As more millennials have entered the work force, the competition for the perfect job has become increasingly stiffer. Once an impressive addition on a resume, a college degree is no longer a meaningful differentiator. Now, students are looking for things that will make them not only stand out on paper but give them invaluable experiences that provide lessons learned far outside the classroom., like spending time studying and experiencing other cultures abroad.
International experiences do much more than fill a resume. Over the last decade, college students have been increasingly seeking study abroad trips to help round out the college experience, gain inspiration not found at home and kickstart their careers by setting them apart from other students. In fact, according to Unesco's Institution for Statistics, the number of study abroad students is rising at about 12% each year - Most importantly, students who study abroad gain exposure into things that may ultimately help them discover their passions and shape future dreams and goals.
Take Natalie Mayer from Overland Park, Kansas, for example. While Natalie now aspires to enter the field of international medicine, that wasn't always the case. Her path became clear while attending a Duke University TIP Tropical Medicine and Ethnobiology program in Costa Rica, where she was exposed to the world of tribal and traditional medicine, spurring her interest in the subject. Without the opportunity to study abroad, Natalie may never have learned about the untraditional and niche topic she now considers her life's calling.
For those who already have a clear career path in mind, studying abroad can supplement your classroom education, providing opportunities beyond the text book - especially when learning a foreign language. Stepping out of the classroom and seeking immersion into the culture was key for Emma Ehlers, a student in Kansas City, Missouri wishing to pursue a career in Spanish.
She says, "Traveling abroad is vital for becoming fluent in a language, so I plan to go to a Spanish speaking country and immerse myself in their culture."
But while study abroad may still seem like a "luxury" on the path to reaching your professional goals, it can be a distinct asset for certain career paths. To Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior who hopes to work for the United Nations, studying abroad is essential to her education. Because job opportunities within the U.N. are extremely competitive, studying abroad will give her valuable experience in the field, broaden her understanding of various cultures and learn the nuances of building relationships with people different from yourself. She notes these opportunities will "demonstrate my resolve to an international career and provide a rare experience that will set me apart from other candidates."
While it's clear that experiences abroad have become critical to setting young girls apart from the pack, there's one important barrier that often stands in the way of these life-changing opportunities: funding. Though some are given the opportunity, many struggle to find the necessary funding to cover the expenses. And with the increasing number of students looking to go abroad, it's becoming more difficult for students to find individual scholarships and support due to the rise in competition.
The good news? There are ways to fund these vital trips abroad - it just takes some research. Whether it's through tapping into your own network of supporters and mentors, using sites like GoFundMe or finding scholarships and micro-grants like those offered by my company, UChic, you just need to get creative and stay focused on the end goal. Because no matter how you get there, the experiences you return with will have a profoundly meaningful impact on your personal and professional life.