“For many of those who go abroad, we expect to experience some sort of culture shock,” said Nick Gozik, director of the Office of International Programs (OIP). “On returning to the States, however, we expect to feel the same.”
So began “Back at BC: Marketing Your Experience Abroad,” an event aimed not only at reacclimating Boston College students who had returned from a study abroad experience, but also at coaching those students in ways to put their time overseas to use when applying for jobs and internships. Gozik, who recently moved to BC from Duke University, noted that the University has traditionally put much effort into preparing students before they go abroad, and has supported them while abroad-but had no similar support system in place for the time after their return.
Last Thursday’s event, which began at 4 p.m. in the Heights Room of Corcoran Commons, was the first of what Gozik hoped would eventually be a series of events for students upon their return to BC. “Back at BC,” sponsored by the McGillycuddy-Logue Center for Undergraduate Global Studies and put on by the Career Center and the OIP, focused around a five-person panel sharing their experience and advice with a room full of undergraduates who had recently returned from studying abroad. The panel consisted of Dara Fang, CSOM ’13, who studied abroad in Venice last year; Leslie MacKenzie, a campus recruiter for PricewaterhouseCoopers; Theresa Higgs, vice president of Global Operations at the non-profit United Planet; Megan Cain, LSOE ’13, who studied in Madrid last year; and Lou Gaglini, associate director of Career Services at BC.
After Gozik acknowledged several guests at the event-Kathleen McGillycuddy, chair of the BC Board of Trustees and NC ’71; Ronald E. Logue, BC ’67, MBA ’71; Provost Cutberto Garza; and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academic Affairs Donald Hafner-he turned the microphone over to Sarah Lynes, an International Study Adviser (ISA) who introduced the panel members and moderated their discussion.
Lynes asked Mackenzie and Higgs, from an employer’s perspective, what differences they saw between students who had and had not studied abroad. Higgs said that it was rare for her to interview someone without experience abroad-she looks, therefore, for applicants to dig deeper than “Oh, it was so great, I learned so much about myself.” Mackenzie agreed: “Make sure you’re immersing yourself in the culture, you’re aware of current events there-you’re not just thinking about, ‘Oh, it was so much fun,'” she said.
The student panelists chimed in, suggesting ways to draw relevant skills from an overseas experience. “One aspect I really came across was not just how to communicate in a different language, but in a different culture, with different norms,” Cain said. That skill, she said, was directly applicable to the workplace, especially when beginning at a new job. Fang said that her experience not only improved her ability to manage her personal finances, but also helped her adopt a more globalized perspective. “The U.S. isn’t where the world starts and ends,” she said, adding that keeping up with European news helped her transition back to the States.
Gaglini then stressed the importance of looking for transferability in skills learned abroad to skills needed in the workplace. According to him, employers look for people who can “thrive and survive in ambiguity,” and therefore, applicants should try to describe in interviews what they experienced, not just what they did. “Don’t just assume [employers] will understand what you’ve experienced,” Gaglini said. “You may need to spell it out, and you may need to engage in reflection before that.”
“Liking to challenge yourself, and being interested in learning more-those are going to help you in any profession,” Mackenzie said. “Getting comfortable in your ‘uncomfort’ is really important too.”
A member of the audience asked about how employers viewed post-graduate work-whether or not teaching English abroad, for example, would be seen as a “cop-out.” Higgs, who was a Peace Corps Volunteer, responded. “What skills do you have yet to gain?” she asked. “Are you going to graduate BC and get your dream job and stay there forever? Maybe. But you have to think about your next step, what you still have to learn.”
“The world’s a very small place right now,” Gaglini said. “You do have the opportunity to get exposed to other countries, other cultures … There aren’t too many organizations that don’t have some touch in another country, another culture, depending on what kind of business they’re in.”