The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday September 27th

UNC students gain marketable skills through study abroad, office says

In today’s fierce competition for jobs, the need for recent college graduates to stand out means every experience must be marketed as a strength.

Some administrators want students to better justify study abroad programs as skill set contributors instead of showing it just as a semester abroad.

“It should be considered something that makes you more qualified for the position,” said Cheryl Matherly, assistant provost for global education at the University of Tulsa.

“It’s a concern because so long as employers don’t understand the full experience, it is something that isn’t valued,” she said.

One recruiter said study abroad is not a selling point, but could help students based on how it’s presented.

“It’s not something that we look for specifically,” said Kaitlin Gastrock, Teach For America spokeswoman.

But students seem confident it will give them an advantage.

“It’s a marketable thing to study abroad because you can say that you experienced different cultures,” said UNC senior Elizabeth Golden, who studied abroad in Sevilla, Spain.

But a concern is students are not adequately advertising their experiences, Matherly said.

“A lot of them don’t think about the importance of it on their resume,” said Jeff Sackaroff, associate director of University Career Services.

For example, some students don’t elaborate on the importance of their experience.

“I just stated that I had spent seven weeks in a study abroad immersion program,” Golden said. “That’s pretty much all I put.”

Some believe just stating the study abroad experience isn’t enough.

“I think the most important thing a student can do is to be able to speak about it in terms of transferable skills,” Matherly said. “How is it that that experience can be useful for the company?”

This approach seems to be key.

“It certainly could be an asset,” Gastrock said. “It depends on what they experienced.”

Gastrock recommends students demonstrate they overcame challenges.

“Study abroad is a great way to answer the question — ‘tell me about the time you took a risk’ — or questions about cultural diversity,” Sackaroff said.

But many students don’t consider their careers when choosing a study abroad program.

“Students aren’t really thinking careerwise,” said Kathryn Goforth, UNC study abroad director for advising. “They are sort of thinking about now.”

Regardless of its marketability career-wise, many agree studying abroad can be a valuable experience.

“It completely changed my whole career path and I’m much happier as a result,” Goforth said.

Contact the State & National Editor at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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