Studying abroad is a positively life-changing experience, especially in this 21st century and on the cusp of 4IR.

WE are in an exciting period in our history. Change and disruption are the norm and developing the resilience and creativity to harness this disruptive energy is increasingly seen as a requirement for success.

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) yields more advanced technologies that are slowly replacing human workers, young people entering the workforce need to equip themselves with the capabilities and skills that machines are not capable of, such as creativity, empathy, resilience, purpose and creating a network.

Cultivating these 21st century tools requires intentional planning and work beyond the classroom and academic curriculum. Multiple studies suggest that when it comes to enhancing the individual’s success toolbox and improving career prospects, the activity that promises the highest return on investment is studying abroad.

Research by INSEAD’s Professor William Maddux and Professor Adam Galinsky from the Kellogg School of Management and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that spending time studying abroad increased the creativity of students.

“The relationship between living abroad and creativity was consistent across a number of creativity measures including those measuring insight, association and generation,” the paper asserted.

Similar research was conducted by three scholars at the University of Florida, Gainesville, and published in the journal, Applied Cognitive Psychology. It showed that students who spent a semester or year abroad outperformed other students on measures related to critical thinking. This provides empirical evidence that studying abroad “supports complex cognitive processes that underlie creative thinking in culture specific and domain general settings”.

Further evidence was provided by The Erasmus Impact Study, commissioned by the European Commission in 2014, which found that students who study or train abroad not only gain discipline-specific knowledge in their field of study, but also strengthen key skills that are highly valued by employers.

The study reported that 64 per cent of employers think that international experience is important when they select future recruits. A similar percentage of the polled employers said that graduates with an international background are given greater professional responsibility within their respective teams.

The evidence that studying abroad is a positively life-changing experience is overwhelming. It accelerates personal and professional growth as well as intercultural awareness and career development.

Living independently, and interacting with students from a different culture, builds self-confidence and widens horizons, promoting empathy and open-mindedness.

Recognising the importance of spending time abroad, Heriot-Watt University developed the Go Global programme, which guarantees every student an opportunity to spend some time studying at an overseas campus. This can be for a two-week study trip, one semester or even one year. With campuses in the United Kingdom, Dubai and Malaysia, the university is fortunate to be able to offer its students this opportunity.

Each year 120 students transfer from the Malaysia campus to Edinburgh and Dubai, and similar numbers of students move in the opposite direction. This ensures a highly diverse campus community at all three international locations.

Students who participated in the Go Global programme reported an improvement in their academic performance and generally found it easier to land their first job in the industry of their choice. They became part of the wider, more global professional networks which enabled a number of them to land jobs with major employers overseas, continuing the journey of advancement as global citizens.

To further prepare our students for the competitive future ahead, and to enhance their employability potential, we are now working on a “work global” programme in partnership with selected key global employers. This will enable students to have the opportunity to perform their internship overseas, and to be part of professional teams working on cutting edge challenges in multiple geographical locations.

Ban Ki-moon, a former secretary general of the United Nations, said: “Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth — these are one and the same fight. We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women empowerment. Solutions to one challenge must be solutions for all.”

I believe that graduates, who have the resilience, awareness and global mindset that a global education brings, are in a better position to connect these dots, address these challenges and create real value for humanity, their community, their industry and themselves.

The writer is provost and chief executive officer of Heriot-Watt University, Putrajaya

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