Fleeing the warm confines of the nest and venturing out into the unknown: studying abroad requires its very own set of survival skills. For those challenge-seekers who dare to take the plunge into unchartered territory, however, the benefits of studying abroad can prove career-boosting. What if you are looking specifically to assume a managerial role? Is studying abroad conducive to better leadership skills? Will it give you a leg up in the hospitality arena? EHL Insights delves into the prize question: Does studying abroad make you a better leader?
If better communication skills make you a better leader – and we would argue they do – then the answer is “yes”. Studying abroad often entails being immersed in a new language or, at the very least, a different dialect. Your time abroad therefore results in sharpened linguistic skills, whether this be greater foreign language proficiency or a broader, more diverse repertoire of native or second language usage. To find your way in an unfamiliar environment, you must listen intently to grasp meaning that is presented using foreign intonation patters, syntax and expressions. You must learn to effectively ask for help and to express your needs, wishes and ideas in a comprehensible manner.
Your study abroad location acts as a new testing ground for you to gauge people’s reactions to what you say and do, and seek to optimize the respective outcomes under your host country’s parameters. Local social etiquette may well vary from what you are used to which will enrich your communication efforts with an added note of sensitivity and diplomacy.
In your career, these polished skills will enable you to pursue more meaningful networking, communicate better with different team members and mobilize people more impactfully towards a common goal. In short, learning what to say, how to say it, under what circumstances – and when it might be wiser to say nothing at all – will make you a better leader. If you are destined for the hospitality industry, these agile communication skills will come into play on a daily basis, assuming ever more importance as you climb the career ladder.
Studying abroad confronts you with new cultural surroundings. Increasing cultural awareness is par for the course, but more than this, prolonged periods spent abroad, during which you engage in all facets of your life from studying to leisure activities and even things as simple as going grocery shopping, will force you to acquire culture-appropriate people skills.
If you remain open-minded during your stay, you will learn to recognize and appreciate other people’s points of views, gaining respect for diverging opinions. In conversation with Forbes, Alain Benichou goes as far as to speak of “becoming truly bi-cultural”. Knowledge not only of customs and traditions, but of what is relevant to locals, what makes their world go around, their values, has the potential to give you a better understanding of the products and services that make sense within the respective economic landscape, of what might be appealing on the one hand or badly received on the other. This insight will leave you in a far stronger position to master international relations and foreign markets in any future managerial role – a strength particularly relevant in the inherently international hospitality industry.
And so we see that those studying abroad will have new people and cultural circumstances to adapt to. But the required adaptability does not stop there. On the contrary, the local cuisine, weather, commonplace means of transport, currency and laws will also take some getting used to.
Pushed out of your comfort zone and exposed to this broad array of new preconditions, you will learn through experience to deal with undefined variables and uncertain outcomes. This, in turn, will require you to think on your feet, exercising analytical and critical thinking, bolstering your leadership profile. Well-executed quick thinking will also equip you to handle the intense dynamism of the hospitality workplace and perform timely, appropriate troubleshooting, should the need arise.
On the topic of troubleshooting – creativity can make all the difference between disaster and success in dealing with any stakeholders’ issues, whether these be patrons or guests in the hospitality industry, or clients or shareholders elsewhere.
What better way to get your creative juices flowing than to surround yourself with a whole new pallet of artistic, culinary and cultural influences? New sounds and smells tantalizing your senses, an entire national history to discover, and different mentalities and backgrounds pulling your perceptions in all directions.
We adore the expression Maritheresa Frain relayed to Forbes when she said that studying abroad teaches you not to “navel contemplate”. Indeed, plunging into a new environment causes you to “look outwards”, broadening your perspective and unearthing any biases you many unintentionally have been harboring, inviting you to shed your preconceptions and see the world in a new light. This is fertile ground on which to become more resourceful and develop unique, innovative, imaginative solutions. If you wish to bring about positive change as a leader, this can only be an asset.
Invariably, you will encounter an array of challenges during your study abroad. Without your usual support network of family, friends and trusted mechanisms on which you otherwise rely to solve problems, there is only you. During this time, you will learn to seek out counsel and tangible assistance from the competent entities, proving to yourself that you can handle difficult situations. Your perseverance will pay off, building your confidence and courage. Trial and error during this phase will strengthen your self-awareness and teach you how to compensate for your weaknesses, making you stronger, more resilient and less easily rattled. Alongside much improved self-reliance, this will leave you with a better-rounded personality.
Once you enter professional life, these factors combined will assist you in embodying a leadership persona. Akin to a swan paddling hard under the surface of the water to keep things going, but gliding gracefully and purposefully above water, your newfound conviction and poise will help you lead by example even when the going gets tough. This translates to hospitality skills by facilitating a can-do attitude, assuring guests and staff alike that they can turn to you if they need anything at all.
The assumption that exposure to other countries – whatever shape this takes on – is beneficial in business in general is unlikely to stir dispute. Arguing the case for improved leadership skills specifically, however, takes us on a journey through the skills and aptitudes that are honed during study abroad. Closer inspection reveals that these are indeed conducive to being a better leader, particularly in the hospitality industry.
Why study abroad? Well, wherever your study abroad may take you, it is certain to add vibrancy and depth to your educational path, triggering personal growth and promoting intellectual and emotional strength. The leaders of tomorrow would be wise to take heed.