Learning to Think Globally after Study Abroad

Students on the WLC study abroad program in Valencia, Spain.

Associate Teaching Professor of Spanish Julie Wilhelm writes about what students can expect from her post-study abroad course.


“We talked a lot about reverse culture shock after coming home and this class and instructor helped me unpack emotional baggage I didn’t even know I had.”

This comment from a former student aptly explains one of the goals of the Experiences Abroad: Learning to Think Globally course offered each spring. Reverse culture shock is defined by the United States Department of State as the, “psychological, emotional and cultural aspects of reentry”. The focus of this course is two part. Firstly, to give students the tools to better deal with reverse cultural shock. Students are generally prepared to experience culture shock when they study abroad, but rarely know that they might have trouble adjusting when they come home. Through readings and class discussions students learn the stages of reentry and the symptoms of reverse culture shock. Most students are surprised to learn that their difficulty in concentration, feelings of frustration, boredom, and restlessness since returning home from their study abroad experience are more than likely the result of reverse culture shock.

The second focus of the class is to teach students how to use their study abroad experience in the job market. In order to do that, students need to learn what soft skills and intercultural skills are, then identify which of these skills they gained from their study abroad experience. Students reflect through readings and class exercises on the skills they feel like they gained while they were abroad. Once they have identified what skills they gained while abroad, they consider how those skills are transferrable to a resume, cover letter or job interview. An example of this would be a student who organized and researched travel plans for his/her group of friends abroad. This would be the soft skill of taking initiative or being a leader.

Once the skills are identified the class discusses where the skills should be placed in a resume and how they can be included in a cover letter and interview. The class watches sample interviews and learn to develop an anecdote to demonstrate the skill or skills they wish to highlight in their own interviews.

Along with readings and discussions, an important part of the class are the guest speakers. Every year the class has speakers that share their experiences abroad and how they dealt with reverse culture shock. The director of LAS Career Services shares with students information about services provided by that office as well as advice on how to include the study abroad experience in their job search. Other speakers come from John Deere, Workiva and Kemin Industries to share with the students why businesses value employees with study abroad experiences.

A study abroad experience provides valuable skills to students but often times is not included properly in the materials prepared for an interview. As the world becomes increasing global the many skills, including cultural awareness and international perspective, attained by studying abroad are becoming more and more important to employers. Experiences Abroad: Learning to Think Globally, is a class that can help students have an edge in the job market by learning the best way to present their study abroad experience while searching for a job.