There is no shortage of studies and scholarly articles supporting a college student’s decision to study abroad. From unique cultural experiences to the opportunity to fend for themselves in a foreign environment, the ways in which young adults can benefit from a semester or more living and learning in another country are frequently touted by the global community.
Now consider that same situation in terms of employees. Do adults in the workforce, regardless of age, stand to gain from taking time away from their career, or at least their typical workplace, to spend time abroad? Holly Bull, president of the Center for Interim Programs in Princeton, NJ, told NBC News that the answer is a resounding yes.
Learning at Any Age
According to Bull, many of the same qualities that make international study so appealing and valuable to students hold true for people throughout the various stages of life.
“There’s just a tremendous interest that people have at almost any age in the idea of stepping back and taking time to take a breather from the track that they’re on,” Bull told the news source.
Some of the out-of-country breaks that Bull referenced as popular included volunteer trips, cultural immersion adventures, and visits intended to hone a region-specific skill, such as a foreign language proficiency. People’s motivations to leave their typical locale were equally diverse. Individuals interviewed by the news source cited dissatisfaction with work, the occurrence of challenging personal life events, or simply the desire to change up their usual routine.
Can this sort of break from the traditional workplace be incorporated into a company’s efforts to promote employee development and training? Absolutely. Consider the benefits traditional study abroad programs offer participants and how they translate to an adult workforce.
To measure the impact that global exploration can have on individuals, the Institute for the International Education of Students (IES) surveyed more than 3,400 former participants in their study abroad programs between 1950 and 1999. According to the organization, 94 percent of respondents indicated that their experiences abroad continued to influence their daily lives and level of global understanding even years later. A similarly high percentage of individuals stated that the decision has improved their professional as well as their personal growth and contributed to their intercultural development.
While a company may not want to lose employees for too long, programs that encourage international exploration or work-related skill development programs outside of the office can create a more globally conscious and well-rounded workforce. For businesses that interact regularly with partners worldwide, the move can be even more strategic. Imagine how communication skills in customer service could improve if staff not only spoke the client’s language proficiently, but also had a thorough understanding of their cultural practices and behaviors.
Joydeep Sengupta, an IES participant who went to Madrid in 1998, shared firsthand with the organization how her time abroad improved her skills and eligibility in the workforce.
“An entire range of professional opportunities have opened up to me in recent years, partly due to the skills and internship experiences I gained,” Sengupta said.
Of course, there are other benefits of living abroad that apply to a person’s career by helping them grow personally. Respondents to the IES survey reported increased confidence in their abilities and an overall greater understanding of the world and people around them as a direct result of having lived outside of the United States for some period of time. These qualities can be equally helpful in the workplace, encouraging leadership that focuses on well-rounded lifelong development. This view was noted by people like Jason Thornberg, who studied abroad in Vienna in 1994.
“It has been nearly 10 years since I was a student in Vienna, but not a single day goes by where its impact is not felt in my life,” Thornberg said. “My time there fundamentally changed how I view the world and has given me the ability to view the world, and its issues, from several perspectives.”