CPSA case study: Making the most of your year abroad 

Susannah Latham, Final Year BSc Politics and International Relations student and Career Peer Support Assistant

Many students embark on a year abroad as part of their degree. We all have different reasons for choosing to do it: for some, it’s the excitement of a new culture and country, while others are keen to learn at a different institution or use the year to work or to improve their language skills.  

Whatever your reason for doing a year abroad, it can be a great opportunity to gain valuable skills and work experience, making yourself stand out when applying for jobs in the future.  

My Volunteering Experience  

As part of my Politics and International Relations BSc I studied for a year in the USA, at the University of Maryland. I had the flexibility to study a broad range of topics, ranging from art to climate change, and loved the freedom I had to learn in a new environment. 

But for me, my year in the US was about a lot more than just studying. I wanted to make friends, travel, and take advantage of new opportunities.  

Just like when I was a new student at Bristol, I attended a Freshers Fair, where I learnt about the student groups on campus. Joining a club or organisation on your year abroad is not only a great way to make friends, but also unlocks a whole variety of new opportunities. Having previously been involved with Oxfam in Bristol, I became a committee member of the Oxfam America Maryland Club, and helped organize fundraisers, concerts and campaigns.  

Activism may not be your thing, but from sports to social clubs, every university has a whole host of ways for you to find something you are passionate about – my advice would be to just go for it and get involved! 

Balancing Work and Life During Your Year Abroad 

In my second term, I decided to get a job working at the University diner, as I wanted to feel part of the university community and earn money for my travels! Visa restrictions and opportunities to work vary depending on your year abroad, so it may not be an option for everyone, but this job gave me valuable catering and customer service experience which was useful for finding part-time jobs back in the UK, and has often been a talking point in interviews.  

You may decide that you don’t want to volunteer or work on your year abroad, because you are there to learn, have fun, and live in a new country! This experience in itself is good for an application, since it can help you demonstrate your ability to adapt to a new environment and communicate with people from around the world.  

Remember that when you are applying for jobs it is about making the most of the experience you do have, so whatever you get from your year abroad, be sure to tell future employers about it, as your unique experience may be what gets you your job! 

Author: Susannah Latham, Final Year Politics and International Relations BSc student and Career Peer Support Assistant

This blog post is one of a series produced by our Career Peer Support Assistants, our fantastic team of current Bristol students working part-time with the Careers Service. Look out for further CPSA case studies coming soon!