abroad, international study could be your first step to understanding a new business environment.

Mr Kalman has himself experienced the contrasting business approaches across different cultures, since Americans and Europeans tend to be more assertive and impulsive, while Japanese businessmen are measured and reflective.

But the difficulties of working in a new cultural context can be overcome if employees spend time in each other’s countries.

The most important reason to study abroad, according to Mr Kalman, is that it encourages globally minded employees who respect diversity and can be more creative as a result.

He explained: “There is this wonderful Japanese word – sunao – which is literally translated as having an open or uncluttered mind. By looking at things in a sunao mind, it gives you a fresh way of thinking, different insights and different ideas.”

For some, simply having international experience on their CV has helped them stand out from a competitive crowd of job-seeking graduates.

David Marsden, responsible for human resources in Lloyds Bank capital markets business, decided when he left school that a cultural experience in Asia would benefit him vocationally, particularly given the impact of emerging markets such as China.

He decided to study for a BA in management with East Asian studies at the University of Nottingham. In 2005, he was part of the first UK cohort to spend a year at Nottingham’s purpose-built flagship campus in Malaysia.

“As I have moved through my career, hiring managers have always been interested in the period of study abroad, motivations for doing so and my continued presence overseas,” he said.

“I am regularly told by head-hunters that this experience, albeit for 12 months, will be a strong element of my CV that will differentiate me from other candidates.”

The good news for international students and those seeking study abroad opportunities is that employers are now actively seeking graduates from all over the world, particularly those with international experience.

But you don’t have to just take my word for it; the aim to create a diverse workplace is also confirmed by Sonal Sutcliffe, head of development UK at HSBC, where 30 per cent of the summer internship intake to the global banking and markets division are students from international universities.

She said: “Our aim is to be the world’s leading international bank. To help achieve this we need our employees to be open to different ideas and cultures as well as being connected to our customers and the communities in which we work.

“Having multicultural awareness and an international mind set is definitely an advantage as individuals move forward in their careers.

“Spending a period of time working in a different culture gives a greater awareness and appreciation of different points of view as well as knowledge of what is important in different communities.”

However, since the UK’s post-study work visa was abolished in 2012, it is no easy feat to gain employment in the UK if you are from outside the EU.

Jay Merchant, from Bombay, India, studied economics at Franklin and Marshall College in the US and at the University of Oxford in the UK. He received job offers in the UK after various internships during his course of study.

He advises prospective Indian students to think carefully about the degree and institution they want to attend in the UK, as employers can be extremely selective and prioritise graduates from a “top 10” UK university.

Whether you secure a job in your home country or abroad, the insight gained in a foreign university will generally help in professional contexts.

For Mr Merchant, it was the formal tone and precision of communication in the UK that provided excellent preparation for effective communication in the workplace.

This is just one of the factors that makes the UK a prime destination for international students and business people.

Mr Merchant explained: “I also find the UK – in particular London and the South East – to be fantastically global. In the field of finance, which is possibly the most global profession on this planet, this is tremendously useful as you interact and engage with people from all across the world.

“This is less the case in the US where the focus is very much America-centric. You are more likely to build contacts with and appreciate people from across the planet in the UK than you are elsewhere.”

Even if you hope to study or work outside the financial sector, international experience could nonetheless serve you well, as other industries are recognising the benefits of educational and cultural exchanges.

In September 2015, Nottingham and Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine will launch the first UK-China joint pharmacy course, to promote cross-cultural learning within the healthcare industry.

In the UK in 2012, 24 per cent of engineering and technology students, 16 per cent of both computer science and law students, and 13 per cent of architecture, building and planning students were non-EU citizens.

Study abroad is not always possible for every student. But if it is off the cards for you, do not despair! The experience of living, working and studying alongside international people, even in your home region, can give you the skills and open-mindedness that employers seek.

Bruce Rayton, associate dean for postgraduate taught programmes at the University of Bath, wants to provide all postgraduate students with a sense of how business is conducted all over the world.

According to Dr Rayton, creating an international environment on campus is integral to fulfilling this aim.

“We achieve it through many different mechanisms,” he says. “One of them is to send our students ‘over there’, but another is to create reciprocal opportunities for students to come here from overseas.

“The experience isn’t just for those who travel here; the experience is created for all those here on campus, because we enrich the university community and provide a set of experiences, examples and cultural perspectives that we simply wouldn’t get otherwise.”

So if you are looking to enhance your employment prospects, this is the advice from experts and graduates who have been in your shoes:

  • Seek out international study opportunities in unfamiliar places
  • Be open-minded to new experiences and cultures
  • Strategically choose which university to study at – see The World University Rankings and The University Directory
  • Even if you can’t go abroad, choose to study in international environments in your home region – see Best Universities For International Outlook

Top Tips

  • Choose your course and institution carefully – employers can be very selective
  • Apply for internships and work experience during summer vacations – students often secure jobs after an internship
  • Research your visa status – the post-study work visa is no longer available
  • Highlight your diverse cultural experience to potential employers – they are looking for adaptability and open-mindedness

Facts and Figures: International Students


  • In 2011-12, there were 78,715 Chinese students and 29,900 Indian students at UK universities.
  • Non-EU students counted for 28 per cent of business studies students, 24 per cent of engineering and technology students, 16 per cent of computer science students, 16 per cent of law students, and 13 per cent of architecture students in the UK.

Data is 2011-12 from the UK International Higher Education Unit


The United States 

  • In 2013-14, there were 274,439 Chinese students and 102,673 Indian students at a US university.
  • International students counted for 21 per cent of business studies students, 19 per cent of engineering students, 10 per cent of maths  and computer science students, 8 per cent of social sciences students, and 8 per cent of physical and life sciences students in the US.

Data is 2013-14 from the Institute of International Education


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