Before coming to study in the U.S., I often heard the phrase, «A diploma from an American university will open the best international opportunities for you. Yet, after graduating from Stanford and gaining international work experience, I see how little this phrase tells you about the real benefits of studying in the U.S. Let us shift the focus from «a diploma» to other aspects of the American education that will boost your international career.
Stronger soft skills
Two cultural aspects make America, especially its universities, the best place to enhance your soft skills. First, American culture puts less social pressure on students. You can look, speak, and act the way you like, and very few people will judge you for it. For me, an introvert who spent most of her life dealing with social anxiety, it created a safe environment to get out of the comfort zone with little consequences. There were also so many people to learn from, as my American group mates had incredible communication skills.
Second, American culture is open. It is okay to reach out to people whom you never met, and this is another skill that will help you throughout your career. For instance, there was a film class I wanted but could not take at Stanford. So, I asked the class professor for a meeting over a cup of coffee. We had a great conversation, and he invited me to a closed Facebook group for professionals in the film industry. A few months later, I applied to a job posted in that group and got an internship in an international production company. It is only one example of many.
A truly global network
You will become part of the alumni network of your school. For instance, now I have access to the database of all Stanford alumni with their emails, job titles, and company names. Any time I am looking for a job or a mentor, I delve into this database. I wrote dozens of emails to the people I never met (something my pre- Stanford self would have never had the courage to do), and many people did reply to me and gave me invaluable insights.
International work experience
Even before graduation, as a student, you will have plenty of opportunities to work both on and off-campus. I found classes themselves to be very applicable and similar to the work environment. For instance, once our team had to develop a marketing campaign for an international music event. We then presented it to five music industry professionals.
The most valuable experiences, however, happen outside of class. As a graduate student, you can work part-time as Research or Teaching Assistants. It will give you the first glimpse of American (globally accepted) work ethics.
You will also have opportunities to get internships off-campus during summer breaks (CPT – curricular practical training) and for a year after graduation (OPT – optional practical training). Some programs offer a mix of studying and working when you get academic credit for structured work experience (Co-Operative education).
All of the options above will teach you to work in a high paced professional environment – which is essential to compete internationally.
One of the greatest life lessons that I learned in the U.S. is about the real purpose of education. Growing up, I was thinking of higher education as several diplomas you get to have an outstanding career. Yet, I changed my views dramatically, as many of the international students do in America. Here is how it happens.
First, the holistic approach of the admissions process gives you a chance to finally sit and reflect on your journey, your current motivations, and goals. After admission, you are responsible for choosing the classes yourself. Your fellow students are goal- oriented, and your professors support your individuality. It teaches you that education is so much more than books and diplomas, that you need to be mindful about it, and that your motivations matter.
How to make the most of it
You can make the most of American education from the very start of the application process. When you sit down to choose universities and write the essays, take time to reflect, and be honest with yourself. When you arrive on campus, improve your soft skills, build your network, and use all the opportunities to work on and off-campus.
Without even noticing it, soon you will become an excellent communicator with a network of people from around the world and a new mindset – this is what will help you launch an exciting international career. As for the «diploma,» it will be a line in your resume to summarize this wonderful transformation.
Stanford Alumna, 2019
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