Why accounting students should take a year abroad


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This guest post was written by Kara Copple of The Accountancy Partnership, which manages accountancy and tax affairs for over 4000 UK businesses of varying size.

Congratulations! You’ve worked so hard and finally got your degree. You may be thinking   “now what?” – should you go straight into the world of work, or should you take some time for yourself?

While some will opt for getting a job while all your knowledge is fresh in your head, there are plenty of benefits to holding off. A well-earned break after all those long hours of hard study sounds enticing, doesn’t it?

However, a survey conducted by HostelWorld in 2016 showed that only 25.93% of respondents had taken a gap year.

Productive gap years

A gap year might be a good excuse for a holiday, but the best ones are productive as well as fun. We’re not suggesting spending a year sitting on a beach sipping cocktails (although there will be room for some of that).

A productive year abroad can help set you up for a successful career in accounting if you use your time wisely. If you’d like to know the benefits of taking a year abroad, read on.

Improve your health

Travel can be beneficial to your body and mind – a study commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association found that travel is good for the health of your brain.

“Travel by definition is dropping your brain into a place that’s novel and complex,” said Paul Nussbaum, a clinical neuropsychologist. “You’re stunned a little bit, and your brain reacts by being engaged, and you begin to process on a deep level.”

Improve your confidence

Living abroad for a year is a huge step, and doing so is only going to improve your confidence. Overcoming challenges, getting used to new environments, and meeting new people from all walks of life will enhance your openness and communication skills.

A study from Dr Julia Zimmermann and Dr Franz Neyer found that those who travelled abroad generally were more extroverted and open to new experiences.

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Gain work experience

Instead of approaching a gap year like a yearlong holiday (who can afford that anyway?), use this time to gain experience and hone new skills that will help prepare you for your future career.

You don’t want to start looking for work in a year’s time only to find out that you’re a year behind your peers in experience.

Be strategic with your gap year jobs and find something where you can develop skills that could be useful to a career in accounting.

Temporary jobs or internships in accountancy firms are ideal. However, you don’t necessarily need to work at an accountancy firm – getting experience in things like customer service, office or clerical work can be a great starting point.

Volunteering opportunities

Travelling is a great way to experience new cultures and get involved in new communities. Why not give back and help your new community by getting involved with local charities?

Working as a volunteer to help those in need can be an incredibly rewarding way to give back to the community. It will also help you develop new skills and will look very impressive on a CV.

Volunteering abroad shows that you’ve got determination, courage, commitment and compassion. These are all attributes that are often difficult to demonstrate when you interview for a job if you’ve just gone straight from university to a job.

Learn a new language

Moving to another country is a great opportunity to learn a new language. Don’t just expect everyone to speak English – it pays to make an effort. You’ll be able to experience the place through the eyes of a local, not just a tourist.

The best way to do this is to prepare beforehand and try to mix with the locals while you’re there. You could also take language classes and meet others in the same boat as you.

Get out of your comfort zone

If you’ve done the whole school – college – university jump that many people do, it’s time to get out of your comfort zone and try something new. Spending a year abroad can be a brilliant life experience.

New experiences will help your confidence which will help get your career off to a good start. Getting out of your comfort zone may also reveal skills and traits you might never have known about before.

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Self-discovery

It sounds like a cliché, but having a different environment and new experiences can help you work out what you’d like to do in the future – more so than the confines of a classroom can. You can learn what you’re best at, what you enjoy, and what you want from your career in the future.

Learn about different tax systems

While not quite as glamorous, living in a different country might give you an insight into how tax law and regulations differ across borders. This could come in handy if you become an accountant dealing with international clients or if you decide to work abroad permanently.

The downsides

Taking a year abroad is a huge decision to make so in the interest of balance, here are some of the main downsides to taking a year abroad:

It can get lonely.
Moving away from your friends and family is going to make anyone lonely. That’s why it’s so important to network while you’re there.

Try joining a language class or an expat community where you can meet people in a similar situation as you to build a support network. However, don’t just meet up with fellow foreigners, mix with the locals as this will help your language and communication skills develop.

It can be expensive.
Travelling isn’t cheap, particularly if you don’t have a full-time job to fall back on. You may find that the money you saved up over university doesn’t go as far as you’d like.
In this case you’ll need to find a job while you’re away which may mean sticking in one place for a while. However, this can benefit you in the long run as it’s an opportunity to gain some experience.

You’ll have to explain a gap year.
Unfortunately some employers don’t value gap years as much as they used to, and may think that it’s just an excuse for a holiday.

In this case you’ll need to be prepared to market your gap year to potential employers. Be ready to pull out key experiences and skills developed and how they can relate to the job you’re going after.

To travel or not?

There you have some pros and cons to taking a year abroad before starting your career in accounting. It can be incredibly rewarding, not just personally but also professionally too as you build up skills needed for a successful career.

Whatever you decide, weigh up all the pros and cons alongside your own personal situation. We’d recommend going ahead with a good plan of action, so you don’t get stranded halfway across the world.

Whatever you do, make the most of your experiences, meet new people, have fun and learn. Good luck!

For more general content on accountancy business practices and tips to improve your finance skills, check out the Accountancy Partnership blog.

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Filed under Advice, Develop your employability

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