After studying abroad in London, Ryan Rohlf said he is confident the skills he gained will qualify him for jobs in the global economy and prepare him to climb the corporate ladder.
Rohlf, 22, who graduated May 3 from Simpson College with a degree in public relations, faces a competitive job market, as do the U.S. Department of Education’s projected 1.8 million other students around the nation.
But studying abroad experience can give graduates valuable skills in areas such as communication and collaboration, in addition to cultural awareness, an increasingly sought-after trait in a global economy, officials at major Iowa companies said.
“I know already their mind has been expanded,” said Cindy Langenberg, senior human resources manager for DuPont Pioneer, an Iowa-based developer and supplier of plant and seed genetics for farming. “Whether having studied abroad or an international job, I know that person has skill sets to adapt. That person can take care of themselves in a foreign country.”
Iowa increasingly is part of the global economy as companies in the state expand internationally, exporting $13.9 billion worth of goods in 2013, International Trade Administration figures show.
Pioneer conducts business in 90 countries and is focusing on global growth, Langenberg said.
When Langenberg sees international experience on an applicant’s resume she anticipates someone who tends to be adaptable, respectful of other cultures, collaborative, independent, and willing to ask questions and communicate with others who are from diverse backgrounds. “Those are the skill sets we value,” she said.
Pioneer provides classes for employees to learn a second language and hosts cultural days and a diversity week to encourage employees to continually learn about cultural awareness.
Rolf, who studied in London from September through December in 2013, said he learned to adjust to change while overcoming the challenge of learning about and adapting to new cultures.
“Going in the work force after graduation, even though you don’t think it’s that big of a change, it’s a huge change. It’s not going from one country to another, but you’re going into a completely new environment and things are different,” he said.
Rohlf said he will need cultural competency no matter what career he choses. He said he hopes to work in non-profit marketing and is happy staying in the United States, but in the long-term would like to take his work abroad.
Studying abroad gave him an opportunity to “really get inside a culture,” he said. “In the respects of a global workforce, you really need to understand the people you’re working with or selling your product to.”
Kemin, a Des Moines-based family owned business, manufactures nutritional ingredients for food and operates in nearly 100 countries.
Lisa Mullan, the company’s vice president of human resources, said Kemin’s vision is to touch half the people of the world with its products. She said Kemin needs a global market to continue growing.
Coming into contact with other cultures at Kemin can be as simple as walking into one of the company’s labs, Mullan said. “It isn’t just U.S. citizens who are willing to go abroad. It’s mutual,” she said.
Kemin officials are increasing international placements for employees, including assignments for less than a year, for two to five years, and expat, or permanent, assignments. These moves are expensive for the company, which often picks up international moving expenses and housing stipends for individuals or families, Mullan said.
At Pioneer, about 30 employees are assigned internationally. Langenberg said these assignments generally are for seasoned employees rather than new hires.
Still, study-abroad experience can help an employee prepare for those assignments, Langenberg said. “We develop our people in time and make sure we are selecting the right kind of people to go abroad,” she said.
The average Iowa student debt exceeds $29,000, according to the Project on Student Debt and Iowa College Student Aid Commission, and study abroad can be seen as adding to the financial burden. But if the student actively takes advantage of opportunities while studying abroad the expense can pay off when looking for a job, officials said.
“If you spend a semester on the beach it won’t help you, but if you spend a semester emerged in a culture, I think that gives you cross-cultural competence. It also helps you to be able to interact comfortably with different cultures,” said Catharine Cashner, director of international programs at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids.
Rachel Peterson was on a team of Simpson College students doing this story for IowaWatch as part of a journalism class taught in spring 2014 by Professor Brian Steffen. Portions of this story were published by The Des Moines Register, The Hawk Eye (Burlington, IA) and The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, IA) under IowaWatch’s mission of making its news available free to media partners.
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