At Career Hack we fervently believe that our generation should get out of the country and explore international opportunities. Although the media reports that unemployment figures are going down, many of us working at Starbucks or Kinkos with a bachelors feel like someone may be massaging those statistics.
Why should you study abroad?
There will never be a better and lower risk time for you to do so than during your university experience. In addition to this, there is a dearth of post-graduate opportunities available for university graduates right now. However, we understand that packing everything up and abruptly flying across the world may seem like a wildly reckless move.
The average person studying abroad is between 19-22 years old. That is laughably young and the perfect time to be flying across the world, exploring options, making mistakes, and building a foundation for yourself. It will be significantly harder and riskier to make moves like this when you are in your thirties.
Not only is study abroad a fantastic opportunity to open your mind to broader horizons, it is also a window of time when you can experiment, make stupid mistakes, recover from them, and then pursue your dreams. As time goes on, it will only become harder and riskier to take the leap. Do it now, while you have nothing to lose.
Identify Opportunities Early
The early bird gets the worm, so they say. Simultaneously, the earlier you get your boots on the ground in dynamic international destinations, the earlier you will be able to seize opportunities and build an empire.
What if you had the idea to clone groupon in Korea in 2008? Someone did and ended up becoming a very successful international entrepreneur as a result of that.
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel in places like the US or Europe, where competition is fierce and sophisticated. You can merely clone the wheel in places that clearly need it.
Build Social Networks Abroad
If you are a diligent and intelligent young individual, your talents will be identified and poached if you look in the right places. More often than not, stumbling upon mindblowingly great opportunities boils down to being in the right place at the right time and meeting the right person. While there are probably more billionaires and juggernauts in New York than in Manila or Jakarta, your access to elites in emerging markets is greatly improved by the fact that you are unique and can potentially add value. Keep your eyes open and see what needs you might be able to fill.
The first step, though, is showing up. Get over there and start building connections and social circles in your country of choice.
Gain International Work Experience
Nothing breeds confidence like experience. By studying abroad you also open the opportunity for you to intern abroad. Career Hack has extensively covered how you can hack your way into an international internship while studying abroad and potentially end up with a full time international career after graduation.
However, as we said, you need to show up first. Get over to your target destination and begin pounding the pavement. Your opportunities will multiply as they are seized.
Build Links to America
At Career Hack we believe that you should leave America FOR America.
We believe that exploring the new frontiers and dynamic markets of our era is the new gold rush and westward expansion.
America is not defined by her borders. America is defined by her people. When her people are suffering, she is suffering.
Once you become familiar with a new city and country, you can build roots there. Once you build roots there, you can connect your new roots to your old roots back home. By becoming a connector of people and opportunities you will, in turn, multiply the amount of opportunities that will come your way.
Where should I study abroad?
The first step is to choose the specific city where you will be studying abroad. For this guide, we will focus on Asia-Pacific. We believe the best cities in this region for Gen Y international careers are Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Ho Chi Minh City.
Each of these destinations has different advantages and disadvantages. The main differentiating factors include cost of living, difficulty of obtaining a work visa, language barriers, pollution, quality of local healthcare, and general culture shock.
A place like Singapore will be very easy to adapt to and relatively easy in regards to obtaining a work visa. The disadvantage is that it is absurdly expensive to live there. In contrast, Ho Chi Minh City is dirt cheap but you will face all the problems that exist in emerging markets; such problems include air pollution, difficult language barriers, non-existent public transportation, and limited health care facilities.
What are the best study abroad internships?
Many great international careers start with a study abroad experience. In fact, while you study abroad, you also have the opportunity to intern with a company or local organization. You should take advantage of this; having international experience is always a good thing to have on your CV. It will also give you a core understanding of business in foreign cultures and how the pieces fit together in a global economy.
If working overseas is something you think you might like to do after university, you should seriously consider incorporating an internship or short term job into your study abroad term.
Finding companies to work for
Once you have been accepted into a study abroad program, you will need to research and compile a list of 10-20 target companies that are located in or have a branch in your study abroad city. Compile this information on a spreadsheet for your own reference.
You will then need to analyze their career page to see if they have entry level positions for that specific branch. It’s important to know whether or not you can immediately transition into a full time role with their company. Below we’ve listed some examples of the types of companies you might want to work for, categorized by size and the kind of culture each company might have.
Examples: Siemens, Proctor & Gamble, Ogilvy, Deloitte
The trend lately seems to be that people are leaving the corporate world to pursue opportunities with high growth companies and startups in the burgeoning technology space. With the explosion of big data, social networking, and mobile capabilities, these opportunities are also no longer limited just to Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Having said that, if you are studying abroad, working for an established large company is a very good option for many reasons. For starters, if you are working in an emerging market, you will often feel like you are working in somewhat of a startup environment as the market will be so dynamic. It will often seem like there is a land grab for opportunities to provide services and products as these nations grow their middle classes.
In addition to this, it’s never a bad idea to get the stamp of an established brand-name company on your CV at a young age. This will provide you with a wider network of contacts in the corporate world as well as being a more potentially secure route of getting a work visa if you are offered a full time position. Providing a work visa for young expats is generally a harder sell for companies that are small or even medium sized.
Venture Backed Ecommerce Startups/Companies
Examples: Uber, Rocket Internet, Airbnb
If I personally had to choose one option out of the five listed here, it would definitely be this one. Working in this environment will give you the visa and salary security of working for a corporate juggernaut while also providing you with an ability to make a visible impact on the company. In these companies, it’s all hands on deck, all of the time. You will be expected not only to follow through on your deliverables but also independently find creative solutions to user acquisition and brand growth in foreign markets.
Moreover, you will gain direct access to a population of energetic and incredibly talented people with entrepreneurial ambitions and a go-getter attitude. These are precisely the sorts of people you want to associate yourself with when you are building new networks internationally.
Examples: US Embassy, Swiss Embassy, Australian Embassy
This is pretty self explanatory. You should aim for a position working at the local embassy of your home country. This sort of internship is particularly useful for people interested in a career in international relations, diplomacy, politics, or the military. Working at the embassy, in most cases, comes with a lot of perks.
In addition to doing interesting work at the front lines of your nation’s foreign policy, you will gain direct access to some of the world’s most prominent policy makers and be invited to a range of important events. Even if you aren’t pursuing a career in politics, diplomacy and commerce are always highly interdependent. By being close to political power, you will also gain access to commercial power and be able to transition into many different types of opportunities afterwards if you see fit.
Chamber of Commerce
Examples: US Chamber of Commerce, Swiss Chamber of Commerce
This opportunity is similar to the embassy opportunity. We personally know many people who have interned or worked full time at the US chamber of commerce in various emerging markets and ended up moving onto exciting opportunities in both the private sector and in politics. One main difference is that, as it is the chamber of commerce, you would be dealing with private sector entities and individuals far more often than you would have been at the embassy.
A benefit of this is that you will have direct access to decision makers at companies that might be interested in poaching you to work full time with them post internship or post graduation. Moreover, the chamber of commerce will, itself, often hire young individuals to help expand the influence of the organization on a full time basis. Keep your eyes peeled and collect those business cards!
Examples: Lenovo, Alibaba, Samsung, Petrobras
Are you dead serious about digging roots into a specific nation? Then maybe you should go totally local. Getting into the ground floor of a local conglomerate is a great idea for many reasons. First of all, many of these companies will rarely get applications from foreign applicants and will be interested in utilizing your background in unique ways. Moreover, you will be a (relatively) larger fish in a (relatively) smaller pond.
You’ll have the added benefit of being forced to adapt to local customs more than you would at a foreign conglomerate, which is probably staffed with far more expats than the local one would be.
Blaze the trail, pioneer. Then show us the path and we will follow you.
If you’d like to stay overseas, you can use the study abroad time to focus on securing a position with one of your internship companies. In other words: you can graduate from university with an international job offer.
You should work hard and show your willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty. Learn as much as you can and try to think outside of the box in terms of your value-adds. You need to be proactive in proving that you deserve a full time offer.
A way to gain leverage during the offer negotiation process is to interview with other companies in that same city. This is particularly potent if you are interviewing with direct competitors of theirs. They will be interested in gaining what you might have to offer but they will move faster if they feel like you might be “stolen” from them by the competition.
Studying abroad conjures up different images for everyone. Carefree afternoons on an exotic beach, backpacking through regions your friends couldn’t point to on a map, mastering a language in four months flat, or laying the foundation for your life as a future career expatriate. These scenarios may seem far-fetched and romanticized, but to many, these dreams are realities come true when they embark on their new adventure in a far-off locale. For others, however, the day-to-day reality of living abroad becomes so overwhelming that they soon fall into an unhealthy routine that sours their experience. Here are some examples of what to avoid when studying abroad.
The TV is not your friend
Yes, I get it. In many countries in Latin America and Asia you can get entire seasons of popular TV shows for mere pennies. All the more reason to buy every season of every show you can get your hands on and catch up on all the TV you never watched when you had demanding classes back home, right?
There’s nothing wrong with a little entertainment to keep your stress levels down, but some people take it to another level while living abroad. Sitting in front of a tiny computer screen consuming hours and hours of the latest TV shows is a surefire way to cheapen your experience abroad.
You will lose touch with your local surroundings, and your homesickness will only grow as you are constantly exposed to scenes from home–no matter how fictitious they may be.
You will also miss out on crucial socializing experiences with your peers, whether that’s trying new local restaurants or taking weekend day-trips to small villages in your region.
Think twice the next time a vendor on the street is shoving the entire LOST collection (only $5!) in your face.
Alcohol is not the new water
Most young Americans have the privilege of experiencing life abroad as early as their second or third years of college. This also means that many of these young Americans will be thrown into an environment and a culture where drinking heavily is not only socially acceptable, but also legally sanctioned for those as young as 16. Add access to (extremely) cheap local alcohol to the mix, and you have a recipe for disaster.
“Practicing” your British accent/Chinese/Thai/Spanish by shouting the equivalent of “Cheers!” with a drink in hand is not a legitimate excuse for blacking out every other day. Not to sound like your mother on the eve of your departure, but moderation is key! From a practical standpoint, drinking heavily can detract from your experience abroad in a few ways. For one, waking up every Saturday and Sunday at 2 PM, only to lie around all day watching TV (see above) to recover slowly from your hangover will take away from precious free time that could otherwise be spent traveling, learning the language, or simply walking around your new city taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of life abroad.
Second, no matter how cheap alcohol is, “epic” nights are also expensive ones. Save your money and buy a bus ticket for an upcoming three-day weekend in a neighboring province.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, heavy drinking abroad can lead to cultural misunderstandings. Exchanging some heated words with a local, clear public displays of drunkenness, or aggressive flirting while drunk can lead to some very unwanted consequences in a foreign country. Next time you go out, set a limit to your drinking and your wallet, stomach, and general experience abroad will be in a much better position.
Quit being a snob
Living abroad, no matter in what country, means stepping outside of your comfort zone both figuratively and literally. While many of you have no problems “roughing it,” there are others who will go abroad expecting to have the comforts of home at every step. To those people I say: learn to lower your expectations and embrace your new surroundings. Learn how to use a squat toilet. Quit turning your nose up at smelly fish markets. Stop paying $30 for a bottle of wine that costs $6 at the gas station down the street from your parents’ house.
Should you stop showering and eat only porridge for every meal? Of course not.
What I’m suggesting is merely expanding your horizons and using living abroad as an opportunity to push your own boundaries, and in the process, learn something about others and yourself. You’ll come back home with a whole new level of appreciation for the daily comforts that you so readily take for granted.
Choose your friends wisely
When you go abroad you not only leave behind your plush toilet paper, your reliable electricity, and your right arm smartphone, you also leave behind your group of friends that you’ve built up over years.
Abroad, everyone seems great when you meet them on your first day of orientation. They’re all excited to be there, and talk about how amaaaazing the semester is going to be. Soon enough, cliques evolve and personalities clash. Make sure to craft a group of friends that will not lessen your experience abroad. There will be those who will do nothing else but party, or study, or shop, to the detriment of everything else available to you while abroad.
Try and find a group of people with different tastes, who will expand your horizons, but not force you to do anything stupid. Also try and find a group of people who–hopefully like you–are there to take full advantage of the study abroad experience, and not waste a semester in a drug-and-alcohol induced stupor. Find people who enjoy to travel, to explore, to befriend the locals, and yes–who every so often will drink a bit too much or who will spend an entire Saturday watching The Wire (only $3, can you believe it??). At the end of the day, nothing is too terrible in moderation.
Alternatively, you can spend your time building your internet business empire.
Ultimately, your personality, personal preferences, budget, and interests will determine how you experience life abroad. WIth certain caveats in mind, you should be able to take full advantage of a time that you will never be able to get back once you return to your home country. The point of the examples above is not to nag you into becoming someone you are not, but to arm you with some advice that will help you come back from your study abroad experience with zero regrets.
For those among us who have studied abroad, what are your regrets? What are some common pitfalls that you would advise others not do when abroad?
If you wish you had gotten more bang for your buck while flying around, check out this travel hacking cartel.