American Students Abroad: Professional vs Personal Development

By Sarah Williams

Posted 6 years agoGROWTH

Author of the illustration: Emil Wikström

Students opt to study abroad for different reasons. For some, it’s all about trying to get that “Wow factor” when applying for scholarships or jobs in the future. Some do it to learn about other cultures and expand their horizons beyond their comfort zones. Which is the better reason to study abroad, though? Could we clearly establish if one reason outweighs the other? Let’s have a look at both sides of the argument then.

The General Experience Factor

The reality of the matter is, there are valid reasons on both sides, as in all great debates. There is much to be gained from the practical experience of trying to learn in unfamiliar surroundings. It shows admission committees and potential employers that you can adapt. It also shows that you can thrive and excel in unknown territory where you don’t necessarily have the upper hand. In professional terms, those things can, and often do, get the attention of the right people.

From a personal development angle, studying abroad always makes a significant impact on the student. The experience is often described as a turning point in a person’s life. When a young adult gets to see the world from a different perspective, it broadens his or her interpretation of the world.

It also creates a sense of responsibility and work ethic that many young people take years to develop. While the average student finds themselves caught in a conundrum between meeting academic responsibilities and socializing, former exchange students view their responsibilities differently. They are much more prone to see things from a goal-oriented perspective. Speaking from experience, I was always aware that my priority was to write an essay to leave me plenty of time to study for the upcoming exam. Doing so allows the mind to focus on what needs to be done, thus making the after party so much sweeter since you already know that business was taken care of.

People who have never travelled far from home don’t typically develop the same level of insight at a young age as those who have the opportunity to experience other cultures. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and it doesn’t necessarily make one student “better” than another. There are, however, clear developmental advantages to cataloguing the kind of life experience that is gained through studying abroad.

These notions represent the tip of the iceberg, however keep in mind that they won’t all apply to every student’s experience or situation. With that in mind let us evaluate the professional advantages and social benefits that studying abroad may offer.

Professional Advantages

We touched on a couple of the professional advantages of studying overseas already. Now let’s take a closer look. We mentioned the impact that a student’s time abroad can have on further education and employment. The former is adequately straightforward, and the latter is more involved.

Studying abroad can always help one further they career simply by learning a foreign language. The impact of your academic pursuits can change the opportunities that arise after you get hired as well, since what you studied in college should smoothen the transition into a professional environment. Even if this is still years down the road for you, remember these advantages as you study and live in a new place:


Sometimes it’s easy to identify people who would be good contacts for academic and professional pursuits. You might find someone to recommend you or endorse your talents and abilities. You might even meet someone (or lots of people) that can help you reach your employment and career goals. Don’t count anyone out. Make plenty of contacts and make a good impression on them because, as the saying goes, “you never know…”

Independence and Problem-Solving 

Living in a foreign place and dealing with the struggles that present in those circumstances force you out of your comfort zone. They also force you to learn how to solve problems on your own, often under less than optimal conditions. In short, the experience develops you into the kind of “self-starter” that many employers seek to hire.

Career Readiness 

Many students want to travel but want to use that time to their best advantage. Studying abroad can help eliminate gap years and other hindrances to finishing a degree or different course while giving the student the opportunity to embark on the journey of a lifetime. Studies have also shown that many former exchange students make better, more valued employees.

Personal Advantages

Yes, there are definite personal development advantages to consider here. Students who opt out of a gap year in favour of continuing their studies in a new place walk away with experiences that transcend concrete goals like landing a normal nine to five job or by adjusting the work environment to their own needs like millenials who chose a digital nomand lifestyle working from remote places. We all want to go beyond that after investing so much time into our education, thus settling for any less than that feels like wasted effort.

The professional angle will help the student get a job, but the personal corner could be a critical factor in keeping that job and developing it into a more challenging and better-paying role. Here are a few ways of studying abroad impacts personal development:

Moving Beyond One’s Comfort Zone 

This is one of the most immediate benefits to studying abroad. Learning to adapt and work within a specific cultural-economic and schooling-instructional paradigm helps people respond better to high-pressure situations. It makes it easier to come up with workable solutions to problems, and it teaches how to deal emotionally with difficult circumstances.

Boosting Confidence 

Learning how to solve problems and work within specific frameworks has this effect. The better one gets at solving problems, the more self-confidence he or she will develop. From the standpoint of success, it’s a good trait to develop. From a personal perspective, it leads to a happier, more satisfied existence and a heightened ability to deal well with both success and failure.

Building Positive Character and Personality

Both of the previous two concepts play into this one. The lessons learned, victories won, losses suffered, and fears faced when studying abroad shape the student as an individual.

The experiences people have while studying abroad make them more interesting to others and often make them more compassionate, empathetic, and understanding. Frequently it also makes them significantly better listeners. These are all desirable personality traits that make it easier for other people to like them and want to form more meaningful relationships with them.

Professional Versus Personal: The Verdict

So which is the more important goal of studying abroad: the professional advantages or the personal benefits? The answer is clear: it’s a tie. Neither one is more important than the other. In fact, in many ways, they overlap each other in an almost symbiont sort of way. Various aspects of one practically invariably impact points of the other. Moreover, developing every part of our person and character is essential for both success and personal development on multiple levels.

Keep in mind that personal growth is a process and that success is a progressive concept. People stagnating or feeling stuck in their careers are not the definition of success, even if they pull a huge salary. Conversely, failure is not exemplified by someone working a blue-collar job and living paycheck to paycheck.

Numbers do not define success. It is determined by how we handle all the little victories and failures and use both to build ourselves up as individuals. The earlier we learn these lessons, the better. Living and studying abroad is one powerful way to develop success-oriented thought patterns and behaviours in early adulthood and apply them to future academic and professional endeavours.

About the author Sarah Williams

Sarah Williams is an avid blogger who specializes in dating advice. Her interests include gender relations and the underlying mechanisms that drive human interactions. You can check out her thoughts on men, sex, dating and love at Wingman Magazine .

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