Oliver Redican is pretty clear. “It was by far the best thing I have ever done in my life,” he says of his International Year Abroad, taken while he was an accounting student at Hull University Business School.
Like many universities, Hull gives students like Redican the chance to spend a year overseas at partner institutions in Europe, Asia, North America or Australia, either by adding an extra year to their degrees or through international summer schools. It’s an option that more people are choosing, and the effect on their lives can be significant.
For one thing, it can make you more employable, suggests Caroline Michel, international and engagement manager at Hull. “Employers recognise the value and challenges of a year away from home, friends and normal support networks,” she says. “The experience can really make a difference to a student’s self-confidence and self-awareness too.”
There are many professional benefits, as Dr Sonal Minocha, pro vice-chancellor (global engagement) at Bournemouth University (BU), explains. “Experiencing another country and culture enriches students’ learning experience and enhances their employability by providing them with a skillset and perspective that are vital for today’s fast-evolving globalised world,” she says.
What’s more, the numbers seem to support this. According to one 2014 study by the European Commission, nine in 10 employers are looking for the kind of skills and traits that spending time abroad can help develop.
Bournemouth offers multiple programmes to help students on their way, including Erasmus+ and summer schools in India, China and south east Asia.
BU Student Yeyen Sinarta spent part of this summer in China and is positive about the experience, adding: “It enabled me to gain some of the skills employers would like to see. International experience, mobility, global awareness and stronger intercultural skills are just a few.”
But while some benefits are perhaps obvious – picking up language skills or giving yourself some snazzy interview stories – others might be more subtle. Mia O’Hara, Go Global team leader at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), recalls the student who found new levels of determination working on a water security project in Swaziland, testing samples by candlelight.
“Other benefits include improving non-verbal communication and reading body language,” she continues. “This is always something that NHS nursing, midwifery and occupational health students who have completed a programme say was a particularly useful skill.”
There can also be profound, personal changes, as UWE Bristol student Erikah Reid, who spent a year studying abroad on the Erasmus programme in Leuven, Belgium, discovered. “I cannot stress enough how this experience has improved my confidence in myself and my abilities,” she says. “It was amazing to experience a different culture and city, and meet people from all walks of life.”
Like Redican, she’s glad she took the plunge. “This experience is something I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life,” she adds.