You may be surprised at how much more than “just” language skills you take home after studying abroad. Most of your gains will fall under the category of “soft skills” and they are among the most valuable skills that employers look for.
What are hard skills and soft skills?
Hard skills are usually those that have to be learned through formal study, such as computer skills, engineering skills, mathematics or any of the other skills that enable you to do the core part of a job.
Soft skills are the skills that help you get through life better and get on with people. The intangible skills that are more likely to come from life experience than formal training.
Employers want a balance of hard and soft skills in their staff.
The most important soft skills
Studying abroad will deliver certain hard skills; particularly the language skills that are so valuable in the modern world. But the experience of learning surrounded by another culture will affect you more profoundly than the increase in your vocabulary.
Divided into 4 categories, here are 23 soft skills that will gain through living and studying abroad:
Interpersonal skills or “people skills”
1. Listening skills – These are absolutely central to your experience, both inside and outside the classroom. It takes more time to process a foreign language, which will make you think harder about what you hear and how you respond. In your mother tongue, you may sometimes find yourself formulating a response in your mind as opposed to really listening to your conversation partner… learning a new language will make you reflect on that.
2. Speaking skills – Speaking another language not only improves your ability to speak in the language you are learning, it will give you another perspective on your own language. How does it feel when people speak too quickly or use jargon with you? You may well learn to be more accurate in your language, which is an important communication skill.
3. Cultural understanding – Studying abroad gives you the chance to get under the skin of another culture in a way that simply travelling does not. The language is your way in. Your school and your everyday experience will show you how many formalities or traditions are simply different elsewhere.
4. Multicultural engagement – As well as learning about the local culture, you will meet and study with people from all over the world. Working with diverse people is a key soft skill in the modern business world.
5. Empathy and the ability to relate to others – Seeing more of the world can help you appreciate that, wherever you happen to have been born, people are all ultimately moved by the same basic emotions.
6. Patience – Patience is essential for studying a language, but also for finding your way in a different country and culture.
7. Teamwork – Modern language teaching includes lots and lots of group and small group activities. Working on a task in a new language with people who do not share your mother tongue is a truly challenging and rewarding way to improve your teamwork skills. You don’t have to like everyone, but you do have to work together… just like any job then.
8. Creative problem solving – When you are outside of your comfort zone, often surrounded by people who can’t speak your mother tongue, you will have to get creative to solve problems.
9. Multidisciplinary thinking – This is a huge theme in the 21st century and language teaching is a solid example of multidisciplinary thinking. A session may teach you about a specific piece of grammar or area of vocab, but it will do that through different topics and activities. A class about a specific grammatical structure could take the form of a group debate, a game, a listening task or a mock job interview, for example; very different approaches to the same core learning.
At this point, the line between hard skills and soft skills blurs a little.
10. Self-management – Your language school will help you as much as possible and give you a “soft landing” in a new country, but its ultimately up to you to make the most of your time and organise your life.
11. Self-discipline – Nobody is going to force you to wake up in the morning and go to your language class, just as nobody is going to force you to do your homework. But you will notice that the students who do these things will make the fastest progress.
12. Presentation skills – Once you have spoken in front of a group in another language, presenting in your mother tongue will not seem nearly as intimidating.
13. Writing skills – When was the last time you actually focussed on how you write?
14. Coaching & mentoring skills – A good teacher can be just as inspirational in adulthood as in childhood. The difference is that adults can identify what makes the teacher good and take this with, alongside the language skills.
The essentials of who you are may come from your childhood, but living and studying abroad will provide you with many new stimuli.
15. Self-confidence – It takes self-belief to speak to strangers in a new language and you will be delighted by how welcoming people are when you try and speak their language. This confidence will come home with you.
16. Perseverance – Learning to think and speak a new language is a challenging, but rewarding, process. Your perseverance is rewarded with lifelong skills.
17. Responsibility – Living in another country, you will be away from your friends and family. It is up to you to re-establish a comfort zone and make things work.
18. Ambition – Within reason, ambition is attractive. See more of the world and you may be clearer about what you want in life… and how to get it.
19. Initiative – This is an incredibly important soft skill. Unless you are really, really, ridiculously good looking, things simply do not fall into your lap; you need initiative to make things happen. Without your usual network around you, taking the initiative is essential when living in a new place.
20. Integrity – Can integrity be learned? Meeting new people from all over the world gives you a chance to reflect on what you value in people.
21. Emotional balance – One of the more intriguing things about speaking in a foreign language is that you are more likely to think before you open your mouth, thus reducing the chances of saying something you will later regret. Managing you emotions will help you function in any team.
22. Flexibility – Things work differently in different cultures and you will need to be flexible to succeed. You don’t have to love how things work elsewhere, but you do have to adapt. The ability to deal with difficult or unexpected situations will serve you well in life.
23. Maturity – Combine all of the traits above and this is what you get.
Have you studied abroad? How did it change your life?Image credit: Shutterstock