Employers like students and recent grads with international experience

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When David Common, the current CBC New York correspondent, decided to go to Stockholm on exchange during University, he wrote that some friends “joked I was simply off to major in ‘blondes’.”

But in reality, Common is living proof of the impact that an exchange program can have on your career. “I wouldn’t be where I am,” he says, “without the taste for travel developed during that exchange.”

He just recently returned from an assignment in Haiti, and has also served as the European Correspondent covering Western and Eastern Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia. The roots of his thirst for travel lie in his time on exchange.

Common’s experiences are not uncommon. Miranda Cheng, director of the University of Toronto International Exchange Office says, “Many come back saying, ‘I’ve done this, I’m going to now search for a job overseas, I’m going to look for a graduate program overseas…I really need to do another opportunity.’”

The University of Toronto, along with Ryerson and York universities, organize the Canadian Bureau of International Education Conference every year. The four-day conference helps students learn how to use their leverage their knowledge in future careers, and to re-adjust to life at home.

Cheng adds that personal growth is a major advantage of going abroad. As  a result of this experience, many students have increased self-awareness: “Being in a different culture, you gain that self-awareness very quickly.”

Lauren Pires, a student at Carleton University and an intern at the Royal Bank of Canada, went to London, England, as a part of the Carleton-Leeds Parliamentary Internship Program in 2009.

“It helped me better define the person that I am today and what is important to me, and it helped me to discover things I am capable of doing,” she says.

Ashley Lovell, who studied fashion design in Italy, says, “Living in a place where almost nothing is native…was a real whiplash of a way to first live away from home. But once I…got my bearings…there were moments of pure amazement that made every bit of stress worth it.”

Cheng says it is common for students to first feel enamoured by everything that surrounds them, but then as homesickness sets in, to start to hate it all.

“I think when you get to that period where you hate everything, some of those stereotypes will come to surface, and…then you can really question them for yourself,” she says.

Tandi Tuakli, who spent eight months in Florence, Italy, says “I think being out of your comfort zone, not just physically, but in terms of language and culture, make you more open to new people and experiences.” You can take to the workplace.

Cheng says many people are hesitant to leave their comfort zone and this may be the reason more people don’t go abroad. The University of Toronto and others across the country want to work to remove some of those perceived barriers through peer to peer support and highlighting the benefits of going abroad.

“Employers tend to really like international experience, particularly if you can frame it as beneficial to a specific position,” says Common.

An international experience may be the one thing that puts you a step ahead of your peers in the job market.

Visit your school’s exchange office to learn more about your study abroad opportunities, or do some searching on the web for programs such as SWAP or through the Canadian government.

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About the author

Mira Saraf studied psychology and English at McGill University. When she graduated, she wanted to pursue journalism but somehow ended up working in Montreal's garment industry. From there, she moved to New York to attend FIT. She worked there for a year before moving back to Toronto to work for Winners. Two and a half years in she took over a year off to pursue writing education and a career in freelance writing. She has since returned to the industry and now works for Loblaw/Joe Fresh. She continues to write on a part time basis.