Going Abroad Makes You a Better Leader

Going Abroad Makes You a Better Leader

To be honest, when I decided to study abroad, I didn’t set out with the idea of cultivating my leadership skills. I knew that it would definitely build character and broaden my worldview, but the thought that it would also enable me to come back better equipped to take charge of my life and to effectively lead group projects and discussions, never really came to mind (I mean, honestly, who says to themselves, “going abroad is really going to enable me to lead group projects!”?). But that’s exactly what happened.

I returned home from Japan after my senior year better able to stay calm under pressure, had better people skills (as an introvert, this was huge!), and was much better about taking a step back and reassessing difficult situations. On top of it all, I was much better at keeping a certain lightheartedness, even while increasingly frustrated (an indispensable skill during my search for post-graduate employment).

When you study abroad, you’re introduced to situations that force you to bump up against your comfort zone and to give it a little push. Without the safety net you have at home, you get to rise up to the occasion and really discover what you’re capable of. As scary as it can be, it’s also incredibly rewarding and positively exhilarating.

My first week abroad I was homesick, lonely, and already halfway through the boxes of Mac and Cheese I brought with me. Looking at the bottom of my bowl, wishing I had some bacon bits for that extra yumminess, I realized that it wasn’t the experience I was meant to be having. I traveled a full 24 hours to get first hand exposure to a culture and language I had fallen in love with. Definitely something I couldn’t find polishing off another box of Mac and Cheese. After that, I made sure I was getting the experience I wanted. I went to local cultural events, made friends with the local university students, and was actually surprised how sociable I could be. Halfway through my program, I was organizing group excursions around the country as well as study groups (we were there to learn, after all).

The uncomfortable situations, the need for effective prioritizing and time allocation, and the necessity of a ready sense of humor are all good lessons in positive leadership. Your time abroad is a surprisingly subtle lesson for many life skills. The juxtaposition of uncertainty and purpose really creates the environment for you to step up and engage those dormant leadership skills. In my first year on the job after college, I had to manage three other people. It was uncomfortable telling others what to do, correcting them when they erred, and making sure they adhered to deadlines (it got easier). My ability to gain both their friendship and their respect, to keep a healthy sense of humor, and to keep the end goal in mind (as crazy and testimonial as it sounds) can all be linked to my time overseas.

Ultimately, my experience abroad taught me to be more self-aware and honest with myself; I learned to be more decisive and I was able to connect with people more easily. Though I didn’t set out focusing on my leadership abilities, I found that these are all qualities that will serve me well and enable me to be the leader I need to be, personally and professionally, to have a happy and successful life!

So go out there and test your boundaries!  Build up those leadership skills and come back a more awesome you.

3 thoughts on "Going Abroad Makes You a Better Leader"

  1. I think the idea of going abroad making you a better leader derives from the fact that you are open to new culture, experiences and a more open minded approach. These experiences you have and learn around you are easily transferable into the work life. Great article.

  2. Corri Dor says:

    It was very interesting to read your article. While reading, I remembered all the feelings I had once I went abroad. The craziest thing was to cope with a cultural shock for which I wasn’t prepared at all 😀 All in all, I liked my experience and now I’m better prepared for changes, and actually became more tended to travel 😀

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