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The value of international work experience

Article by GVI

GVI

Posted: October 6, 2022

7 min read

International work experience is a fantastic way to experience a new part of the world while gaining valuable skills – which can give you an edge when applying for your first job or making a career change. And, if done through an ethics and impact-driven organisation, the work you do abroad will also add to the development and economy of their host country.

 

What is international work experience?

International work experience is an experience that allows you to gain skills and grow professionally within a specific field or occupation while travelling abroad. 

There are four main kinds of international work experiences – studying abroad, an internship abroad, a work placement or volunteering. Each type serves a different purpose, serves people with different levels of experience and can be done for different lengths of time.

Factors to consider when choosing an experience

What employers think of your international experience depends on the type of program you’ve taken part in and how you’re able to translate that experience into useful skills for the role.

Length

Spending a longer time abroad can be beneficial because it allows you to get to know the organisation better, and will make it easier to gain more experience and have even more of an active role within the project.

You’ll also have more time to orientate yourself within your role, and immerse yourself in the local culture – which can make for a more meaningful experience abroad. 

But, even if you only have a short time to spend abroad, having some international experience is better than having none.

Relevance 

Do you want to go into healthcare management, but you’re volunteering on a marine conservation project? 

While it may still be an impactful experience, it will be more difficult to show employers in the field of healthcare that you’ve gained valuable skills if you take part in a project with a focus in a different field – like marine conservation. 

And this goes for any field you’re looking to gain experience in. So make sure you choose a project that relates to your professional goals. 

Location 

When looking to gain valuable experience in your area of interest, where you go matters. For example, because of its wealth of wildlife, Africa makes the perfect destination for wildlife conservation.

Travelling to a country with a large population could offer some of the best opportunities to learn about sustainable development. Contributing towards sustainable development means you can learn about important considerations in the context of larger populations. 

So before you decide on your program abroad, figure out what exactly you want to learn about and where you should travel to gain the most relevant work experience.

How the placement adds to your personal and professional growth

Have you chosen to travel abroad, but picked a program that won’t offer you much of a challenge? 

Getting out of your comfort zone by going somewhere different to what you’re used to is important. And so is getting involved in a program that allows you to gain the professional development you want, while still ensuring that you get to try new things.

This will broaden your worldview, help you gain unexpected skills and improve your flexibility in the workplace.

How employers view international experience

According to the International Institute of Education, around 60% of employers said that having international work experience was an important factor when considering who to pick for the job.

While taking part in a gap year or international work experiences is more common in places like the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, these types of experiences are just starting to gain popularity in other areas of the world. And, many employers are still discovering the professional benefits of international work and study abroad experiences.

International work experience is invaluable. It shows employers that you’re adventurous, curious and eager to push yourself beyond your comfort zone.

Many reputable academic institutes state that this type of study experience goes a long way in helping students to grasp academic concepts. In fact, Harvard University has even included study abroad opportunities in its curriculum because of the benefits it brings

One of the main reasons why some employers might not value international experiences is because students, interns, employees and volunteers are sometimes unable to translate their experiences into constructive skills in the workplace. 

Making your experience relevant is paramount. Rather than slapping, “Studied abroad in Cape Town” onto your resume, be more specific about how you built on your personal and professional development abroad.

Think about answering these questions. What did you do? Did you lead a project? Did you learn a new language? Did you work alongside, and problem-solve with international students? What barriers did you overcome? Did you get involved in the community beyond your academic studies? How did learning about a new culture benefit you?

Give employers the answers to these questions instead of leaving them to fill in the gaps. This will go a long way in building on their understanding of why exactly your international experience was meaningful and relevant.

Four skills you can gain from international work experience

Adaptability

Travelling to somewhere completely new is not an easy task, especially if there’s a language barrier involved. But, doing this shows not only that you’re up for a challenge, but also that you can adapt and thrive in new and changing environments.

Problem-solving 

Having to solve problems can be tricky for anyone. But having to do so in a country with different customs, social norms and regulations requires learning, adaptability and thinking outside of the box – which are all important skills in any type of professional environment.

Cultural awareness

Many companies and organisations have opened themselves up to international markets, and are working to address global issues. This means that the proven ability to work successfully across cultures – which you gain from volunteering, interning or studying abroad – has become incredibly important in many different fields.

Self-sufficiency

It’s unlikely that anyone willing to take the leap and participate in international work experience wouldn’t be self-sufficient. Why?

Because it takes time, energy and patience to plan an experience abroad, and to successfully get around once in a new country while navigating new laws, customs, foods and languages.

 

Gaining international work experience is much more than an entry on your resume. With GVI, you can discover new passions, learn new skills, give you a taste of new cultures and foods, and connect you with a community of like-minded people while getting international work experience. 

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