Transferring Lessons from Studying Abroad to the Working World
Now that I have made the transition from an undergraduate student to a young professional, it is interesting to think about what lessons I have learned that can transfer into the working world. With a few years since I studied abroad for a summer in Spain and during spring break in Chile, I continue to see the value of studying abroad and appreciate the lessons learned that help me in the workforce. Above all, I have developed a more global, open-minded perspective, which has been beneficial for me in all aspects of life.
What lessons from studying abroad still hold strong for me as a young professional?
1. Be ready and willing to adapt
While studying abroad, we are forced to adapt to a new culture, language, and customs. For example, thinking back to my experience in Salamanca, I wrote in my blog, Spanish Adventures Revealed, that “People are meant to adapt to change. I know how fast people adapt depends on their personality. I’ve realized that it took me only a couple days to adapt to the Spanish lifestyle. I’ve gone 6 weeks without ketchup, peanut butter, and more, and I’ve gotten used to it!
I don’t miss the food from home too much or my typical customs. The main thing I’ve missed is access to WiFi because it has been my only way to communicate with friends and family (I have a Vodafone, but I avoid using it). It will be weird having to adjust again when I return to the U.S.” In the real world, we consistently face changes, both in the office and outside of work. We need to learn how to adjust and make the most of changes that come our way.
2. Don’t stereotype
Stereotypes are inevitable, but don’t rely on them. While studying in Spain, I lived with a housemate from the United Arab Emirates. Her primary language was English (not Arabic!), although she spoke Russian, Uzbek (she was born in Uzbekistan), Spanish, French and more. She was Atheist (not Muslim!). She was surprised when I did not drink coffee (because some foreigners think of Americans as always having a Starbucks coffee in their hands). She was also surprised when I told her that not all Americans eat hamburgers and French fries or large portions in general (she decided to not study abroad in the U.S. because she thought she would get fat).
We had preconceived notions about each other based on stereotypes, but we were clearly wrong and learned so much about each other’s cultures. As a young professional, it is also important to not stereotype others based on age, background, work experience, etc. People are so much more than the labels that society places on them. We all possess unique characteristics and diversity that cannot be described through stereotypes.
3. Balance your work life and personal life
While studying abroad, I was amazed by the European mindset to prioritize appreciating each day and enjoying life, rather than always worrying about work and achievement. I began to recalibrate my priorities, switching my focus from purely achievement, to balancing achievement with enjoyment. As a young professional, I have transferred this wisdom and constantly think about maintaining balance in order for me to be productive, happy, and healthy both in and outside of work.
4. Live in the present
It is so easy to get wrapped up in the future by constantly making plans and worrying about what will happen next or what consequences we will face as a result of our actions today. Every day I have potential plans, but so many times when I think I’ll do something one day here, I end up saying “well, it depends what happens before.” In my blog, Spanish Adventures Revealed, I wrote that “Enjoying each day for what it’s worth has been one of the most important things I learned while studying in Spain. I think the siesta…time with family to eat lunch leisurely and relax…helped me appreciate each day more than I did in the U.S. I bet that if the U.S. initiated a siesta, obesity, divorce, and heart attack rates would decrease tremendously.”
A few years later, I realize that a siesta is not realistic in the American business environment, but I do think it is important to live in the present. This is especially important with all the uncertainty and fast changes in the business world. Planning too far ahead can be a waste of time because there are so many variables that can completely change plans outside of our expectations. While I think that some futuristic thinking (such as visioning) is a wonderful part of business or life in general, I also think it is important to make the most of each day and take baby steps rather than overly focusing on big leaps into the future.
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I will always remember my study abroad experiences fondly and am grateful for the lessons they have taught me and how they have prepared me for the workforce. I hope to continue to develop a global perspective by traveling, and reflecting on my daily experiences in my blog, inspirNational, which provides international inspiration for our everyday lives.
By Brittany VanderBeek