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Studying abroad, an investment that improves employability and interpersonal skills | Training | Economy

When Cristóbal Martín (26 years old) finished his studies in Economics at the Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid, he knew what he wanted to do with his future, but he was also aware that he had to improve certain skills, English among them. And since he had the thorn stuck in not having done an Erasmus, he chose to pack his bags and take a gap year (what in English is known as gap year) in Cape Town (South Africa), where he dedicated himself to learning English for nine months: “I realized that the labor market did not care if I started working at 22, 23 or 24. Total, we are going to retire at 70… And I wanted to live that international experience”, he recalls. A decision with a clear positive impact on job prospects: 67% of graduates with studies in other countries find their first job within six months of graduation, according to a study by the Institute of International Education and the University of California; and up to 25% of CEOs and human resources managers value international experience as a priority requirement in attracting talent, according to the report QS Employer Insights Report 2020.

Whether for three weeks or six months, studying a language in a foreign country brings benefits that go far beyond improving language skills. Because, regardless of age, it means living in a new country where your language is not spoken and you have to make yourself understood; where you have no acquaintances or relatives nearby; and where you will attend classes where you will work on projects with people from cultures other than your own. An experience that will serve to develop soft skills that are in high demand, such as communication and learning skills, problem solving, teamwork, adaptability, resilience, empathy or leadership. Becoming bilingual also drastically improves employability, opens the borders when looking for a job and enhances communication skills and networking.

In 2013, the Madrilenian Laura González passed the selectivity, but she was still not sure what to study. Until one day, almost by chance, the possibility arose for them to take a gap year, and Laura ended up packing her bags for Santa Barbara, California. “While she was there, she began to work as a volunteer giving after-school classes to young children, and that later encouraged her to study teaching. It was an experience that helped clarify her future, but also to gain in maturity, ”recalls José Manuel, her father, in a telephone conversation. “There she had to open a bank account; control her budget; navigate the area where she lived with a second-hand bicycle that she had bought; act with personal autonomy and gain self-confidence,” she adds.

To study abroad

It is clear that, to learn a language, it is much more effective to do so in an environment of social and cultural immersion. Now, why does it work so well? “Many people believe that learning only happens in the brain, but this is not the case. A large part is emotional, and is given by experiences, peers and the pressure of the environment; because you are hungry and you are going to go to a restaurant where they only speak French”, explains Enio Ohmaye, Chief Experience Officer (CXO) of EF Education First. “Physical interaction and face-to-face communication have a richness that cannot be obtained through a screen. When you go to Bolivia or China, you are surrounded by people, by food, by an entire environment and a context that you cannot ignore. Studying three weeks in Paris cannot be compared to, for example, what you can achieve with Duolingo”.

It is about, he affirms, exposing yourself to other experiences that help you to have a broader perspective, to “open your mind and consider other ways of seeing life. Stop interpreting everything “in the Spanish way” and start seeing it from an American, Colombian, Japanese perspective… And all that, thinking in another language in the context of that culture, fosters your creativity and your ability to see beyond . If you do it enough times, you’ll be able to gain a really multidimensional perspective,” she adds. EF’s campuses in Zurich and Lausanne, Switzerland, are as international as its students. It is not posturing: they firmly believe in the benefits of this multiculturalism, and authenticity is easily perceptible when walking through its corridors and interacting with its workers.

The importance of studying in an international environment is something that is also perceived in Miss Porter’s School, a private high school for women in the State of Connecticut (USA). There, participating in one of the international programs (interdisciplinary classes that include a two-week trip abroad) is a prerequisite for graduation: “For example, the Conservation Culture class in Costa Rica is a class that explores the effects social, economic and environmental aspects of ecotourism. The students participate in environmental research while connecting with farmers and other members of local communities, to learn their perspective first-hand and to understand their experience”, explains Spaniard Santiago Enrique, director of his Institute for Global Education. The course lasts a full term, and the trip to Costa Rica takes place more or less in the middle of the term. Every year they send 90 students abroad, and they have similar programs in Avignon (France) and Berlin (Germany), with which they not only practice the language, but also exchange ideas and create personal ties.

When should it be done a ‘gap year’?

“In Spain, many university graduates have difficulties finding a good job. And at the same time, companies are complaining that they can’t find candidates with the skills they need… So, in this context, the gap year can be a differentiating element in a job interview or selection process”, says Valeria Valencia, Regional Office Manager of PE in Madrid. An experience that you can live at any time of your academic or professional career: after the selectivity; when you finish the race; in the course of it, if you need to take a break; or even when you are already working, but you realize that you really don’t like what you are doing, and you need a break that you can take advantage of to improve your English. The menu, affirms Valencia, adapts to all tastes: “You can choose to focus only on learning the language; combine it with the study of academic subjects related to a career; or prepare to later enter a university in the same destination”.

“This experience opened my eyes to the world. All the barriers fell and I realized that, with English, I could develop my career in any other country,” says Martín, who started working for three years at Deloitte and who today is a financial auditor for a Swiss bank hand in hand by Ernst & Young. The objective, in short, is to achieve a profound transformation in the student in which, beyond becoming a global citizen, they develop skills such as resilience, creativity, problem solving or analytical thinking. “Because it can also happen that, for example, a 13-year-old Korean boy goes to Cambridge for a few months and, when he comes back, the only thing that has grown is his ego, making him feel better than the rest just for having had that opportunity. And that is not the change we are after”, defends Ohmaye.

Although the advantages of this type of program are clear, there is an obstacle that for many may be insurmountable: the price. Not in vain, as Ohmaye acknowledges, “only 0.01% of the population can afford or have the courage or the opportunity to study abroad”. For them, he explains, they developed the English school on-line of EF, with the aim of making the experience as immersive as possible, “and that, if you don’t have the opportunity to travel to New York, they can bring New York closer to home” thanks to technological advances.

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