You may not realize when heading to college abroad, that you’ll need to learn a lot more than just your coursework, like people skills. Good people skills can come naturally to some students, while others may struggle with things like collaborating together on a project. But it’s an area anyone who wants to succeed professionally in this day and age must work on.
It doesn’t matter what line of study you’re choosing. When you get out of college, the better-paying jobs will involve a lot of social interactions. A painfully shy person I knew, who was otherwise very good at his subject and was armed with hard skills related to it, believed that he could get through the research life he had chosen without a lot of uncomfortable moments of emotional overload or miscommunication.
Did he find out he was wrong? You bet he did when he discovered even scientists have to communicate, give talks, educate others, starting from their peers to wider audiences.
The interpersonal skills learned at college abroad can be invaluable in preparing you for a career in an increasingly global community. If you’re open to learning skills beyond academics, you’ll come out a better, more confident person who can take on challenges when you work with others or independently. You’ll learn how to work with different types of people, and how to confidently present your work before your peers in the classroom and later on, in the boardroom or maybe even a TEDx podium.
Here’s a look at the ways you can make the most of the opportunities to hone your people skills at college abroad.
Work on your manners
By manners, I don’t mean the superficial things such as saying your Thank You’s and Pleases, although those are important in the right contexts. But good manners include a good attitude and behavior that doesn’t inconvenience others. If you walk around college without a smile or a friendly word for anyone, for instance, you’re unlikely to develop people skills.
Good manners include coming to class on time, so your lecturer doesn’t get distracted as you walk in. As an international student, you may also have to tune in to the local college culture for pointers on how to interact with your professors, for instance. Do students call their professors by their first names? Usually, your professors will tell you on their first lecture how they want you to address them.
Other standards of good manners in class include keeping your digital devices on silent mode in class, asking before class if you want to leave a lecture in the middle, using official feedback mechanisms, waiting for the end of the lecture to ask questions, etc.
Learn to be a good listener
As a student in a (possibly) new and unfamiliar culture, it is absolutely essential to keep your ears open. You need to be a good listener in the class of course and pay attention to your professors’ lectures. But active listening is important outside class too.
Picture this scenario. You’ve just met a fellow-student for the first time during orientation. But just as they were giving you their name, your mind got distracted by a passing thought. While the self-effacing British would never admit
Active listening is more than we think it is. It’s being able to ruin your mind in from distractions. Practice blocking out distractions when you’re speaking with someone.
Learn how to collaborate
You may never learn to enjoy group work and prefer to be a lone wolf, but you can get better at it. And at some point, you have to, since the best universities tend to have a lot of collaborative projects alongside individual study.
It’s not easy for everyone to share ideas and concepts with students taking the same courses as them and working towards a grade. This is especially a challenge for many international students coming from traditional systems of education. In high school, you were probably rewarded for being better than your peers at something. It may make you uncomfortable to suddenly give and receive criticisms to and from peers and not faculty or upperclassmen.
But you have to learn to make the mindset switch quickly if you want to keep up with native students used to such collaborative work.
There are many things you can do to be a better collaborator. I think you should start by cultivating your humility and listening skills. Understand that you and the other project members share a common goal, even if your responsibilities are different. Look for areas where everyone agrees. Don’t be quick to come to conflict. And when you want to try and win the others over to a solution you think is the best, learn how to creatively sell the ideas to them. In the end, never take credit but give it.
The process of learning to collaborate will not only help you solve problems creatively. It will also make your people skills stronger.
Identify the messages your body language projects, and work on it
One area international students may have trouble with is body language. Body language is often affected by culture. The non-verbal communication we’re carrying out with your eyes, hands, how we move our head when we speak, the degree of physical contact we extend tend to be influenced by culture.
For instance, in some cultures like Southern Europe and Latin America, it’s common for people to make a lot of physical contacts and stand close when speaking. That’s not the case in Japan or South Korea. In order to be better at people skills in the country you’re in, you need to be aware of your body language and what it says.
Learn to receive feedback without resistance
This applies whether you’re in class, receiving feedback from your professor or working on a project with your peers. You don’t have to agree with all the criticism you receive of your work or how you work. But you do need to be able to take constructive criticism seriously and without letting them bring your belief in yourself down.
Be humble, willing to learn and to change where necessary. You’ll find your people skills improve when you appreciate what others have to say about you.
Build on your self-confidence
Many students begin university a little shy or nervous about making friends, meeting coursework goals, etc. By the time they leave college, they’ve been through situations that took them outside their comfort zones. There’s nothing like experience to build your confidence. As a college student, you should definitely embrace more experiences that take you out of your comfort zone.
Along with self-confidence born of experience, comes the ability to interact better with different kinds of people.
Work on coping measures that work for you
University can be stressful. You need to be able to take care of yourself so that you can cope with the stress and know how to keep your head above water when the situation demands. This means playing just as hard as you work. It means being able to manage your time better and prioritize assignments so you can meet deadlines.
It also means being able to communicate with your tutor if you’re having trouble managing the workload. Self-care is an important foundation for good people skills because it works on many levels to give you self-awareness about your abilities and limitations.
Build on your emotional intelligence
Speaking of self-awareness, it is one of the foundations of emotional intelligence, along with empathy, self-motivation, and self-management. You cannot be aware of what your peers, roommate, tutors, and strangers you meet at a college party are thinking or feeling if you don’t have an awareness of your own feelings. You also need to be able to manage your feelings better, so you can work without inconveniencing others.
With these eight tips, you should be able to find your way to a better awareness of other people around you in college. This will hopefully translate to better people skills at the workplace in the future.