I am a grade 12 student from Latvia who is interested in global politics, international law, and economics. Right now, I am an intern here at SkillStruct, but there was a significant part of my life that made me gain skills and connections that would later lead me to the opportunity of interning with SkillStruct. This was a year of studying abroad.
I went on an exchange year program when I was in grade 10. At the age of 16, I packed my suitcase and left for a year to go to the US and stay with a host family, to study in an American high school, and learn about American culture. In this blog post, I will tell you a little bit more about those skills and how they benefited my career development.
Adaptability and intercultural communication
As an exchange student, I had to adapt to a new culture, a new language, a new set of family rules, school rules, new classes, and many other things. Of course, nobody can change their entire set of values and habits in a short amount of time simply because they moved to a new place, but international students must know how to communicate effectively with people from different backgrounds, learn how to quickly find friends and overcome challenges in a completely new environment. This skill, later, helped me communicate not only with people from the USA, but also with colleagues from Hong Kong, India, the UK, and many other countries.
In addition, you need to adapt easily to an online learning environment, and online work environment, especially in the world we live in now. I was also introduced to many other exchange students, and because of that, I had to learn intercultural communication – a skill that every person needs because of globalisation. This skill was necessary for me to start working in international organisations. After all, everyone you meet has a different set of values, communication styles, and customs, so people who want to work in an international environment should learn how to successfully communicate with people from different parts of the world to not offend anyone by accident.
Navigating differences between educational systems
In Latvia, I have around 11 subjects every year. Each day I have between 8 and 10 classes and every day the set of classes is different. I cannot choose what subjects I want to study. In the US, I had the same 6 classes every day, and I chose 4 of them. Apart from that, there were many differences in the grading system, the teaching process, materials, etc. While studying in a completely new environment might sound scary, it taught me one very important thing: everyone can learn anything if they want to. This skill of navigating a different setting is also helpful in the workplace – at SkillStruct, for example, I had to learn how to navigate Microsoft tools like Teams and Outlook, since most of my previous work was done through Google. I believe that my past experiences are what kept me calm and helped me figure it out easily.
Time management skills
During my time in the US, I was not only studying, but I was also a part of my school’s swim team, I was volunteering regularly and participated in some of my school’s clubs. To successfully manage my school day and still can enjoy time with my host family and new friends, I had to have great time management skills. This is not only important for professional development, but also in personal life. It is a crucial skill to have in the 21st century since everyday life has become fast, stressful, and sometimes overwhelming. To avoid burnout people should schedule some time for rest and activities they enjoy – for me, for example, it is cooking and swimming.
Technology was a big part of my experience while studying abroad. First, a big part of studying in the US even before the pandemic relied on digital tools. In Latvia, on the other hand, schools mostly used textbook-based learning. When I was abroad, I had many online quizzes and tests as part of the learning process and I could do most of my work through Google, which helped me complete most of my tasks much faster, while apps like Quizlet helped me start learning my 4th language. During my time abroad I was also focused on finding as many opportunities as I could, and I found an interesting and easy way to search for them that I still use all the time – hashtags on social media! Through hashtags, I found many pages that share educational and career development opportunities. Using modern technology, I was also able to connect with other exchange students and make my first friends in the US. (Tip: if you decide to study/work/volunteer abroad, try to connect with other foreign students first – they are also looking for someone to befriend). Now, almost 2 years since I returned home, technology is helping me stay connected to those I met while being abroad and maintain these extremely important relationships. Finally, technology gave me a chance to record what was happening around me and capture all the exciting moments. Sometimes looking at photos, videos and old notes is a good way to reflect on past experiences to get meaningful insights into how they impacted your life.
Studying abroad has changed my life forever, and now I find myself trying to find a happy medium between my original Latvian culture and my new US one. I make sure that I use the skills I’ve gained to advance my career (this includes interning with SkillStruct, where I also gained valuable experience and practise my social media and blog-writing skills). However, it is important to mention that you can also gain those skills without going abroad – there are many opportunities to engage with people from all over the world online. For example, you can participate with networks like SkillStruct University, get involved with an online student-led NGO, or participate in an online cultural exchange to help you assimilate into a new country. But if you have been struggling to decide whether you should go on exchange or study abroad – do it!