Six ways studying abroad can change your life

(BPT) - Many students study abroad each year for only a few months, or even weeks. But the experiences and lessons learned go on to impact them well past that brief time, and the benefits of their travels don't stop once they return home. Studying abroad isn't just a chance to explore foreign cities, but a time to grow, learn and expand your connections globally.

Here are a few ways a study abroad experience can change your life:

* It can increase your employability.

Employers are in tune with the benefits of studying abroad, research by Global HR News found. About 75 percent cited study abroad as important when evaluating the resume of a job candidate for an entry-level position.

When Victoria Koutris returned from her semester studying abroad in Sydney, where she interned with the Sydney-Rabbitohs Rugby Club, she scored an internship with the Boston Bruins followed by another with IMG. Now graduated from University of Massachusetts Amherst, she is an assistant account executive at the sports marketing and media agency, Optimum Sports, in New York City.

*It can open up opportunities to work abroad.

Thinking about working abroad after college? The same survey found that 80 percent of human resources executives think study abroad is important when considering a candidate for an overseas job placement. -

"I enjoyed my time abroad so much that I decided to travel some more and I am now a certified English-as-a-foreign-language teacher in Chiang Mai, Thailand," says Eli Molin, who spent a semester in Florence, Italy. Auburn University graduate, Carlos Olivieri, completed an internship with the Great Wall Club while he studied abroad in Beijing. The same company has since hired him as a full-time-international marketing manager.

* It just might change your worldview.

One of the most valuable lessons one can learn from studying abroad is that there's a whole world to explore beyond the United States. Once you've seen it and lived in it, the rest of the world becomes a lot more tangible. The vast contrasts between home and your study abroad city will strike you as you take in the streets filled with diversity, the air with hundreds of different languages and the walls with art and posters advertising events like Diwali and celebrations of Australia Day.

"The study abroad experience opened up an entirely new world to me, literally, and showed me that there is so much more to life beyond my small town," says Gareth Leonard, a study abroad alum from SUNY Fredonia in Fredonia, Calif., who spent a semester in London. "Since then, I have lived in Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Guatemala, building relationships, learning Spanish, and adapting to my surroundings."

* It allows you to explore your individuality and personal development.

Away from the constraints and expectations of home, you're free not only to explore the world around you but also yourself.

Missouri School of Journalism student Allison Goldberg studied in London. She now knows she can travel even with a serious disease. "Other than having less space in my carry-on bag, my diabetes has not in any way, shape, or form hindered my experience abroad," Goldberg says.

* Studying abroad can also improve your storytelling abilities.

You'll have more than enough raw material to work with and being able to illustrate your point with a real life story makes for interesting conversation, and also better answers during an interview. Some students go on to write blogs about their experiences abroad, which is a great way to reflect and also to share your writing skills with the world.

* It expands your global network.

Even if you don't return to live or work there, the city where you studied abroad will always feel like a home away from home. Once your experience is over, keeping in touch with friends you make on the other side of the world couldn't be easier thanks to social media. You'll bump into plenty of others looking to expand their own global networks and that includes locals, people who work abroad, intern abroad, or are simply travelling through. These new connections can also increase your opportunities to travel to new areas you otherwise might not have considered venturing to. It's also a lot of fun to invite your international friends to stay with you in your hometown so they can see where you live.

If you're thinking about studying abroad, there's no better time than now. Learn more at

Courtesy of BPT

Bumps in the real estate buddy system

Just like any endeavor, sometimes the road is going to be bumpy in the Buddy System in real estate. Here are some examples:

1. There's this buyer who's been in the house for two years already. But then he just stopped paying.

2. There are sellers who won't sell the house the way you want them to. After six months, you just heard the news that the house was sold at a very low price. So, it kept you wondering, "Why didn't they consult you back?" or "Why did they sell it to someone for a lesser price?" Emotion is the reason. The sellers were so fed up with their emotions after 6, or maybe even 12 months, that they reached a point where they decided to finally accepted it: They need to move on and lower the price to have it sold quickly.

3. Another situation is when the seller just wants to move on with their lives. They reach a point where they just want to have a peace of mind because it's never about the money. At the end of the day, they want the house sold and they'll do anything to get rid of it so they can continue on with their lives.

4. If your buddy's house isn't selling, they might be calling to tell you:

"My wife and I have talked and we would like to express our sincere gratitude for everything you've done. I know you've been selling our house for $400,000 and we've had lots of people coming here. However, things haven't been working out but we're really thankful for your hard work. We also talked of how we eagerly want to move on with our lives because it's such a hassle on our part and we've come to a decision where we just want to move on. We're really grateful for your work and we do want to have the house sold at $400,000 but we were thinking of $320,000?"

So, these are just some of the bumps you and your buddy will be going through. But still, it's always good to consider a Buddy System.

You must both understand that you are not working for the seller and the seller is not working for you either. Instead, you are buddies. You are a team. You work together to get the house sold. You get the paperwork organized and come up with deals so that you can both benefit from this joint partnership. You get what your buddy wants and at the same time gain the profit.

But in the end, the Buddy System can help both buddies maintain a good relationship towards each other, and achieve a nice deal!

Courtesy of BPT

Four hot, new-home trends that can work for your remodel

(BPT) - Builders are back in business, and new-home construction is up in areas across the country. So is remodeling, as plenty of Americans choose to stay put and upgrade their current homes rather than tackle the challenge of buying and moving into something new.

If you're planning to renovate your home, you can tap some of the hottest trends showing up in new-home designs. Here are four new-home trends that offer strong returns on your time and money:

1. Creating a view - Americans continue to embrace all things green and that trend is showing up in new home construction in a number of ways, including an emphasis on energy-efficient windows that bring the outdoors inside with a great view.

If your home has older windows, they're likely not as energy efficient as newer options, so replacing them can improve your heating and cooling efficiency. Window replacements typically provide a high return on investment at the time or resale, too - more than 73 percent for wood windows and 71 percent-plus for vinyl, according to Remodeling Magazine's Cost vs. Value Report.

While you're replacing your windows, you also have the opportunity to open up your home more to outdoor views. Work with your architect or designer and contractor to determine where the best views are, and how much additional glass you can incorporate into your renovation to capitalize on those views.

2. Adding a bathroom - When it comes to renovations that improve resale value and enhance a home's usability, adding a bathroom is at the top of the list for many homeowners. While today's new smaller homes often have less square footage, demand for multiple bathrooms has not changed.

In existing homes, adding a bathroom can sometimes pose plumbing challenges. Up-flush plumbing can solve a lot of them. Up-flush systems pump waste and water from a toilet, sink or bathtub up and out, instead of into a below-floor sewage pit.

Up-flush toilets enable homeowners to easily and cost-effectively install a bathroom virtually anywhere without breaking through the floors - a special advantage when those floors are made of concrete. That means adding a basement bathroom doesn't require cutting into a home's concrete foundation, and you can easily add an attic bathroom without tearing up the first-floor ceiling. According to Saniflo, makers of up-flush plumbing products, adding a bathroom using this type of plumbing can cost about $5,000 less than one that uses conventional plumbing.

3. Defining the kitchen - Kitchens are another popular renovation that pays off in a number of ways. Architects are fine-tuning the popular wide-open floor plan concept, and the change is showing up in the kitchen. Favored designs now open the kitchen on one side to an adjoining room, such as the family room, but enclose the other three walls to create a more defined space, as well as more storage and cabinet options.

This trend works particularly well in older homes where you frequently find a completely separate kitchen. Now, rather than ripping out three walls to create an entirely open flow, you can tap the latest kitchen design trend by opening up just a single wall in the kitchen. This leaves the space well-defined, but also adds the open, social feeling that is so appealing in many new home designs.

4. Maximizing every inch of space - With smaller floor plans gaining popularity, making the most of every inch of space is vital. New-home design employs entertaining nooks, breakfast alcoves, built-ins, pocket doors and other tricks to use every inch of space wisely.

It's a trend that also works well in older homes that may have smaller rooms and less square footage than the McMansions popular a few years ago. For example, it's easier to add a built-in desk to a spare corner and create an office alcove than it is to add an entire office to your floor plan.

If you crave a fresh environment and the latest home design trends, you don't have to give up your old home and tackle the hassles of moving into something new. With some planning and creativity, it's possible to translate some of the hottest new-home design trends into your renovation project.

Courtesy of BPT

Experts expect smartphones to overtake personal computers

Smartphones are steadily becoming commonplace devices for everyone from professionals to busy moms. Users of these devices now instinctively turn to their phones for tasks that previously they would only have accomplished on a computer, over the phone or in person.

These tasks include surfing the Web, obtaining driving directions, connecting via social media, and even shopping.
In the United States, 87.4 million people own smartphones. And, smartphone sales are expected to top sales of personal computers. As smartphones allow people to connect with businesses in new and exciting ways, businesses in turn need to become savvier about going mobile.

For example, a small home health care provider recently utilized smartphones to expand to 400 patients across four major counties in Utah. Its employees previously struggled to keep up with all the paperwork and regulatory requirements, so the company decided to go completely mobile, equipping its entire staff with Microsoft Windows Phones. This allowed the staff to visit patients and instantly update their condition and treatments.
For small businesses, embracing the smartphone age is becoming crucial for success. Here are some easy ways small businesses can go mobile this year:

* Invest in smartphones - Transitioning from a flip phone to a smartphone makes it much easier to run a business on the go. Providing easy access to email, calendar information and the Internet, smartphones increase productivity and can provide peace of mind while out of the office. Today, smartphones are more affordable than in the past, so now is a perfect time to take advantage of their capabilities.

* Consider industry-specific devices - Numerous mobile technologies, from smartphone applications to tablets, have been created with specific industries in mind. For example, rugged tablets that can withstand the elements are available for those in the construction industry and tablets created for the health care industry can be sterilized between patient visits to avoid contamination.

* Make websites mobile-compatible - In an era in which most consumers first go to the Internet to find local service providers, it's crucial that small businesses have a polished and informative online presence that's friendly for mobile consumption. Even for business owners who aren't tech-savvy, starting a website is feasible. A quick Internet search will reveal numerous free or low-cost website templates. You might also choose to work with a Web developer to ensure your business's website is smartphone-friendly.

* Get social - Popular social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter make it simple to connect with customers in a casual, but also personal, manner and also embrace the mobile population that frequents these sites on smartphones. Consider leveraging one or more of these platforms to further establish your business's online presence and create positive buzz around new offerings and special deals and promotions.

For more ideas on how to easily boost your business with mobile technology, visit

Courtesy of BPT

Top remodel trends for the modern home

(BPT) - Thanks to foreclosures and short sales, home buyers are snatching up great houses at reduced prices and remodeling to create stylish modern homes. Lucky for those buyers, many of today's top trends are relatively easy to recreate, and will add re-sale value to their homes.

"TV interior design shows are mostly about buying and remodeling a home, versus building from scratch or finding a new property that precisely fits a wish list with plenty of personal requirements," says Dani Kohl, program coordinator for the bachelor of science in interior design program at The Art Institute of Indianapolis and a practicing architect and interior designer.

The top remodeling trends include:

* Uniting the kitchen and living space for an open-floor concept

* Culture dictating an increase square footage for entertainment, haven from a busy work schedule or modern luxuries

* Finding multi-functional uses for both spaces and furniture

On average, Kohl's residential clients are spending about $40,000 to $60,000 to renovate and remodel their homes. Most of the money is spent in the kitchens, master bedrooms and bathrooms.

"Gone are the days of the formal dining room and living room," says Kohl. "Walls are being knocked down to join the two rooms."

Parents want to be able to cook while watching kids do homework or entertaining guests. Kitchen islands most often serve as the main division between kitchen and living space, and are the entertainment centers of a kitchen.

"Kitchen islands are looking more like free-standing furniture pieces with elaborate marble tops and wood work, and interior designers are often finding functional yet hidden places to store the trash can and keep the dish washer from view," Kohl says.

Pedro Lima, an interior design instructor at The Art Institute of New York City and owner of Pedro Lima Interiors, says that temporary partitions between the living space and kitchen are also on the rise. These partitions can be of varying heights, whether it's a two-way fireplace or modern book shelving. Partitions are a great option for homeowners who want that open-floor plan for the kitchen and living room, while still maintaining a defined space for each.

Lima says that our current culture and habits are driving the changes in modern, interior spaces.

"When it comes to the master bedroom, we are looking at a more pampering atmosphere," he says. Both Kohl and Lima agree that clients want more of a spa-like feeling than ever before to create a bedroom that is a safe haven for over-worked homeowners.

"Master bedrooms now have their own seating areas and entertainment nooks, and have become personal spaces away from everything," Lima says.

An increase in square footage for closet space is another popular request, according to Lima. "We, as designers, are now looking into proper modular systems of rods and shelving, in addition to our architectural and design duties."

Closets are not just for storage anymore, either. "Now, we're looking at closets to serve as a dressing space in addition to serving as a place to store an increased amount clothes and shoes."-

How are clients gaining square footage for the needs of today's residential space without making a complete renovation and creating add-ons to their homes?

Lima says that downsizing to accommodate upsizing is part of the remodel plans too.

"Designers are spending more time at looking for innovative ways to add versatile furniture that serve multifunctional purposes," he says. "For instance, coffee tables also serve as storage spaces and additional seating, wall units have built-in desks, and couches open up to beds in home offices."

Whichever remodeling trend homeowners choose to apply, all trends point toward integration, simplification and organization, as homeowners seek to enjoy their homes and share it with family and friends.

Courtesy of BPT

Essential insurance you can't live without

Cutting back on vacations and entertainment is a wise move when money is tight, but don't be tempted to forego car and homeowners insurance to make ends meet.
Some people appear to be doing just that. Statistics from the Insurance Research Council, for example, indicate 16 percent of American drivers are uninsured. Nearly half of those say the reason is they can't afford insurance. And three out of every five U.S. homes are underinsured, with homeowners skimping by paying less for insurance, but running the risk they won't be able to rebuild their homes if disaster strikes.
You should resist the urge to eliminate car and homeowners insurance in tough times, advises Charles Valinotti, senior vice president with insurer QBE. "Not having insurance may save on premium payments, but it can cost you much more when the unexpected happens," he says. "Insurance premiums are a bargain compared to the financial issues that could pile up if you have an accident, your house burns down or someone is injured on your property."
Valinotti notes the insurance protections you can't do without:
* For your auto - Laws in all states require drivers to either have auto insurance or be able prove they are financially able to pay for an accident. In addition, if you have a loan on your vehicle, your lender typically requires that you carry comprehensive insurance - which covers loss from theft or damage from something other than an accident - as well as collision insurance as part of the loan agreement.
Valinotti says if you don't carry minimum amounts of insurance or can't provide proof of financial responsibility, you might face fines, license suspension or even jail time. "Make sure you know what you need to meet the minimums for auto insurance liability, bodily injury and property damage required in your state."
If your budget allows, consider uninsured and underinsured driver coverage. "In these challenging economic times, chances are you could get hit by a driver who doesn't have insurance," Valinotti says. "If that happens, you need to protect yourself."
* For your home - You can legally own a home without insuring it. But Valinotti says going without insurance is a huge risk you don't want to take, especially in a bad economy. And, if you have a mortgage, your lender will most likely require you to carry insurance - and in some regions, additional flood and earthquake coverage - to protect its investment.
A standard homeowners policy comes with the coverage you need built in: for your home's structure if you need to repair or rebuild it, for your personal belongings if they're stolen or destroyed, for liability protection against lawsuits, and to pay for additional living expenses if you can't live there due to damage from an insured disaster.
Valinotti says instead of thinking of dropping your homeowners insurance, look at ways to lower the cost. "Raise your deductible, or see about getting discounts, such as buying your homeowners and auto insurance from the same company," he says. "You can also keep your premiums in line by reviewing your policies and the value of your possessions at least once a year."

Courtesy of BPT