By Daria Siliutina

Having an international experience on a resume can become a differentiating factor that would help candidates stand out against the numerous other candidates applying for a job. This is why many students nowadays strive to get an exchange semester abroad. I took this further by applying to graduate school. To me, living and studying abroad was a dream. I was anticipating new changes, learning about new culture, exploring different cities. I was looking forward to that. I saw no barriers, no cons, nothing could stop me, not even Fahrenheit instead of Celsius and feet instead of meters. Little had I known how different my real experience would be in comparison to what had I ever imagined and how easy your joyful adventure can become a nightmare.

What can go wrong?

We will never fully notice and understand our cultural differences until communicating with another culture on a regular basis. We take some things for granted and spend too much time focusing on common stereotypes. What we fail to do, however, is to open our minds and fully embrace new cultures. Introducing yourself to the CEO is met with appreciation in the U.S, you’re seen as confident, but in Russia you would be met with condescending looks. Interruptions, jumping in to throw your opinion in on top of another speaker is something I have realized is normal in American culture, and while I have grown used to seeing this, I still cannot find myself able to participate. These things may be minor, but getting used to them requires a great deal of overcoming your internal “inappropriate” instincts. By doing that, you significantly grow up, but is it worth your time?

I thought having no opportunity to speak Russian would make me practice my English. I was not afraid as I was always confident in my abilities. But then reality hit, and I realized, this is Alabama, where no one speaks Russian (who would voluntarily take on this language?), with no Russian community and no Russian shoulder to cry on. Every time I talk to people I am stressed. What if I mispronounce or misuse a word? What would they think about me? I have never been focused on what I am saying before, I am working hard each time I begin a sentence and I feel like it is gradually paying off. But is it actually worth the stress?

What should we do?

Seize opportunities. Studying or working abroad is a first great step, but not the last one. The United States has so many opportunities that most people are just too lazy to seize. Once I had to spend a week preparing for the Plank Center Board Round Table by doing research on each Board member, preparing questions and looking for a professional outfit. I got up at 6 a.m. on Saturday morning and had plenty of time to get nervous 10 times before the meeting. But once the meeting was over, I realized I learned a lot. Some thoughts have resonated with my mind. Bridget Coffing, Senior Communications Consultant at Coffing Communications and former COO of McDonald’s Corporation, emphasized how important it was to know your voice and never let a constructive critique be destructive. At that moment I realized how much I was used to underestimate myself by being afraid of presenting my work and stand by it. I should know that I deserve to be where I am now and that everything that happens to me helps me become better than I was yesterday.

There also was another thought by Jeff Winton, CEO and founder of Jeff Winton Associates, who said that mentorship goes both ways. What can my mentor possibly learn from me, a mentee who did not even know that people can have mentors in their lives? But now it makes sense. We all have something we can teach other people, but we may not be ready to do that yet. The round table has not only given me an opportunity to talk to professionals in the PR industry but has broadened my mind and opened my eyes on what I should be working on now. But is it worth the effort?

It`s all not worth it. Or… is it?

If you are thinking whether international experience worth it or not, no one can help you decide. Your attitude toward it is the only factor that makes your journey a nightmare or a success. It has been a success for me so far despite the struggles I constantly meet on my way. Keep investing now and eventually it will pay off, even though it does not seem real.

Daria Siliutina is a master`s student at The University of Alabama studying Advertising and Public Relations with a passion for creative advertising. While being a full-time student, she works as a graphic designer at Capstone Agency, UA`s student-run PR firm.