While the academic, cultural and personal benefits that study-abroad programs offer remain as the key incentives for students to venture away, the opportunity to expand one’s network of friends should also be recognized as an important benefit for those seeking an international education.
Today more than ever, the ability to build a rich and diverse social circle is fundamental in one’s personal and professional development.
At a personal level, the opportunity to befriend people from different cultures and backgrounds is in itself an extraordinary way to gaining a richer and more complex perspective on the world.
Upon their return home, students who truly made an effort to integrate with their foreign surroundings and effectively broadened their friendships experiment a decisive paradigm shift: foreign nationals are no longer seen so remote or different, and the borders between “them” and “us” are essentially dissolved. Along with education and travel, these are the basic ingredients for an open-minded and tolerant citizen of the 21st century.
Of course, it would be false to say that only those who study abroad can develop such a global perspective of the world and grow to be open-minded and tolerant individuals. However, it is true that the intense international exposure that is gained by studying abroad arms students with a tremendous advantage in this regard.
In terms of the long-term professional benefits networking, while studying abroad may provide, there is a synergy of forces at work in favor of the international student that is quite unique: networking as a student is easy, natural, fast, and, most importantly, relationships amongst students are harvested without any material interests attached.
If we understand the concept of networking for professional purposes as the act of selectively cultivating interest-based relationships to further one’s career or business, clearly, a student who broadens his or her relationships in social and academic settings will have an easier time tapping into those relationships for professional gain later in life.
It is easier to be buddies with Jacques, our friend and Art History classmate in Paris, than with Jacques, the Museum Director whom we never befriended before.
Networking is indeed a subtle bonus for students, but, in the long run, it could prove to be a career-changing opportunity.
However, networking cannot be viewed as an automatic study-abroad benefit, as it is more of an opportunity that requires effort on the part of the student. One of the biggest mistakes international students abroad make is to solely socialize with kids from their home country. This not only limits their capacity to learn foreign languages and blend with the local culture, but it also adds restrictions to their networking potential.
Similarly, networking is not just about meeting people, but it is also about keeping in touch with people. Fortunately, the advent of Internet social networking technologies makes nourishing those relationships made abroad not only easy but also fun.
The contacts and friends a student makes abroad are yet another fantastic expat-experience asset, and they should be taken seriously.