By Philipp Jago
In the course of your studies, you, an aspiring public relations master, might come to the point where you think about going abroad, maybe for a semester or even a full year.
As your mind conjures up vivid images of you traveling to new places, meeting new people and studying new concepts, you are rudely interrupted by one of two voices – your own inner voice or the loud, external voice of your parents. The message is the same – Isn’t this too expensive? Is this just an excuse for a vacation? Why study PR in a foreign country using a foreign tongue? Shouldn’t you graduate as fast as possible? Are you just delaying growing up?
Plain and simple, the answer is no.
Leaving your home country and its familiar surroundings will not only broaden your horizons and reward you with invaluable experiences, but it will also give you a competitive advantage in the PR industry. So ignore those voices (sorry Dad!) and start planning the trip of your professional dreams!
Going abroad may be the best decision you can make in your undergraduate years. Here’s why:
- You can learn a second language or improve existing language skills – both assets that will distinguish you in the applicant pool. Fully diving into a foreign culture means building new friendships, taking classes in a foreign language or even just shopping for groceries – all tasks that will enable you to significantly improve your oral and written skills. Many U.S. companies and PR agencies operate internationally, including subsidiaries in the respective countries. Even if you do not plan on finding permanent work abroad after your foreign studies, remember that the U.S. is one of the most diverse places in the world, with about one-fifth of US residents (61.8 million) speaking a foreign language at home. PR agencies and in-house communication departments are increasingly focusing their marketing efforts on minority groups, and are desperately in need of bilingual professionals just like you!
- You can step out the PR universe and take courses outside of your major, as they will reward you with valuable expertise. No agency is looking for a PR theorist alone – instead, they are looking for someone who understands communications and has specialized knowledge in one or more fields in order to be able to work with clients in a wide range of industries. Studying abroad gives you the perfect opportunity to take those “extra” courses and still get credit for it. Also, prerequisites that might have inhibited you from taking those courses at home don’t usually exist for international students. So, if you’ve been thinking about working for one of America’s big four banks, I would probably advise you to take an economics 101 course. During my exchange semester at Ohio University, I took a course with the “Global Leadership Center,” where we analyzed current international diplomacy cases and came up with recommendations for a real-world client. The insights I gained in Ohio helped me ace an interview at a New York City PR firm that ended up hiring me as an intern!
- You can develop cultural sensitivity and broaden your horizons! While this sounds extremely cliché, it is absolutely true. Once you immerse yourself in foreign surroundings, an enlightening thing happens: you start questioning existing prejudices (everyone has them), you gain insight into how others perceive you and your country, and you gain an understanding and appreciation for different people, points of view and ways of communicating. Or, as the profound Mark Twain once said: “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” This cultural sensitivity will allow you to tailor messages to diverse ethnical groups in your future PR career – an indispensable ability.
- You can get international experience and build a professional network. Not only will international studies or internships look good on your CV, but the experience will also give you a unique chance to connect to important people in the PR profession. Whether they will be scholars, practitioners, or fellow students, your newly-acquired global reach will pave your personal and professional path for the rest of your life. When I sent my cover letter to the firm I currently intern for, the president immediately responded and invited me for an interview. The reason, I soon learned, was because of a mutual connection – she had worked with a professor and public relations scholar from my alma mater, the University of Leipzig, Germany, and was left with a positive impression of the school. Soon enough, I had landed the internship and started my own cultural journey.
So, now that you’re sold on the idea of studying abroad, but still wonder how you’re supposed to finance your trip, speak to the friendly people at your university’s Study Abroad office! You will likely be told you don’t have to pay extra tuition fees, and could get a scholarship that will help cover your expenses. There is one last question, however, and this only you can answer: Where will you go?
Philipp Jago is an intern with Spector & Associates, a New York City-based public relations and marketing firm. Prior to his internship, Philipp, who is from Leipzig, Germany, spent one semester studying abroad at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism in Athens, Ohio. When he’s not at work learning the ropes of the PR industry, Philipp can be found basking in the sun of Coney Island.