This time we have a guest blogger Dimitra Panopoulou-Huovila who is sharing her perspectives about studying abroad. Dimitra is originally from Greece but has been studying her Master degree in Internet and Game Studies at University of Tampere, and bachelor studies in Library Science and Information Systems in Greece. Dimitra attended an Erasmus program in Hanze U.A.S, located in Groningen, The Netherlands, and a summerschool in Hochshule der Medien in Stuttgart, Germany. Now, she currently lives in Tampere, Finland.
Would you like to know what is her experience about studying abroad?
Let’s start then!
Distances are growing smaller with every passing year. Internationalization is a reality that many meet during their student life or in their working environment. More and more students in higher education choose to relocate and study abroad, either for a degree or a limited period of time as exchange students. What is “studying abroad” exactly?
Studying abroad is a unique opportunity. You will submerge in a different culture and improve yourself. No matter how many lectures and workshops one enrolls to, nothing can compare to the real life experience of intercultural communications. As an exchange student, you will have the chance to enrich your degree with knowledge not taught at your home university. As a degree student you can return back home with a complete set of skills not taught in your home country’s higher education. Some lucky students have even found a new place to call home and choose to move permanently in their host country.
Studying abroad is a challenge. The culture shock with its ups and downs is real. Everyone experiences it and is affected by it in different ways. First comes the romantic stage, the honeymoon period. You are in love with the city, with the people, with the sounds and smells of your hosting city. You see new opportunities in every corner and are thrilled to interact with new people. Next comes the time you start feeling homesick. All those things you loved upon your arrival become less exciting. You start noticing how everything is different from the experiences you were used to back in your home country. Suddenly, you miss the life and faces you left behind. Finally comes the time of adjustment. You are now more comfortable with the new culture. You are aware of cultural differences but feel comfortable living with them. It is perfectly normal to experience culture shock. One should not be afraid of it, but embrace it.
Studying abroad is an eye opener. The host country may teach you new ways of dealing with everyday life. There might be differences in problem solving methods or work ethics. Maybe, simply the eating customs are a little bit different than in your home country. You may adjust to those new habits easier than you thought and even carry them with you long after you return. The radical change of moving to a new country, most likely alone, will allow you to face yourself which is important for self-improvement.
Moving abroad for studies is certainly not a vacation. It may seem like a big change, but it might be the best choice you will ever make. Studying abroad is an experience that can change your life.
Have you heard of Universum’s rankings? This year, in Finland, Kone, Finnair, Google and Fazer rank first in terms of most attractive employers for corporate positions. For IT types, the ranking comes in a different shape and includes first Google, second Reaktor and third Supercell. Wait, you might think this has got nothing to do with education, attractive universities, and Study Advisory… But it does! In Finland like in the rest of the world, students get a higher education because, at the end of the day, they think these extra years after high school will land them a job close enough to their dream job.
While usually, at the end of high school, you might be too young to think of the company you would like to work at, you generally have a sense of what type of company or organisation would fit your values, or sell the sort of product you buy… And then, suddenly you turn 23, and if you are like the silent majority, you might regret not having known earlier where you absolutely wanted to (apply, and, hopefully) work. This suggests a missing link between the early stages of career planning and career starting.
In the meantime, the university you as a high school student are contemplating or you, university student, are attending might well be interesting to particular employers. Especially those surveyed for the French consultancy Emerging by the German firm Trendence. The tendency to start ranking universities not only for their academic strengths like publications, or mere employment ratios post graduation, but also with regards to actual attraction for a critical mass of global employers is worth noticing.
The latest Emerging-Trendence ranking, which surveyed almost 6000 employers in 20 countries of the world, presents a story rather diverging from the research focus. As Emerging explains the ranking only describes the ‘market’s viewpoint’, i.e. of recruitment and international specialists recruiting or managing a least 50 new young graduates per year, taken across major industries.
A German university in the top ten of higher education institutions’ employability ranking: TU Munich
But what does ’employability’ mean? Of course it is, first, getting a job. At a multinational or an SME, or one that you create in your own brand-new start up, whatever… The crux of the matter lies elsewhere: in the soft skills you get at university are also very valuable. Soft skills can be languages, but they can also include adaptability, emotional intelligence, or being capable of presenting well the result of your research on any given project. Among Finnish universities, the University of Helsinki ranks 72th on the Emerging global employability ranking.
But universities are not only good for employers or future employees, they are also valuable for society, which can be measured through innovations, in turn measured by patents’ number, quality, reach, and impact. This is where another ranking can be described as influential: the Reuters innovation ranking of European universities, which relies on publications and patents data gathered by Thomson Reuters Intellectual Property & Science.
Study Advisory’s partner university KU Leuven came first in 2016, followed by Imperial College London, Cambridge University (both in the United Kingdom), and the Swiss EPFL. The fifth most innovative university is perhaps well worth mentioning again (TU Munich), should one want to compile a personal ranking of valuable rankings… of the kind that would aggregate employability and innovation. Meanwhile, other Study Advisory’s partners are in the top 50 of innovative universities: Erasmus University Rotterdam and Vrije University of Brussels.
Yes, broadening your horizons can be as simple as an exchange…but, beyond that, innovation or career plans can stay at the back of your head, or maybe just the idea that you can factor in employability and innovation when choosing your university.
If you are interested in patents… as well as employability
Here is a table that gathers the top 15 European universities for employability and innovation:
Employability rankings (taken from Emerging Trendence world ranking)
Innovation (retrieved from Reuters: Europe most innovative universities)
At the end of the day, patents and publications of tomorrow’s graduates will differ from the 2016 rankings, but general trends last. University-business cooperation is strong in certain countries or at certain universities of applied sciences and this does not change year or year, it might rather depend on which European funding a group of researchers might secure for the coming years. Likewise, universities might help you find your job, but not to be successful at it.
Some universities think getting their graduates onto the job market means they have fulfilled their duty… But do graduates consistently satisfy employers, and do they satisfy them in the long run? According to the definition of employability given by surveyed employers in the Emerging study, there is a ‘professional know-how’ dimension that comes into play, in addition to the expertise required to get the position.
This is in line with what the vice-president for institutional advancement at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology told Times Higher Education: a university should help you make a good job after you have landed it. That is why being in contact with innovative researchers or conducting research for a company during your studies might be worthwhile. (In other words, do not focus solely on the first column of the table above!)
The Erasmus programme has been around for almost thirty years now and it might be a great memory of your (recent) past or something to look forward to if you are younger. I remember getting really excited about Erasmus when seeing the film L’Auberge espagnole (The Spanish apartment) by Cédric Klapisch.
How about re-writing your own second film by doing another Erasmus, unlike Klapisch’s second film Russian dolls (Les Poupées russes, which was all about getting settled in life). What if your own second international experience was neither an academic exchange nor a trip to Russia (picture above), but rather a hands-on entrepreneurship programme in another company?
That’s right, the Erasmus programme is not only about university studies. The Erasmus for young entrepreneurs programme connects a new entrepreneur with an experienced one, with the view of providing him/her with practical experience abroad in his or her field.
Though youth and a university environment might facilitate entrepreneurship, in this case the new (or aspiring) entrepreneur does not actually have to be a student; he or she does not even have to be that young. But, importantly, his or her business should be less than 3 years old. And the principle is similar to Erasmus for students: a few months (one to 6) in another EU country, learning and networking. According to a survey by the programme office, personal skills like determination and confidence, as well as language skills and management skills are most acquired by the majority of participants in the programme, followed by marketing skills (boosted for half of the participants).
Specific objectives of Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs include:
facilitating business exchanges
opening market access internationally
for the new entrepreneur: refining a business plan, discovering cultural differences in organisations and business practices and improving chances of success during the start-up phase
for the host entrepreneur: improving the growth potential of a potential business partner, possibly, or just getting insights from a motivated third party, and gaining visibility.
Financial support for the new entrepreneur is available in the form of subsistence costs which vary depending on the host country, and the reimbursement of travel costs. Selection and implementation of the programme are made possible at the local level via so-called IOs, intermediary organisations.
You can also read more about the programme’s official pages (in all EU languages) and apply. Clearly expressing your motivations and expectations from the programme will make your application stand out, as well as a thought-out business plan with a description of your product or service, a market analysis including the target market and a benchmark analysis, and financial plan for the next two years. Read this guide if you are a new entrepreneur.
While preferred sectors to start a company are advertising, architecture and engineering, and tourism and wellness, most host entrepreneurs work in advertising and… training services. And you, which sector would you like to explore to refine your start-up idea?
Why should the employers care about your study abroad experiences?
Are you planning to go to study abroad and wondering what kind of benefits it could bring you in the future? Or have you already studied abroad and are now thinking how to tell it to your potential future employers? We in the Study Advisory team are very familiar with these questions, since we have all been there and explained our employers why they should appreciate our experiences. Let us tell you our top 5 reasons why employers will love you when you tell them that you have studied abroad!
1. You are used to getting out of your comfort zone
All those friends of yours who have never stepped out of their home country sometimes think that studying abroad is just about partying hard and hitting the beach. Well, usually it’s not. It is a journey that will make you grow as a person. You have to do things that you have never done before, and sometimes, there is nobody there to help you out. Often you also have to manage those situations in a foreign language. It is also a way to take a look at your own study field from another perspective.
Studying abroad is a great way to get out of your comfort zone. This is a skill that is heavily needed also in today’s working life in the globalising world.
2. You are able to be flexible
When you have studied abroad, you have probably adapted to many new things. Maybe you had to deal with some bureaucratic officials, maybe you found a cockroach under your bed and had to sleep on a sofa. Thus, you have built an amazing amount of flexibility that is also needed in today’s working life. You have also realised and accepted that there are different ways to do things in different parts of the world.
In a job interview, for example, you can share a story or two about how flexible you can be in everyday situations. This will most likely convince the employers that you’ll be flexible in your new work, too.
3. You have great networks
You networks have probably exploded compared to your homies, who stayed in the comfort of their home country. You have new friends now, such as an engineering student from Brazil, a waitress from Spain, a landlord from Greece and a flatmate from China. In addition to the already existing networks, you can easily convince your future employers that you will be able to build new career-related networks in no time!
Make sure to keep those networks alive even after you come home. A day might come when you need your network also for some work-related stuff. Or maybe there is just a conference in your friend’s hometown and you want someone to show you around the city? Building these networks and keeping them up and running will totally be worth it – trust us!
4. Language skills
No matter whether you studied in English, learned just a few words of Spanish or are now completely fluent in Japanese, your future employer will surely appreciate it.
Language skills in the working life are not just about being grammatically correct, they are about having the courage to use languages in everyday life. Surely, if you have studied abroad, you already have what it takes to communicate in different languages. Make sure to highlight this courage also in your CV.
5. Intercultural communication skills
It is not just about the language skills. In order to work efficiently in an international atmosphere you also have to handle communication with people from different cultures.
Studying abroad is probably one of the best ways to develop communication skills. You get more confidence with being around foreign people and you learn how to handle even the biggest of misunderstandings.
+ Great coffee room conversations
Who wouldn’t want to hear your awesome experiences about studying abroad? If you are working for an international company, the odds are good that your new colleagues have also studied abroad at some point. Those stories make for great conversations, and you will bond with your colleagues in a totally new way. If your boss appreciated your study abroad experiences already in the application process, there is a great chance that maybe they were also partying under the Italian sun as an Erasmus student just few years before you… Go and see!
So, here we have listed some tips about why future employers will appreciate your studies abroad. Study abroad experience is a great way to make yourself stand out from the crowd. Just go for it – and remember to make it visible on your CV!