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Following the Career Paths of Multilingual Study Abroad Alumni

Mar 14, 2019

Amelia J Dietrich, PhD, The Forum on Education Abroad

Across the United States, colleges and universities are pushing to increase participation in study abroad experiences while, at the same time, they are closing down world language programs. To the rest of the world this may seem irrational or impractical. After all, don’t language and intercultural skills contribute in valuable ways to national security and economic interests in a globalized economy? Probably. And it’s well documented that immersion through a study abroad experience can contribute positively to aspects of a student’s language acquisition.

But U.S. universities face increasing demands from the ever-practical Generation Z to articulate how an education at their school will lead to career opportunities. The fact is, we don’t know that much about how speaking a second (or third) language through a study abroad experience impacts career pathways.

Researchers at Penn State University, with collaboration from The Forum on Education Abroad, the American Councils for International Education, and a growing list of supporters in the field of education abroad, are trying to change that. In February of this year, a survey launched which investigates how people who have both studied abroad during their time as U.S. college and university students and speak a language other than English have had their professional opportunities and career readiness influenced by these experiences. The survey also seeks to investigate which program factors lead to the greatest long-term impact on a student and the advantages and challenges students face after a study abroad experience. The team is interested not only in the experiences of people who studied abroad explicitly for the purpose of learning a language, but also of those people who studied abroad for other reasons or learned their second language some other way, in order to explore how these two intersecting experiences feed off one another and influence career choices and opportunities. They are looking for participants of all ages, ranging from recent returners to retirees, so as to look at the trajectory of study abroad alumni’s careers across their lifespan.

The researchers will have results to share starting in early 2020. They’ll follow the survey portion of the research with in-depth life history interviews of selected participants for a book and documentary project that will showcase multilingual professionals in a variety of fields and share inspiring stories about the benefits and challenges of language learning and study abroad. The project is funded by a generous International Research and Studies grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

If you are from the U.S. or grew up there, studied abroad, and speak a second language, take the survey today. If you work with U.S. college and university students on study abroad programs, visit The Forum on Education Abroad’s website to learn more about the project and how you can help spread the word.

Learn more about the intersection of study abroad, language learning and career opportunities during the webinar hosted by WYSE Travel Confederation and The Forum on Education Abroad on Tuesday, 2 April 2019, What We Already Know and What We’re Finding Out about Study Abroad, Language Learning, and Career Opportunities.