By Indhika, IvyWise Academic Advisor
Whether you are an international relations or biology major, meaningful global experiences can have a positive impact on your academic and personal growth. Going abroad can broaden your perspectives, deepen your understanding of your chosen discipline, bolster your professional development, and strengthen your resume for graduate school and job applications. When exploring different options to go abroad, reflect on how opportunities connect to your academic training, career goals, and co-curricular profile. Read on to learn about some of the different types of global experiences that may be available to you.
While studying abroad is the most popular global experience undertaken in college, the number of students who participate in exchange programs is still relatively low – just 1 in 10 college students. Given the numerous benefits to studying abroad, it is a wonder more students don’t pursue these programs. Academically, studying abroad has numerous benefits with many students reporting that their experiences shaped their future academic undertakings and directions. Culturally, participants not only gain global perspectives and grow from immersing themselves in new cultures, but they also have the opportunity to critically reflect on their own cultural background and identity. The lifelong impact of these experiences also includes sustained friendships with individuals all over the world.
If you are considering a study abroad program, make sure the courses offered align with your interests and academic requirements. Think about how the culture, history, politics, and society of a location might enhance your academic curriculum and facilitate learning outside the classroom. While most study abroad participants go to countries in Europe – 44% study in just five countries: Spain, Italy, the UK, Ireland, and France – keep a broad scope as you search for opportunities as there are exciting destinations all over the world.
Internships are essential for skills building and networking, and international internships add a valuable layer of global professionalism and intercultural communication. In addition, they can boost language proficiency and specifically improve technical language proficiency within a discipline. Students who participate in international internships while in college build global networks while rapidly developing their soft skills. International work experience is particularly important to certain graduate programs and career paths, like diplomacy and international development programs.
Finding an international internship can seem even more daunting than a regular internship search. If this is something you are interested in, you should tap into your university resources and networks. Meet with career services to launch a specialized search, ask faculty and students in your department about possible contacts, and use LinkedIn to connect with alumni in key cities. You can also apply directly to opportunities or use a third-party organization that facilitates international internship placements. At IvyWise, our Academic Advisors help students tap into these resources so that they can explore internship opportunities that are relevant to them and their goals. When pursuing an international internship, make sure to be mindful of any visa stipulations or required paperwork.
International Community Service Projects
One of the benefits of international community service and service-learning opportunities is that they range in duration. If it is not feasible to go abroad for a semester or the summer, you can instead participate in shorter community service or service-learning trips. For example, colleges often facilitate immersive Spring Break trips through which students can engage in intentional service-based work in international locations. Alternately, some student organizations include short international experiences in their activities and some students even organize their own volunteer-based international experiences.
If you decide to participate in an international volunteer experience, make sure the organization you are working with is legitimate and impactful and the scope of work is feasible for a short-term project. Having an experience that is meaningful to you and beneficial to a community is contingent on these two factors. While international volunteer opportunities may be short in duration, they can lead to long-term engagement. Some students continue to work with organizations remotely, participate in multiple short trips to the same site, or even pursue full-time work with organizations after graduation.
If independent study, directed research, or even lab work is part of your academic training, you can consider conducting these in an international setting. Research opportunities abroad take on many forms and can be folded into other global experiences. Some college departments may take an active role in facilitating research opportunities – whether hosting international research projects that students can apply to or providing advisory support for international research projects initiated by a student.
If you have a research project you would like to conduct abroad, you can apply for university funding through grants and fellowships to support this effort. Connect with faculty members and departmental contacts to determine what funding is available at the program level as well as university-wide. Keep in mind that university funding may come with certain restrictions and conditions. You may also consider integrating a research component into a study abroad program or international internship. Undertaking a research project is a great way to distinguish yourself and cultivate mentorships with a global network of faculty members and/or professional supervisors.
Post Graduate International Fellowships
While technically not an experience you would participate in while you are still in college, post-graduate international fellowships may be something to consider applying for during your junior or senior year. If you are interested in gaining international experience before applying to graduate school or jobs, fellowship programs offer impressive, immersive, and often funded ways to get this. Opportunities like the Fulbright Program, Peace Corps, Princeton in Asia, Princeton in Africa, Global Health Corps, and the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship span a broad breadth of regions and experiences.
Another option if you have a very strong academic record and would like to pursue international scholarships to undertake graduate study abroad, is to explore opportunities such as the Rhodes Scholarship, Marshall Scholarship, and Gates Cambridge Scholarship. As these are highly competitive scholarships with early deadlines, you may need to prepare applications during your junior year or the summer before your senior year.
Regardless of which opportunity (or several!) you decide to pursue, remember that the structure provided to you by an academic curriculum, internship, volunteer commitment, or research project is the foundation rather than the entirety of your global experience. Always look for ways to engage and explore options for personal, professional, and academic growth. Whether you add a volunteer commitment to a study abroad program, take a language course while doing an international internship, or connect with local scholars and experts during a research project, find ways to enhance your experience and make it your own!
If you are interested in pursuing global experiences during your time in college, don’t be afraid to reach out to an advisor, professor, or independent academic advisor for guidance. Our team of Academic Advisors can help you identify new learning opportunities abroad that will make a world of difference in your personal and academic growth – setting you up for success in college and beyond.