From time to time I get asked this question. While there are a few positions out there with 9-month contracts, the rest of us work year-round. At my institution, nearly 75% of our student mobility takes place during the summer. Yes, my student advising load dwindles, but the summer months remain full. It's just a different kind of busy.
So then what goes on in a study abroad office during the summer?
One very important task I take on in the summer is reporting. I am the one who does this for our office. I happen to love doing it. I guess it's because I am an Excel nerd. Or maybe it is because Terra Dotta's TDS for Study Abroad software (formerly called StudioAbroad) makes it so but easier to pull and manipulate reports. The annual report gives me the chance to see the results of the hard work throughout the year and get our final enrollment number. I also like to see trends in destination, major, and duration of study. I also enjoy the graphic design part, because your data has to look pretty.
The other report I create is IIE Open Doors. Technically, this report is due in the spring, but I always ask for an extension into the end of May. The kind folks at IIE always grant it. I know this is makes me a bit of a slacker, but we have a 3-person office and our spring focus must be on getting our students ready to depart. Gotta have priorities! The data can wait.
If you haven't already, you really need to familiarize yourself with Open Doors. It's a treasure trove of data related to mobility. If you ever wondered, "How many students study abroad?" or "What are the top 10 study abroad destinations?", Open Doors has your answers.
We actually do a lot less program development than you'd think. But what we do work on, happens primarily in the summer. By "program development" I mean adding and subtracting programs from our approved list. Program development takes a number of forms. It could mean:
Program development also involves things like budgeting, getting quotes from program providers, or developing marketing materials.
I no longer have direct responsibility for the "dog and pony show" part of freshman orientation, but I do consult on the development of the presentation and the overall message we want to send out to new students. Each summer nearly 3,000 newly admitted freshman come to campus for a 2-day orientation program. They come in groups of 50, 4 times a day, over several weeks.
During this intense and action-packed campus visit, the students get 10 minutes in our office where we pitch study abroad to them. They are tired, overloaded with information, and (of course) trying to act cool in front of one another. Nevertheless, we try to get across the message that study abroad needs to be on their college bucket list. We have returned students give a little talk and show them a video to get them inspired.
With hundreds of students abroad in the summer, it means we might need to tend to emergencies that arise on programs. These could be any number of things, from transportation, to illness, to lost/stolen passports, or even disciplinary issues. Each time the phone rings or email dings we need to be ready to spring into action and support our students and faculty. We need to ensure the students get what they need and we properly document and communicate each incident. These calls happen around the year, but the summer months (particularly May) can be busy. And they don't just happen during office hours. We are there to support everyone 24/7.
I saved the best for last. If I am lucky, I do sometimes get to travel. This year I went to NAFSA in Boston. Last year I went to Melbourne and Lennox Head, Australia. It doesn't always work out the way I'd like, but since summer is a slower time of the year, it makes the most sense for any site visits to take place during the these months. For the same reason, I try to take most of my vacation time in the summer.
I'd love to hear about what other education abroad pros are doing this summer. Let's hear what you are up to! Leave me a message in the comments section to remind me what I missed.
You've probably heard that the first person to mention a dollar amount in a salary negotiation loses, right? Suggest something too high, and they write you off. Throw out a figure too low and you get shortchanged. Or worse ... they assume you are inexperienced.
Before you get into negotiation, you really need to have a guess on pay range. I'd argue you should do this research before you even apply. Putting together a solid cover letter and resume is hard work. If you are doing it right, you're devoting significant time to matching your skills to the job description. You don't want to spend valuable time applying for something only to later decline because it is not a feasible career move.
Some employers will come right out and post salary. I love it when this happens. But it's way more common for them to list salary as "commensurate with experience", "negotiable", or even not mention it at all.
Here are a few tricks I've learned to sleuth on salary:
1. State Salary Databases
If applying for a job at a public university you are in luck. Salary information is a matter of public record. Chances are that a few Google searches can yield valuable intel on what a particular position pays.
Start by Googling "State Salary Database" and the name of the state where the job is located. You might find a database published by a newspaper or government website. It can take some digging. You'll need to know the title of the position. You might also need to know the division, name of the person last in that position, or other details typically found on the university's website or directory.
When looking at dollar amounts, keep the following in mind:
2. Ask around
This may seem intuitive, but don't forget to ask current study abroad pros what they think. They might have inside connections and the ability to get a legitimate pay range for you or know something regarding what the last person was paid. It is not that big of a field. And people talk. Current professionals are typically aware of the going rate for different kinds of jobs as a part of their own career planning efforts.
If you can't get public information on a job because the position is with a 3rd party provider or private university, you might need to make an educated guess based on other factors. I like to use LinkedIn to follow the career trajectory of people in the same, or similar, positions. This is not black and white like a state salary database search, but is worth the research.
Here is how it works... go to LinkedIn and in the search box type the title of the targeted job. This will pull up a list of people with the same job title. Check to see if any of them work for the organization listing the job. You may just find the person who left, and where they went. Their next career move can tell you a lot, especially if a Google search uncovers salary range for their new position. You might also see what career path others have taken within that company.
TIP: Remember that people will be able to see if you are creeping on their LinkedIn pages unless you follow these instructions.
If you have other tips or tricks regarding this topic feel free to share in the comments section below. Or, if you have used any of these techniques successfully, we'd love to hear about it!
My own "breaking in" story is one I don't share very often. Or at least I don't share the full story. I routinely chart my career trajectory, but I tend to edit out the disappointing parts. I guess that is natural. But the more involved I get with Study Abroad Careers, the more I realize failure is an important part of my personal narrative. Without frustration I might not have uncovered my passion. And for this reason I have decided to share that story in today's post.
a bad case of reverse shock
It was April 2001. I returned from my semester abroad, completely down in the dumps. I spent an hour alone at the Indianapolis airport, sitting on the curb by the taxis, reading Bridget Jones’ Diary. I was in no rush to return home. I wanted to remain anonymous, to get right back on that airplane and return to life in London.
As the days passed, I found myself feeling uncomfortable with my own culture in new and curious ways. My inner dialogue was increasingly judgmental:
By the end of the summer I was still jobless and still holding out hope for something international. My parents politely told me I needed to find something fast or leave. I responded by holing up in my room and reading the newly released book, Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in your Twenties. I thought I was was experiencing depression or some kind of existential crisis. I now realize it was just a bad case of reverse culture shock with inopportune timing.
I eventually got a paying job in retail and came out of my bedroom. Yet I still had this feeling that I needed to do something more meaningful. I asked myself the question you are supposed to in times of professional uncertainty,
The answer was clear and instant. I would go back to working my student receptionist job in international programs. I wanted to “rid the world of the ugly American” (ha!). And I thought orientation could, and should, be so much more.
As luck would have it, a university in my hometown was hiring a secretary for their London program. It seemed perfect. During the academic year I’d live in town and summers would be spent abroad, on-site with students. This was a dream job. I applied, and to my surprise, I landed an on-campus interview right away. They were concerned about my age and how I might be perceived by students, faculty, and parents. I left the interview hopeful.
a different perspective
A few weeks later, on September 11, 2001, I returned home from work early for reasons that are now historical. At a time when seemingly everyone in my country was in shock, asking “How could this happen to us?” I remained detached. I had no disillusionment about the way our country was viewed in the world. I had been out there and saw things through the lens of “other”. But I couldn’t express any of it. I felt like a traitor to think in this way. I still do.
I found the commercialism of the time disgusting. Superstores all moved everything red, white, and blue to the end-caps because they were selling fast. Flip flops, ribbons, flags, paper plates. It was surreal. Amidst the confusion and endless TV reports, the uncertainty and numb feeling, I had an answering machine message blinking back at me. (Yes, we used those back then.) I didn’t get the job.
Something happened in that instant and it flipped a kind of switch. When I listened to the message I just knew this is what I was called to do. I didn’t even feel disappointment just I vowed to try harder next time, to figure out what it was that was missing, and find a way to gain those skills and experiences. I took the timing as some strange cruel signal.
I don’t even remember when, but sometime that autumn I returned to my university and set up an appointment with the study abroad coordinator. I told her I wanted to get a job like hers and asked what I could do to work toward that goal. She explained I needed to keep studying Spanish, to get a master’s degree, and most importantly, to gain experience. She offered me the chance to be her graduate assistant the following two years if I was really serious about my desire to learn.
I also found a way to get back to London in the spring and arranged an informational interview with someone working on-site as a resident director for a US university. I asked her some of the same questions as the study abroad coordinator,
The big break
A year into my assistantship I got a phone call from my supervisor late at night. She was burned out and had just given two-weeks notice to the university. No one knew but me. She suggested I get my resume together just in case, knowing how badly I wanted to work in the field. I was excited but completely overwhelmed. I wasn’t finished with my master's degree and I only had one year of experience. But I knew it was the opportunity of a lifetime and school would still be there. I applied and got the job. I was in the right time, at the right place, with the right experience. Suddenly I wasn’t just working in a job like hers. I was in her job.
paying it forward
So many people I meet have similar stories regarding how they broke in to the field of international education. It can feel frustrating for it to all seem so serendipitous. I suppose that is one of the reasons I founded Study Abroad Careers -- to provide support and resources to individuals as they question whether this is their path. There is no formula or secret to getting a job in study abroad. But there are themes -- networking, apprenticeship, and open-mindedness to name a few. Hopefully that shines through in the stories you find here.
The first time at a national NAFSA conference can be exhilarating and overwhelming. There are many different activities going on, all at the same time. It is unlikely you will find time to make it to everything. Prioritize! Plan ahead, creating a tentative schedule for each day. Decide on a few can't miss events. Determine your goals in advance of attendance. Are you trying to network for a new job? In search of program partnerships? Trying to find new approaches to an issue you are experiencing in the office? Figure out what you want to get out of the conference.
Here is an overview what typically occupies my time while at NAFSA:
Before the conference officially begins, NAFSA offers a series of 1-2 day workshops on a variety of topics (ex. advising, risk management, orientation, etc.). These are a great way to gain competency in a subject and an even better way to network. They involve lots of group work and roundtable discussions. Downside: they can be expensive, adding another $275-$400 to your conference fees.
If the workshops are the appetizer, sessions are the main course. Usually an hour in length, sessions highlight a hot topic, new research, or best practice. Because there are so many, they are organized by Knowledge Community. While you're most likely to find sessions under the Education Abroad theme, make sure to check the others. You might find good sessions elsewhere. If you have a time clash, don't be afraid to contact the presenter(s) after the conference via email to ask for more information. NAFSA now posts slides and handouts online afterwards.
Thanks the the attendance, NAFSA has money to invite big name plenary speakers from around the world. This year included author Malcolm Gladwell. Need I say more? They have one each day, usually around 4 pm. The plenary speakers give a talk on an issue related to international education. Try to attend at least one. They are usually very inspiring.
The Expo Hall keeps getting bigger and bigger. It's like a farmer's market for international education. Study abroad providers, agents, language schools, testing agencies, software companies... you name it-- they are advertising their services in the Expo Hall. While some attendees feel overwhelmed, or put off by the commercialism, I personally love the Expo. I say hello to existing vendors and try to branch out and speak to new people. Sometimes I use the Expo as a way to scope out companies I might want to work for one day. And, of course, they all give out swag like pens, bags, water bottles, etc. Don't go too overboard on those-- you have to find a way to drag it all home.
Ask a mid-career professional about NAFSA and you might hear a groan and complaint about meetings. While we have every intention of spending our days in sessions, what tends to happen is our days are filled with meetings. NAFSA is an international conference. Educators come from around the world. This provides the opportunity to pursue new exchange agreements, hash out any program issues, shop for a new study abroad partner, and just maintain existing relationships in a face-to-face setting. Most of the people we work with we never meet face-to-face because of the distance. NAFSA gives us the chance to see who is taking care of our students while they are abroad.
Let's be honest, my favorite part of NAFSA would have to be the receptions. Yummy appetizers, good beer/wine/cocktails (open bar, folks), and honest conversation with friends -- new and old. Receptions are sponsored by different countries (universities pool their resources to host exchange partners), study abroad providers, and international education organizations. This is where real relationship-building takes place. You will need to be invited. Some are notoriously difficult to score an invite. Others have a reputation for great venues, entertainment, or late night dance parties (Brazil!). My all-time favorite was the Australian Universities reception (2005), held in the Seattle Space Needle, complete with Aussie wines and live didgeridoo. Networking in a circular room is so much more fun.
Word of caution on receptions: While there will be lots of alcohol and a few tipsy colleagues, it is 100% critical that you don't let down your guard too much or act unprofessional. The field is small and your behavior can burn you. So learn how to hold that glass of wine, plate of cheese, and exchange a business card properly.