A Passport to Life Skills

An alum reflects on how study abroad has benefited him in unexpected ways.

By Rob Faulds '11

I owe much of my career to my earlier experiences traveling the world. I've had the travel bug since studying abroad in Australia during spring 2009, as a sophomore. The experience so profoundly affected my life that I decided to participate in another school-sponsored program in China in May 2010, with a few professors and classmates. I've also spent significant time backpacking around countries such as New Zealand, Thailand, and Italy. These experiences have taught me so much about my abilities.

Feeding a kangaroo in Australia

Feeding a kangaroo in Australia

Standing at the Great Wall of China

Visiting the Great Wall in China

When I was in school, I always assumed that technical skills would be what separated me from others for career opportunities. Although technical skills play a major role, they're not what students and young adults should focus on. I've learned that the "fake it until you make it" mantra is real when it comes to technical skills, because you can easily learn and master new software or technologies. What's harder to learn and master is emotional intelligence, communication, or critical thought. These skills take years of practice and nurturing.

Faulds' group in China at a monument

Faulds' group in China at a monument

on a canal boat tour

On a canal boat tour in China

If you want to fast-track your ability to strengthen these skills, I highly recommend travel. Traveling forces you out of your comfort zone. You need to interact with people who are vastly different from yourself in culture, thoughts, ethics, and personalities. It puts you in a state of questioning your own abilities, which tends to lead you to make changes that result in positive growth. These experiences are the foundation of how you can get ahead in life.

After graduating from undergrad at Nazareth, I worked for the University of Rochester as a supervisor and human resources business partner within Facilities Management. I knew nothing about facilities management but I could lean on my ability to understand people, communicate clearly, and make good decisions. Those three things alone allowed me to be successful and learn the technical aspects of the job on the fly.


Snorkeling in Australia

Sydney Opera House

Faulds and fellow Nazareth students in front of Sydney Opera House

I knew I wanted to change career paths and move into the software-as-a-service technology space, so I went back to school, earned an M.B.A., and started my new software-as-a-service (Saas) career in Boston.

I've been an implementation consultant for a couple of SaaS startups, Maxwell Health and currently Bynder. My role takes a unique blend of soft and technical skills. I'm client facing, so I need to be able to build relationships, communicate clearly, and provide solutions to problems. I also need to be an expert at technical skills as I'm responsible for configuring software systems so that they meet our client's unique uses cases and requirements. My manager hired me based on my soft skills and the understanding that they could teach me the technical stuff fairly easily.

I can't stress enough how important the soft skills are. The soft skills are what get you in the door at a company you want to work for. Hiring managers know they can teach you the necessary technical skills. This process can be standardized and repeatable among hires. They also know they can't teach you the necessary soft skills. The level of effort and resources to do so would be too high and they wouldn't see any return on value.

So start developing your emotional intelligence, communication skills, and critical thought early. Worry about the technical skills later. Go study abroad and never stop traveling.

Rob Faulds '11 majored in history and earned a business minor.

Understanding Difference

"I grew up in a small town where everyone looked the same, acted the same, and believed in the same things. Study abroad opened up my mind to new thoughts and ways of life, enabling me to break that mold and be an overall better person. It also gave me a stronger appreciation for the things and opportunities I have. I gained the ability to question why something is the way it is, as well as understanding things can be different but still be great. "