I often do informational interviews with people who want to find out how they can get a job working in study abroad (which is how this site started). Sometimes when I start asking questions about why they want to pursue a job in a study abroad office, their answers reveal that what they want to do in terms of day-to-day work doesn't always match up to the job description. It can be surprising to learn I spend very little of my time:
* Traveling the world (or the US)
* Leading study abroad programs
* Working with international students
* Interacting with people from other cultures
* Developing new study abroad programs
But wait... looking at your career, haven't you done all of those things?
The answer is YES, absolutely! I sought out special opportunities to undertake those responsibilities in various jobs over the years. And my current position is so varied that those assignments do come up. I do assist faculty members in designing their programs. I have some interaction with our incoming exchange students. I email with my counterparts abroad, across time zones and cultures. And I get the occasional overseas site visit. I love that part!
But the vast majority of my job is working to recruit and prepare American students for overseas study. I do this from a desk on campus. Some days I feel like my job is 99% email!
What does this mean for breaking in?
A lack of awareness regarding how university-based education abroad professionals spend their time can result in newcomers putting heaps of effort into a job search for a narrow position that might not be their ideal global career. International education is a huge field with many diverse career specialties. Study abroad advisor is just one job title. The great news is that there are alternative jobs out there that let you flex your intercultural skills and tie-in your passion for international experiences. So you might consider casting a wider net during your search.
What are these alternatives?
Here are 5 alternatives you might consider:
1. Regional Representative / Client Relations
WHAT THEY DO: Work for a study abroad program provider to develop and maintain relationships with decision makers (i.e., faculty, study abroad advisors, students, parents) at partner universities within an assigned geographic region. The job requires frequent domestic travel to meet face-to-face with partners, conduct information sessions, and attend study abroad fairs. Many individuals work from a home office and travel 15 or more weeks per year. The hours are long and the travel can be grueling -- lots of road trips and economy flights, making it hard to have a pet (or a relationship). There may be opportunities for overseas site visits and conferences. The great news is that a master's degree is typically not required to break in. If you start off in this job it is a wonderful way to network in the field and decide where you'd like to work next.
* You are a road warrior at heart and love to plan travel on short notice.
* You are energized by public speaking and answering questions.
* You love to promote and market study abroad wherever you can.
* Your interest in study abroad is rooted in the desire to travel and encourage others.
2. International Student & Scholar Advisor
WHAT THEY DO: Work with incoming international students and scholars to assist them with all aspects of transition to a US university. Duties may include some programming (orientation/social programs) but typically require immigration advising too. This will require specialized knowledge of SEVIS and the ability to serve as a PDSO/DSO to issue I-20s/DS2019s and a whole host of other acronyms and abbreviations related to the maintenance of immigration documents. As you can imagine, this requires special training in law/policy, attention to detail, as well as superior intercultural communication skills. You can learn the basics in a NAFSA workshop at a regional or national conference. A master's degree is often preferred, but not always required. There are usually more international student advising jobs posted than study abroad advising jobs.
* You want frequent international student interaction.
* You have strong intercultural communication skills.
* You excel at understanding, interpreting, and communicating complex regulations.
* Your interest in study abroad is rooted in the desire to work with people from different cultures.
3. International Admissions Recruiter
WHAT THEY DO: Work for a university, domestically and abroad, developing collegial relationships with secondary school personnel, agents, and funding agencies to build relationships with prospective international students. Recruiters work closely with International Enrollment Management/ International Admissions to achieve enrollment goals and communication targets. Oftentimes they will travel to overseas college fairs in the target regions. Current enrollment trends mean recruiters spend a lot of time in Asia and the Middle East, but target regions depend on the institution. As a recruiter you are the face of your institutional brand.
* You are a skilled intercultural communicator-- bonus for foreign language fluency.
* You love to promote and market study in the US.
* You love long periods of overseas travel and are open to going anywhere, anytime, even if it means you won't have time to explore.
* Your interest in study abroad is rooted in a desire for international student interaction and overseas travel.
4. Program Officer for a Grant/Fellowship Agency
WHAT THEY DO: Manage a caseload of grant applications, from submission, to selection, to placement, and program implementation. Specifics will depend on the agency and the type of placements or grants, but the focus is on ensuring the funding agency and student/scholar needs are both met. Some limited domestic travel may be a part of the job. You could even be called upon to welcome and lead scholars during part of their program. Many of these jobs are located in New York or Washington, D.C. where cost of living is high but international networking opportunities abound.
* You are passionate about citizen diplomacy.
* The idea of working for a international agency on high-impact work excites you.
* You don't mind if most of your work takes place at a desk.
* Your interest in study abroad is about making a change in the world.
5. Faculty Leader
WHAT THEY DO: Faculty leaders are full-time professors who also take on responsibilities to lead and manage programs abroad. They may do this through their home institution, by developing a faculty-led program, or they may teach for a study abroad program provider. In addition to their teaching duties, they take on thankless tasks behind the scenes-- everything from comforting homesick students to health and safety emergencies in the middle of the night. Leading a program abroad seems like a dream from the participant's perspective, but can be equal parts challenge and reward for the faculty member. The upside is that you get to interact with college students and see them grow in so many ways, all while getting paid to travel the world. But the pathway to this position is long (PhD) and requires that you also love teaching and research since the overseas part is limited.
* You have/or are willing to pursue a doctorate in your field of study
* Your true love is teaching and research
* You have no qualms about a 24/7 job with occasional high-stress scenarios
* Your interest in study abroad is rooted in the desire to develop and lead programs
These are just 5 options but there are many more. When seeking out opportunities, keep in mind that the job titles can vary widely. A great place to start your search for alternatives to study abroad is the NAFSA Job Registry where you can isolate your search to different categories.
Hopefully this post helps you to explore not only what might be out there, but helps you to take pause and ask yourself WHY you want to launch your study abroad career.