How Studying Abroad Benefited My Academic And Professional Career


From watching the sun set over the Acropolis in Athens to watching the Christmas lights light up Champs-Elysée, some of my best memories are from studying abroad.

The strength of its international exchange program was one of the reasons I chose to study at the Queen’s University School of Business, and I was determined to make the most out of the opportunity by spending two semesters abroad.

When my blog’s following edged past 700 subscribers, I began to receive emails from magazines and tourism boards asking to publish my photographs.

In September of 2010, I set out to study in France at HEC Paris International Business School; by January 2011, I had bid France farewell and headed for England, where I studied at the Bader International Study Centre.

When I arrived in France to begin my first semester, I was eager to expand my personal and academic experience. HEC offered a breadth of courses to choose from, including many interesting non-business electives.

I took advantage of this and enrolled in an international policy course taught by a Harvard professor, a class on French culture and another on French society. By the end of the semester, not only did I learn how to do business in France, but I also gained a strong understanding of the French education system, government, economy and, of course, gastronomy.

Tracy Zhang, fourth year Bachelor of Commerce student at Queen's University, in Marseille, France
Tracy in Marseille, France

When it was time to go to the UK, I became so interested in the business landscape in Europe that I decided to pursue my undergrad degree specialization in International Business. At the Bader Study Centre, a literature course by the name of “Harry Potter and the English Schoolboy Tradition” caught my eye. Although it was different from the business courses I was used to taking, the nerd in me did not want to pass up an opportunity to read and discuss Harry Potter with my peers. It quickly became my favorite course that semester.

Outside of the classroom, I was anxious to explore Europe since it was my first time there. I invested in a train pass on a student discount and journeyed all over the continent – to 19 countries to be exact. As a way to document my travels, I also began to publish photographs from my trips on my blog. Little did I realize that it wasn’t just my friends and family who were looking at the site.

When my blog’s following edged past 700 subscribers, I began to receive emails from magazines and tourism boards asking to publish my photographs. Studying and traveling in Europe not only opened the door for me to freelance as a photographer, but also helped me connect with many other travel enthusiasts.

After I returned home from Europe to begin my summer internship, I learned that my manager had just moved to Canada from France. We immediately bonded over my exchange experience in Paris. Having that common ground allowed me to build great rapport with my manager, who provided me with constant professional support throughout the summer.

When I look back on my time in Europe, I feel lucky to have been able to explore another continent, enrich my academic life, and leverage the experience in the workplace. My year abroad benefitted me immensely – I can’t imagine my university education any other way!

My top 3 tips for students looking to studying abroad:

  • Immerse yourself in the culture: A large part of studying abroad is to experience another culture. You can broaden your perspective by learning the local language, making friends with domestic students, and researching the country’s history and cultural practices.
  • Take rewarding academic courses: Take advantage of the interesting courses not offered at your home school, like the Harry Potter class offered at Bader Study Centre. Some courses are also more interesting when they are learned abroad – imagine learning Art History in France or taking Italian in Italy!
  • Leverage the experience professionally: Having an international experience on the resume can help you stand out in the workforce. Even if it doesn’t help you connect with potential employers like my experience with my manager, at the very least it makes for an interesting discussion in the interview. Some of my friends who studied abroad also networked with alumni in the country and landed international job offers.
About the author

Tracy Zhang is a fourth year student at Queen’s University. She is currently finishing her undergraduate degree in Bachelor of Commerce, with a specialization in Marketing and International Business. Whenever she is not in the classroom, Tracy spends her time juggling work as freelance travel photographer and planning her next trip.