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Encouraging Skill Development for Study Abroad Students

By Chelsea Keen, Penn State University  

Students often can’t wait to study abroad to visit famous sites, eat delicious food, and post their adventures on Instagram. For many undergraduates, developing professionally-relevant skills is often not a top priority.

This is where we come in.

As career development professionals, we can encourage students to maximize the career benefits of studying abroad. By offering effective insights and tools, we help students seamlessly integrate professional skill development into their international experience.

Below you’ll find strategies I have implemented in my role as a career coach and global experiences coordinator at Penn State to encourage skill development before, during, and after study abroad.

Before Study Abroad: Before students jet off to faraway lands, prime them to develop professional skills abroad through pre-departure workshops. Penn State’s “Put Your Study Abroad to Work” workshop is both informational and practical; I find it valuable to educate students about NACE’s career-readiness competencies – highlighting global and intercultural fluency – and then providing tangible examples of how to develop those skills abroad.

This workshop sparks students’ realization that they can grow naturally through their everyday experiences abroad. For example, they can improve their interpersonal communication skills by living in a homestay, build problem-solving skills by navigating a foreign transportation system, and enhance their ability to adapt by embracing local customs and culture.

During Study Abroad: While students are overseas, I share monthly newsletters with quick, relevant tips for how they can develop professional skills in their daily interactions. More importantly, I encourage them to reflect on and document those experiences; I suggest keeping a Google document with bullet points as a brief inventory of their experiences abroad. This will serve students as they prepare for future interviews and when they simply want to take a stroll down memory lane. It also helps to remind students to set up a virtual appointment if they want to work on their resume or job search from afar.

After Study Abroad: I love inviting students in for career coaching sessions right after they return from their time abroad because the experience is still so fresh in their minds. It is the perfect time to prompt them to reflect on their skill development by asking strategic interview-style questions, such as:

  • Tell me about a time when you overcame a challenge abroad – how can you demonstrate the same problem-solving skills, adaptability, or resiliency to tackle difficult situations in the future?
  • What did you learn about other cultures’ communication styles? Describe what it was like to communicate with people from a different background and how this skill can be beneficial in the workplace.


By responding to these questions, students learn to articulate the professionally-relevant skills they developed during their experience abroad.

Overall, by engaging with students before, during, and after they study abroad, career development professionals can help students to truly maximize their international experiences.

Chelsea Keen, M.Ed., is a career coach at Penn State University, specializing in promoting professional development through international experiences. She is passionate about empowering students to identify and articulate the valuable, unique skills they bring to the table.  


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