University Mistakes #6: Graduating Without Going Abroad

This 10 Biggest Mistakes You Can Make in University blog series is for any students who are still in school, or about to attend university, so that you can make the best out of your academic career!

Thank you to the dozens of people from around the world who have anonymously shared their biggest regrets in hindsight and what they thought were the biggest mistakes that people make in university. Originally, I wanted to share all 10 at once, but I received so many great responses that I wanted to do a deeper dive on each of the Top 10 mistakes. Check out University Mistake #5 if you haven’t read it yet!

I encourage everyone to study abroad at least once… because I would have gone twice if I had known earlier.

ANONYMOUS

Over the years, I have spoken to dozens of students, managers, and executives who either recalled fond memories of going abroad or voiced their regrets about missing the opportunity to do so. International experience leads to pivotal moments that define you for the rest of your life. For some of you, it is a chance to step outside of your comfort zone and embrace ambiguity in a foreign environment. For others, it is a way to take a step back and reflect by looking at things from a different perspective. Beyond great memories, you will meet amazing people from around the world—they could become life long friends or a future partner!

In life, you don’t know what you don’t know. Going abroad can be helpful for students who feel stuck and uncertain about what they want to do with their careers. I have heard so many stories where people were either unsure or thought they were set on a certain career path, but completely changed courses after going abroad. It can be intimidating to leave everything behind and try something new, but now is a better time than later, because excuses will keep piling up until the opportunity has passed and you’re left wondering “what if?“.

International experience can also be critical to your personal and professional development. For those who lack work experience, international experience can differentiate you from other candidates in the talent pool. You will gain important skills like self awareness and independence, adaptability, and communication (to name a few that are essential for the workplace). As demonstrated by all 6 C-Suite executives from my Leadership Series, these skills and experiences can be critical to your future career success.

Follow your curiosity and push the limits of your own capabilities.

SATYA NADELLA, CEO of MICROSOFT

What Can You Do?

University is also the best time to go abroad because you don’t have any big commitments. Though it can be pricey, you most likely don’t have any dependents or a mortgage to worry about. With some planning and saving, you will be able to save up for a few months abroad. Plus, there are many grants and scholarships that you could apply for. Check out my blog post below on why you must go abroad and how you can plan for it!

One of the most important things you can do is keep an open mind and explore your options. There are many different ways to gain international experience, whether it is to study, volunteer, or work. Look at what some of your goals are and map those to different programs that are available at your university. For those who are interested in volunteering or working abroad, AIESEC is present in 114 countries around the world and offers thousands of internship experiences that range from 6 weeks to 18 months.

What Did I Do?

In my first semester of university, I attended an Information Session on Studying Abroad and I was hooked! After hearing the stories of students who had went abroad, I knew that I wanted to do it one day as well. From there, I joined the International Business Students’ Association (IBSA) and AIESEC in Calgary to meet likeminded peers who valued international experience and leadership development. My involvement in these 2 organizations made sure that going abroad was always at the top of my mind.

In my 3rd year of university in 2017, I joined the Experiencing Business in Japan program, which was a 3 week group study in Tokyo and Kyoto. This was essentially my first time in Asia, and it was one of the best times of my life. After the group study, I met up with one of my IBSA buddies in Hong Kong, which is so neat because things came full circle!

After my exchange to Japan, I knew that 3 weeks abroad was not enough for me. I spent the next couple years thinking about the next time I could go abroad. At the time, I had a 12 month contract while completing my studies, and I wasn’t sure if I should leave my job behind because there was potential for full-time work upon graduation. However, I finally decided to spend my last semester abroad at Singapore Management University. Exploring Asia for these 5 months was magical, life changing, and eventually led me to 3 different job opportunities!

Although my parents were unsupportive of my decisions to go abroad, I saved up my own money from work and used student loans and grants to pay for both of my exchanges. I convinced my parents that these were once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that I would regret not doing. I also provided testimonials from the CEO of Husky and CSO of WestJet, who mentioned the value of international experience in the success of their careers.

Ultimately, going abroad was one of the best decisions I have ever made in the life so far and I would encourage every single student to do it before graduating!

The least you need to know

  1. Plan ahead and explore your options to go abroad before it’s too late. Attend information sessions and determine your where your interests lie (studying, volunteering, working, etc…)
  2. Stop making excuses. There are a hundred reasons why you shouldn’t go abroad, but don’t listen to any of them—carpe diem! Think about the potential to explore new opportunities, meet new people, and develop critical skills.
  3. Just do it. Fall in love with the experience. Meet new people and learn more about yourself and other cultures. Create great memories and find ways to differentiate yourself.

Stay tuned for University Mistake #7 and remember to subscribe for my top 3 career resources each month!

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