How to Talk About Study Abroad in an Interview

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There’s more to our “How to Market Your Study Abroad Experience Toolkit” than just paperwork! Now that your study-abroad optimized résumé and cover letter have landed you an interview, it’s time to talk about it [cue scary music]…IN PERSON.

Translating the Benefits of Study Abroad in an Interview

Ninety percent of IES Abroad alumni attributed their development of critical professional skills, like adaptability, cultural understanding, language proficiency, self-confidence, and tolerance for ambiguity to their time abroad, according to the IES Abroad Recent Alumni Survey. Additionally, alumni believed that studying abroad allowed them to build up the confidence to deal with new skills required for a particular job.

And yet, even with this newfound confidence, we understand that speaking about your study abroad experience in a professional setting can be challenging. Surely, some things about the city you called 'home' for a semester or summer are fascinating, but consider how many of the specifics should be included when talking about your time abroad in a job interview. Determine which things are truly applicable to the job or internship rather than what might be a fun anecdote better shared with your friends. 

3 Things to Consider
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What skills did you develop while abroad?

Perhaps you taught yourself a new online SEO platform, honed your ability to interpret non-verbal cues if you weren't familiar with the local language while traveling, or advanced your Dutch language skills.

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How could these study abroad skills be used at home?

You probably won't use your Dutch skills every day once you've returned home, but how did studying language abroad teach you persistence and discipline, and is it possible that those skills could be useful in a future international career?

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What is the best way to present these skills in a professional context?

For example, acquiring foreign language skills and placing yourself in a different cultural setting:

  • Hones your social abilities (i.e. you’ll have an easier time getting to know coworkers and adapting to a new work environment)
  • Allows you to better handle uncertain situations (which also leads to creative problem solving)
  • Makes you a more attentive listener

Then consider how such skills can be used in this specific job and voilà! 

4 Steps for Responding to an Interview Question

Sounds easy right?! We bet you have some epic tales from your time abroad, but how can you make sense of them during and make them relevant to a job or internship interview? We recommend using the STAR Method, which is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, Result. It's one of the best models to help structure your thoughts and stories in a professional setting and ensures that your interview will be a 'no rambling' zone. Try using STAR in an interview response and we guarantee (okay, maybe not guarantee) that your interviewer will be able to identify at least five skills you learned while abroad.

Break down an experience you had abroad:

1. Situation

When you were studying abroad in Tokyo, you were assigned to a project with a group of Japanese classmates at the Kanda University of International Studies. Your fellow students all spoke Japanese, but you were nowhere near ready to participate in a group project in a language in which you were less than fluent. You sought to better your Japanese while collaborating with your classmates throughout the course of this assignment.


2. Task

Do your part for the group project by writing and presenting on your portion of the assignment.


3. Action(s)

  • You drew up an agreement with your flatmates to solely communicate in Japanese with each other in order to increase your confidence when speaking and to advance your skills in general.
  • You set a weekly, individual appointment with a language instructor. 
  • You surveyed the IES Abroad Tokyo Center staff on ways to improve your foreign language skills. They suggested participating in the E-pal Program (where you have a Japanese student 'buddy'), Japanese art and cooking classes, and interacting with locals on the weekends.

4. Result

After all of your hard work and diligent language practice, you were able to better more confidently speak with your classmates and present your part of the project in Japanese (and maybe even crack a few jokes!). 

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Using the STAR method, this story demonstrates that you:

  1. Can function as part of a group
  2. Contribute to a project equally
  3. Overcome potential barriers that could prevent you from completing tasks
  4. Are not afraid to ask for assistance
  5. Can problem solve creatively
  6. Are comfortable with speaking in front of an audience (in English or Japanese, no less)

You can pull six skills from that interview response alone—not bad when we only guaranteed five! 

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Market Your Study Abroad Toolkit

Our toolkit is here to help you communicate the skills you learned (or refined) abroad, so you can complete your résumé, submit that cover letter, ace the interview, and confidently socialize at next week's networking mixer!