The Tangible Benefits Around International Experiences

We recently had dinner with our very close friends.  Our kids are all a year apart, and we’ve been friends since they were little. They were talking about being excited to visit us in Portugal, when their 16 year- old son said that he had no interest in going anywhere out of the US.  You guys, I was blown away.  That said, he hasn’t had international travel in his life beyond Caribbean resorts.  While you certainly don’t have to have travel to develop global curiosity, I’ve yet to meet a kid who has traveled abroad and didn’t develop the travel bug from it!


Because I’ve known this family for so long, I didn’t have to politely nod and smile. Instead I talked to him about the importance of international experiences.  I talked about how the countries of the world are intertwined-from climate, to policies, to the economy, and more.  Due to this, it’s necessary to gain awareness of the world as a whole.  I talked about the importance of understanding other people’s culture/lives/ perspectives. People are more concerned about the various issues in other countries when there is some sort of connection to the people living there. Further, experiencing different cultures helps you realize that there are different ways of doing things. You may learn how to problem solve in different ways, or just realize that difference don’t have to be defined as good, bad, better, or worse. They can just simply be different.  I talked about the impact of seeing historical sites. I explained how some places, like Wadi Rum or Sagrada Familia, didn’t excite me ahead of time, but were two of the most incredible things I have seen in my life. There is no way to explain the feeling of seeing something that truly blows your mind to someone-especially a 16-year-old…


As his eyes glazed over during my soapbox speech, I was at a loss…and then I remembered Castle Figures.  When my kids were little, they would get excited about going to European cities to find these small toy stores that sold what we called Castle Figures. They were like action figures, but there were knights, princesses, dragon, jesters, and just about any medieval castle related character you could think of!  We probably could have found them in the US, but we never told them that!  We would see different sites, and then walk around the city looking for stores that sold Castle Figures. This was an activity that they looked forward to, and so we were met with less resistance about going to do things that didn’t sound as exciting (but that they ended up liking).  Our friend is really into golf, so I told him that there are supposed to be some fantastic golf courses in Portugal.  This got him interested and willing to visit.

I couldn’t stop thinking about his lack of curiosity about the world.  I tried to come up with tangible reasons that international experiences are important, and had difficulty idenitying reasons that weren’t value laden.  I decided to turn to the EU and see what they had to say on the topic. You see, the EU already sees mobility and international experiences as important and they have programs in place to encourage young people and students to have international experiences.  I figured that they must have data to support these initiatives, given their investment in these programs.


This led me to a large-scale and in-depth study done in 2014. It’s called the Erasmus Impact Study and it was initiated by the European Commission. This study mainly focused on comparing students who participated in the Erasmus program and other mobility programs to those who did not study abroad.   All full-time students at European universities can participate in the Erasmus program-even non-EU students. While I think that the findings could likely be generalized to students who seek their degree outside of their home country, I don’t need to make that argument since international students can participate in the Erasmus program (as well as other mobility programs through their university). Let’s get down to what I learned.


This study measured students’ transversal skills, which I usually refer to as soft skills.  They looked at students’ acceptance of other people’s differences, adaptability, tolerance of ambiguity, openness to new experiences, curiosity, self -confidence, self -awareness, decision making skills, and problem-solving abilities.  While study abroad student were already higher in these areas than non-study abroad students before the study, the increase in their advantage around these skills after study abroad was significant.


While I think those skills are important in and of themselves for success in life, others (like our friend) might not care until we get to the next part of the study. The study also included 652 employers from 30 European countries. These included private, public, for profit, and not for profit companies. 92% of these employers stated that they are looking for employees with the transversal skills mentioned.  Further, 62% of employers specifically considered an international experience as important for recruitment.  This number is even more significant when you consider that the number was just 37% in 2006. It nearly doubled in just seven years!


You might be thinking that these advantages are exclusive to European employers, and so American students might not benefit if they return to the US after graduating.  Not true.  Not only are American employers looking for students with these skills, but they are finding graduates of US universities deficient in these areas. This is going to set student who study in different countries apart from the other applicants who may not be as advanced in these skills.

I believe that global citizenship and soft skills are crucial even if there weren’t these advantages around employment.  Global citizens are needed to solve the problems of today’s world-at both the micro and macro level.  Certainly, one does not have to attend college in Europe to develop soft skills or the traits around global citizenship or, but then they are a lot less likely to develop without active cultivation.  My suggestions? See if there are international experiences they can participate in.  These can run the gamut from somewhat affordable (Rotary Exchange) to more expensive (CIEE, Global Leadership Adventures, Where There Be Dragons to name a few).

If you are traveling internationally, find your teens version of Castle Figures. When my kids grew out of that interest, it evolved into things like the Criminology Museum in Rome , Cave Hotels in Cappadocia , the Catacombes in France, High Tea in London, and-of course-exploring the different pastries of the world!  If travel isn’t possible, find opportunities for international exposure closer to home. This might include TV shows, restaurants, or international festivals.   Full disclosure, I’m a sucker for teen shows and might check out a couple on the list with Ellie!

There are people who are resistant to believing that going to school in Europe might give graduates an advantages around employment. There are a host of reasons that can lead to this denial. I think that one reason is because people may feel like they need a way to justify dealing with the admissions rat race and high tuition cost in the US. If I were going through the admissions madness or incurring debt, I may choose to believe that there is a unique result that makes it all worth it in the end. That’s not the case though. There are options that are affordable, with transparent admissions process. These options can lead to incredible outcomes not only around employment but around personal development and perspective.  If you are interested in learning more about these options, we can help!

We have different free webinars that explain more of the details around English taught higher education in Europe.  One is for parents of college bound students. One is for the college bound students themselves, and the other is for students interested in master’s degree programs.  You can watch at your leisure by choosing the “watch now” option.