Figuring out ways to communicate the impact of studying abroad beyond “It was AMAZING!” can be tricky. By the time I returned to the U.S. and particularly by the time I graduated, I found it difficult to articulate the skills I gained and why my experience abroad as a Gilman Scholar was so life changing.
After a few Gilman webinars, workshops, and Alumni Ambassador training, I have narrowed it down to the 5 most impactful “soft skills” that I gained from studying abroad. And to be honest, I am not a fan of the term “soft skills” because they are not something to scoff at—they are invaluable and highly marketable skills that help you thrive personally, professionally, and academically.
Studying abroad encourages you to navigate new and sometimes challenging situations on your own, and, you guessed it—problem-solving. What am I going to do now that I am lost in a country where the official language is not English? I am going to get creative and figure it out because I can’t NOT do something.
You learn to accept and handle change when you find yourself in a new country, new culture, with a potentially new language, and when things inevitably do not go as planned. Reflecting on my experience with culture shock was helpful in identifying and articulating what adaptability is for me.
- Intercultural Communication
Immersing yourself in a different culture is eye-opening—you gain a sense of humility and awareness of different politics, lifestyles, privileges, and histories. This pushes us outside of our ethnocentric bubbles and helped me become more open and patient when communicating with people from different backgrounds.
- Independence & Self Reliance
I spent a lot of time alone when studying abroad, which helped me become more comfortable with myself and confident in my abilities. I am also a firm believer that your study abroad experience is what you make of it. I pursued things that interested me by taking part in different activities that weren’t available back home, such as volunteering and traveling, which helped me realize just how well I can figure things out for myself.
Most of my learning while abroad happened outside of class in the form of cultural immersion, asking “why”, problem-solving, and saying “yes” to opportunities outside of my comfort zone. I wanted to learn and absorb as much as possible and I enjoy fueling my curiosity by pursuing new paths (like learning Arabic now!).
The challenge is identifying the skills you gained and figuring out how to communicate them outside of the realm of study abroad.
For me, my adaptability allows me to function with a high level of ambiguity and handle stress. My intercultural communication helps me to take on new perspectives and establish rapport quickly. My problem-solving skills enable me to learn through listening and observing, process information and organize and prioritize work.
I would encourage you to take some time to be introspective and unpack your experiences. Think about how you have grown because of your study abroad experience and how you can extend your skills beyond the scope of study abroad. And then lastly, I would challenge you to think of how you can use these skills not only to advance your education and career but to give back to your communities.
Being a Gilman Scholar is a lot more than receiving a scholarship because it connects you to a global network of ambitious students, mentors, and peers. It pushes you to think critically about your study abroad program before you even set foot on the plane. Gilman gives you the opportunity to utilize the skills you developed abroad and to pay it forward as part of this international network in your future careers, at your school and in how you grow as an individual.