Study or work abroad

A little language can go a long way! You don’t have to be fluent, but the ability to hold a conversation and appreciate another culture is of real business value in the workplace.

Culture at work: the value of intercultural skills in the workplace (British Council, 2013)

Articles and Publications

The following are a selection of interviews, articles and publications offering information and advice to those thinking of heading abroad.

Learning a language: mission possible! (Relocate Global magazine, 22 September 2016). Mastering a foreign language can seem complex and time-consuming, but a little regular practice can reap big rewards. Jade Huffman, Lori Fenneken and Renee Paczkowski, of Global LT, share their tips. The magazine also contains information and support for global mobility.

Brexit and Modern Languages (Oxford University blog, 26 June 2016) Following the news that Britain has voted to leave the European Union. What does it mean for Modern Languages as a subject, and for you as someone who may be considering studying a language at university? 

Why Malia Obama is right to take a gap year (The Telegraph, 12 May 2016) The article's author explains why a gap year is a unique opportunity to grab hold of a host of new opportunities with both hands, whether it’s travelling, learning to code or doing a host of work experience placements and can help you decide whether university is the right route for you.

Travel broadens the mind, but can it alter the brain? (The Guardian, 18 January 2016) Studies suggest that taking a gap year or studying abroad can positively influence your brain to make you more outgoing and open to new ideas.

The following reports highlight the benefits of a period of time studying or working abroad.

Gone International 2016: The value of mobility

Go International, Go International (2016)

Key messages

Improved outcomes for mobile students compared to their non-mobile peers:

  • Unemployment rates among mobile students were lower across almost all socioeconomic backgrounds compared to of their non-mobile peers.
  • the average salary of a mobile student six months after graduation was higher than a non-mobile student.
  • A higher proportion of mobile students achieved a first class or upper second class degree compared with non-mobile students.
Improved employment outcomes for students from disadvantaged backgrounds and BME students, who are underrepresented in mobility:
  • A significantly lower proportion of mobile graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds were unemployed compared with non-mobile students from the same backgrounds.
  • Mobile black and Asian students were less likely to be unemployed 6 months after graduation than their non-mobile peers.


The Erasmus Impact Study: Effects of mobility on the skills and employability of students and the internationalisation of higher education institutions

European Commission, (2014)

Key messages:

  • More than 90% of the students reported an improvement in their soft skills, such as knowledge of other countries, their ability to interact and work with individuals from different cultures, adaptability, foreign language proficiency and communication skills. 
  • Graduates with international experience are half as likely to experience long-term unemployment compared with those who have not studied or trained abroad 
  • The unemployment rate for graduates with international experience  is 23% lower 5 years after graduation.


Residence Abroad: A modular approach to support students and document their progress

Sibylle Ratz and Christine Penman, SCILT (2014)

Key messages:

This study demonstrates how students form graduate attributes whilst abroad:

  • Academic – Critical self-evaluation and goal setting.
  • Intercultural – reflection on intercultural awareness, recognising diversity. 
  • Linguistic – increased confidence in speaking skills.
  • Personal – enhanced self-knowledge and self-awareness.


Valuing the year abroad

British Academy, (2012)

Key messages:

  • The international experience of a year abroad has been shown to contribute both to students’ individual experience and employability with 86% of surveyed graduates considering the year abroad to be the most valuable part of the degree and 66% estimating the residence abroad to be a significant factor in getting their first and subsequent jobs
  • Direct work experience for those students on placements, together with enhanced interpersonal engagement and individual initiative and team-working skills, endow graduates with a portfolio which enhances their value to employers and to the national economy. Additional critical competencies for global graduates include a global mindset, global knowledge, advanced communication skills. These skills are developed by the year abroad.
  • Students on a year abroad learn to show respect for local values without abandoning their own.
  • The experience of living, working and studying abroad has a transformative effect, making students more reflective, self-reliant and self-confident individuals. Students grow in self-awareness and self-confidence.
  • The value of the year abroad is significant both for the individual and for the graduates that the UK produces. This value extends beyond modern languages, facilitating the development of vital personal and professional competencies and understanding necessary for most, if not all, disciplines and careers.
Key messages on language skills:
  • In non-English-speaking countries, UK students improve the fluency, accuracy and appropriateness of their language competence faster than in the university classroom. 
  • To learn a foreign language well is to acquire a wealth of culture beyond textbook knowledge. And to learn a language outside of its spoken environment is to learn it incompletely. The development of language skills in the environment in which the target language thrives opens up a world of encoded and tacit knowledge that must be experienced – and not simply taught.
  • There is no substitute for having to live in, cope with, and ultimately learn to function successfully within the rules and unwritten conventions of a foreign culture. This includes a great deal more than learning its language: it means living its culture, and understanding its history as the lived experience. This can only really be learnt through a substantial period of residence and work in the foreign environment. This provides a life experience unobtainable in the classroom. 


Assessing the Work Placement Abroad

Laurence Giraud-Johnstone, SCILT (2012)

Key messages:
  • Students not only strengthen their speaking and listening skills whilst working abroad, but also gain enriched knowledge and understanding of how the foreign language as well as their mother tongue function. 
  • Improved language skills are linked with culture learning benefits and emotional benefits. Building up their language skills enables students to address the issue of social isolation; they can integrate better into another culture and interact with the locals. 
  • Use of the foreign language improves organisational and presentation skills.
  • The process of having experienced a new culture and gradually having adjusted to it gives students a better understanding of their own culture. 


Youth on the Move

European Commission, (2011)

Key messages:

The three most important benefits students say they derived from mobility:

  • Foreign language skills
  • Improved awareness of another culture
  • Greater ability to adapt to new situations


Articles and blogs

China: a crash course in personal development (British Council Voices blog, 17 February 2017) Kate Woodruff, who is taking part in the British Council's English Language Assistant programme, tells how moving to China has been a confidence-booster, particularly picking up the language and the satisfaction in being able to communicate.

Want to study abroad? Here’s why I went Danish and you should too (iNews, 15 February 2017) Studying abroad brings many advantages, but few people opt for Denmark. Lizzie Roberts explains why it worked for her, and what the British education system could learn.

Study abroad: see the world and help your career (The Independent, 10 November 2016) Want to perk up your CV, see somewhere new and have an experience you’ll never forget? Study abroad while at university and, as Russ Thorne finds out, you can have all three.

How to learn the language when your course abroad is in English (Global Graduates, formerly Third Year Abroad, 29 September 2016) Lucy studies Law with Politics at the University of Sussex and has recently returned from a year abroad in Grenoble, France, where she was studying for a Certificate in French Law. Her course was taught in English, which made it hard to immerse herself in the language, so here's her advice about how to improve your foreign language skills abroad despite all the English you hear every day.

Studying abroad improves confidence and job prospects, say UK students (Study International, 18 August 2016) Studying abroad is well-known to be a rewarding experience, equipping students with life skills and practice that they wouldn’t be able to get if they hadn’t taken the leap. But don’t just take our word for it – in a recent report published by the British Council, UK students returning home from studying overseas shared how their lives changed for the better after venturing to foreign lands.

What's it really like to study for a postgrad degree in Europe? (The Guardian, 9 August 2016) British students, eager to broaden their horizons, are increasingly choosing to study in Europe. But is it worth the upheaval? Several students give their view and all seem to agree the answer is, yes!

Students studying abroad should learn the local language (The Crimson White, 27 July 2016) An American student tells how learning the language when studying abroad opens up experiences you may never otherwise have.

What's the use of French? (Lingotastic blog, 26 May 2016) On her final week of Erasmus Programme in Nantes, France, Jess shares her language learning journey and tells how at the start, when she was 12, she didn't see the point...and how that changed.

Anna Sowa’s EVS Story (Erasmus+, 3 May 2016) Marking the 20th anniversary of the European Voluntary Service (EVS), we followed the EVS story of one participant, Anna Sowa, whose life has been completely changed since becoming a volunteer.

What student life is really like at a Spanish university (The Guardian, 1 April 2016) Emily, a law student at the University of Bristol shares her experience of her year abroad in Valencia.

Go and work abroad – it could have career benefits you never imagined (The Guardian, 17 March 2016) Taking the leap can be daunting, but you’ll face challenges and pick up skills that will turn you into a desirable employee as outlined in this article.

Mathilde Ercolani – My development so far! (University of Southampton blog, 24 February 2016) An Erasmus student describes the skills she has gained and improved upon during her year abroad.

How living and working with Chileans has improved my Spanish (British Council Voices, 13 January 2016)

Things to remember when adjusting to teaching abroad (British Council Voices, 11 January 2016) Eddie Simmonds, an English language assistant in Rome, shares a few things you should remember if you find yourself in an unfamiliar place, hundreds of miles away from home. Several of his tips will also help improve your own foreign language skills.

How can more UK students be encouraged to study abroad?

The UK doesn’t send out nearly as many students abroad as it welcomes. How can the UK encourage its students to travel further afield to study? Zainab Malik explains the British Council's latest (June 2015) research on the subject. In the British Council's Broadening Horizons report (published June 2015), nearly 7,500 UK and US students were surveyed to understand their motivations for and apprehensions towards overseas study.

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