How I’ll Justify Taking a Gap Year Abroad

As spring creeps nearer, I’m beginning to realize that my final year of undergrad is coming to a close. While most of my classmates are applying for jobs or grad school, I’m busy preparing my application to spend a year teaching English in France.

After being tied down by journalism school for nearly five years, I decided to make use of my newfound post-grad freedom before I settled into a career. My dad wasn’t convinced. “How does this relate to journalism? Won’t it be harder for you to find a job when you come back?” he asked. My answer was simple: I might not gain experience in journalism, but I’ll develop other valuable, transferable skills.

The biggest draw factor was that I’d be immersed in the French language outside my teaching hours. After completing a one-semester exchange program in the Netherlands and a four-month communications internship in Switzerland, I learned that being at least bilingual is essential if I want to work internationally. I know that English and my poor French skills alone won’t cut it for my dream job in Europe, so this program will be a great way to shape up mon français.

Aside from the language aspect, there are a number of skills you develop by immersing yourself in another country’s culture. Thriving in a new environment proves that you’re adaptable, resourceful and open-minded—all of these words look great on a resumé. You also earn the right to say you understand another culture, which is appealing to employers in today’s global economy.

Having experience abroad helps your resumé stand out from the pile, especially if you hope to work outside Canada. Since many recent grads don’t have international experience, you’ll have something different to offer employers. When I applied for my internship in Switzerland, one of the first questions my employer asked was about my experience studying in the Netherlands, and we spent a chunk of the interview talking about it.

That being said, if you don’t properly present your experience, employers may think you were just travelling. If you’ve studied, worked or volunteered abroad, you have to show future employers that you learned something that will be valuable to them. After all, the point of your resumé and cover letter is to market your experience. Here are a few tips to keep in mind for your resumé, cover letter and job interview:

Highlight your new skills:

  • Don’t just explain what you did while you were abroad—explain what you learned.
  • For example, if you taught English in a foreign country, explain how helping students understand the language improved your own communication skills.

Explain how those skills will apply to your chosen field:

  • Tell employers how the skills you learned abroad will help you do the job you’re applying for.
  • For example, if you’re applying for a reporting position at a newspaper, explain how the communication skills you gained will help you communicate with sources more easily.

Explain challenges you overcame during your time abroad:

  • Whether it was being several time zones away from your family and friends, learning to navigate a new city in a foreign language, or adapting to a new education system, your integration probably took some work.
  • Employers will be impressed by your resourcefulness, resilience and adaptability, so tell them about it!

Find a reference that can support your claims:

  • All the work you’ve poured into proving the value of your experience abroad is null if you don’t provide a reference that can back you up.
  • Find a teacher or supervisor from your time abroad who can testify to your personal and professional growth.

Kayla Redstone

Kayla Redstone is a recent Carleton University journalism graduate. She is currently working as an English teaching assistant in Lyon, France, and she hopes to pursue a career in media upon her return to Canada next summer.

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