Alumni Advice: Connecting Your International Experiences to Your Career

By Chelsea Keen, M.Ed., (’12)

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

Your international experiences can be a secret weapon that help enhance your personal brand and bolster your professional skill set. Whether you have traveled internationally for work or personal vacation, or completed a study abroad experience during college, the skills you gained can often be an untapped source of professional power.

As the world of work becomes increasingly globalized, employers are eager to identify individuals who can demonstrate intercultural communication skills, an appreciation for diversity, and the ability to adapt to new situations. The professional value of cross-cultural skills is applicable across all industries and environments – even if your organization has a fundamentally domestic focus. Regardless of your professional field, you can leverage your international experiences in the workplace by distinguishing yourself as someone who is culturally curious and maintains a global worldview.

So how can you connect your international experiences to your current and future career?

Reflect on your experiences abroad. A key part of acing an interview or building your brand is having a distinctively interesting story to tell – and international travel tends to be ripe with interesting stories. Reflect on specific experiences that challenged you, changed your outlook, or taught you something new about yourself or the world in which we live.

Identify the skills you developed during those experiences. These stories about your time abroad become professionally relevant if, and only if, you can clearly articulate the skills that you developed during these experiences. How did navigating a train station in a foreign country help you develop problem solving skills and the ability to think on your feet? What did your international travels teach you about different social, religious or political customs and becoming more open-minded? What did you learn about adapting to a new style of communication while interacting with a host family or international colleagues– and how do you demonstrate those communication skills in the workplace today?

Connect your skills to your career goals. Whether you are focused on enhancing your reputation in your current role or seeking a new opportunity, don’t underestimate the value of internalizing and incorporating your intercultural skill set into your professional life. Strategically mention what you’ve learned from your cross-cultural experiences during a work meeting or interview. Make sure to update your resume with any work-related or educational travels. Leverage your cultural curiosity during networking opportunities – you never know who has also done business in Japan, studied in Brazil, or always wanted to visit Greece. Use your international experiences to your advantage as you pursue your career goals – and let this article serve as motivation to start planning your next adventure abroad!

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