Just this week I completed a survey for someone's dissertation (having worn student-researcher shoes I always respond to surveys). One survey question asked me to report "why you decided to work in international education". There were a number of choices to put in rank order, including: committed to developing global citizens, personal intercultural experiences, want to make a difference, desire to travel, stable career, salary incentives (hahaha!), and others. To tell you the truth, I struggled with this task more than I should have.
Why is it I wanted to do this work again?!?
This is my 15th year. At this point study abroad is a well-worn career path. If I think back to when I first made a commitment to pursue a study abroad job I wanted to make a difference and had this deep desire to help others become global citizens, particularly students from backgrounds where international travel seemed out of reach.
I'm now at an institution that allows me to fulfill those goals. This is probably why it still feels satisfying all these years later. Yet I will be the first to admit that, setting aside the lofty do-goodism stuff, there's also nice comfort in a stable cyclical university job. Every day is different, but I generally know what is coming. I know when to predict the crazy weeks. And it's summer now so the change of pace helps me to recharge. Over time I've grown to see job satisfaction isn't just about the type of industry you work in, but also finding happiness in what your days look like.
Completing that survey also pushed me to reflect upon the Study Abroad Careers community. So many of you are just starting out in your international education journey. I continue to be inspired by how hard study abroad job seekers work to break into the field these days. It seems like a good time to touch base and ask, what's your why? Is it the same do-goodism? The possibility of travel? The chance to follow in the footsteps of a mentor? Something else?
Comment below to let me know:
Why do you want to find a study abroad job? What drives you?
If you’re reading this blog, you likely have a passion for higher education and foreign travel, and for good reason- ask anyone who has worked or studied abroad and they will tell you the experience changed their lives in the best possible way. Countless studies have shown the positive impact of experiences abroad to a student’s academic career, as well as their personal lives and future professional endeavors. However, even with all of the noted benefits of studying abroad, the percentage of students who actually participate is very small (but growing!). As important as study abroad experiences are, there are definitely challenges students must overcome in order to participate. These challenges can end up being too daunting and can prevent student participation.
One group that faces its own unique set of challenges are students in science fields. Research has shown that students in the sciences are less likely to participate in study abroad programs. While common inhibiting factors such as cost, language barriers, and personal safety are relevant to science students as well, they also face specific roadblocks. By determining and understanding these, higher education professionals can begin to address and eliminate them.
1. Science Faculty and Admin Support
Students in the sciences face pressure from faculty and administration to meet the strict course requirements and deadlines for science majors. These staff members might see study abroad as unimportant in comparison to other strict requirements, or may be unaware of options and opportunities for students in these fields. They also might struggle with how to support students before and during study abroad programs.
2. Sequence Classes
Many science courses are taken in series that require one to be taken in order to take subsequent classes. These courses are often impacted and only offered in certain semesters. If a student skips a sequence course in one semester for any reason, they may have to wait until the same semester in the following year to take it again. This can seriously affect when the student graduates. This is probably one of the most difficult challenges these students face, because it can seem like there really is no way around it. It is much easier for students who take these courses to plan ahead. For example, EA staff can reach out to science students in their freshman year, explain the benefits of study abroad, and encourage students to plan out their courses with their academic advisors, including their time abroad.
3. Lack of Options
The majority of students who participate in a study abroad program are from the social sciences. It seems like so many of the programs that the typical school offers include courses in these fields. While it is entirely possible for science students to take these classes to satisfy elective or general education requirements, it would be ideal to offer major requirements abroad as well. EA staff can seek out partnerships with schools and programs that offer science courses. Further, staff can consider partnering with science faculty to create faculty-led programs in specific fields. UC Riverside is encouraging more science student participation by offering faculty led summer programs in the sciences, such as biology in Panama and computer science, electrical engineering, and computer engineering in Switzerland. Another way staff can help science students navigate their options is by creating a way to search programs by major on their website, which is another step UC Riverside has taken to better help students choose their own program.
4. Simply Unaware
EA staff should be more proactive about working with science students, because many times these students will simply assume there isn’t time to study abroad, or there aren’t any programs for them, or they will not have the support they need. Just like any student who briefly considers going abroad before forgetting the idea, students in the sciences might be interested but ultimately think the process is too much work. EA staff, as well as staff and faculty in the sciences, must reach out to these students to give them the information and support needed to make the decision.
Every school’s landscape is different. Above all, it is important for higher education professionals within education abroad to get a feel for the needs of the students on their campus. Society is becoming increasingly interconnected, and it is imperative for students to experience cultures other than their own. The sciences are becoming more globalized every day. In order to be successful in their fields, science students must be culturally competent and globally minded. While studying abroad is certainly not for everyone, participating in a program has benefits that can enrich the academic, personal, and professional lives of everyone. It is our responsibility to make studying abroad a possibility for anyone who wants to go. Further, higher education professionals should do their best to create opportunities abroad for students in the sciences. Perhaps the best way to begin creating such opportunities is to foster collaboration between administration in science and education abroad departments.
Resources: http://www.nafsa.org/Policy_and_Advocacy/Policy_Resources/Policy_Trends_and_Data/Trends _in_U_S__Study_Abroad/
When I first started Study Abroad Careers, my intended audience was the true newcomer - someone who was trying to break in but didn't have the support or resources to fully understand the field. It didn't take long before I realized a significant portion of the blog readers were current education abroad professionals. These people are secretly lurking because they are engaged in an incognito job search or just seeing what is out there.
(Hello, friend! Your secret is safe with me.)
In a recent conversation with Missy Gluckmann, from Melibee Global, I learned they also work with international educators who are well-established in the field. These job-seekers understand the value and benefit of coaching and professional development. They also need to remain anonymous as they reach out for this type of help.
It then dawned on me that while breaking in feels really hard, job 2 onward can be equally challenging. You have the skills and experience down, but you can't really shout "hire me" from the rooftops like you could before. Networking for your next position, while still employed in your current role, takes delicate maneuvering and time. There's another thing...During early to mid-career, you aren't just looking for a job. You are developing a resume storyline. Each subsequent position matters a bit more.
Given all this, in the middle part of your career it's common to feel a bit "stuck". That's why I want to share some information about two career resources that should be of interest to mid-career professionals:
This is ideal for anyone who needs a strategic sounding board, but is particularly useful for current education abroad professionals. Missy provides one-on-one private coaching, tailored to your career development needs. Learn more.
Webinar: International Educators Coping with Stress: Striking a Balance
If you work in study abroad you are no stranger to work-related stress. From managing health and safety, to working in an understaffed office, sometimes we forget to put on our own oxygen mask first. This affordable webinar will help you restore your balance. The LIVE webinar will be held on Thursday, October 27th at 3 pm (EST). All contributions for the session will be donated to the Jane Gluckmann and Carol Rausch Go Global Scholarship (administered by the Fund for Education Abroad). Learn more.
As time goes on, I'll continue to share resources like these and perspectives for mid-career professionals alongside the "breaking in" posts. Just know I realize you are here. Please stick around. And be sure to drop me a line if there is something I can do to better address topics of interest to you as a mid-career professional.
Forget March, this September came in like a lion. The back to school energy on my campus meant busy days filled with heaps of excited students asking questions about study abroad. There were two new peer advisors to train (using some of Abbie's awesome training advice). Then I had a bit of regional travel for a few study abroad meetings.
Just because I was busy tending to "the day job" doesn't mean I've stopped cultivating study abroad job search nuggets for all of you here on the blog. It might be mid-September, but better late than never is my new motto.
Last week, while making that 10-hour roundtrip drive to my meeting destination, I had the chance to take in a new audiobook that fired me up: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert (yes, the Liz Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame). I highly recommend the book, even if you don't consider yourself "a maker". Check it out. Seriously. Do it!
In the book, Gilbert shares a great career advice tidbit from Mark Manson's blog where he talks about finding your life purpose. She explains that all jobs -- even what you perceive as the "dream jobs" have a part that sucks. It is 100% true. Every job requires some level of sacrifice So finding the right fit is less about "your passion" and more about what negative things you are willing to tolerate to chase your dream. Or as Mason says,
"What flavor of shit sandwich would you like to eat?"
Wowza! How many ways do I love that?!
Isn't it the truth, though? The downside is ever so important to consider as you pursue a job-- whether it is your first job or your fourteenth. What kinds of sacrifices you are willing to make? Would you take low pay, an undesirable location, a cross-country move, horrible long hours, a title demotion, zero flexibility, abysmal benefits, no travel, too much travel, responsibility levels that induce stress? You get the idea...
Considering the not-so-glam side of a job is a great way to stay grounded in your search.
Our natural tendency is to read a job description and immediately start dreaming about our new life in that perfect position. (This is particularly true if you are already in a job you feel has let you down.) Think about it -- if you are in a job now, surely at some point that job seemed like a perfect opportunity. And it likely was fab. You learned. You grew. You paid those student loans. But here you sit, looking through job postings, hoping to find something your current position cannot provide-- things you need to nurture your "you-ness".
In this process of searching and dreaming it is easy to lose sight of reality. Every job has something that is less than ideal. You probably just don't have the inside information to see it yet. This is an important truth to accept. It doesn't mean you shouldn't strive for growth and possibility in a new role. Not at all. It just means that maybe choosing your next move involves looking at the benefits and drawbacks before you leap. It means you ask more questions of yourself. Know your dreams but also come to terms with what kind of "shit sandwich" you can stomach.
So how about it? What are you willing to put up with to fulfill your ultimate career goals?
Pre-departure orientation for study abroad is one of the most exciting parts of my job. The possibilities are endless. Orientation is an area of my work where I can interject creativity and get to teach fun content that makes a difference in the lives of students. Of course it is also challenging to provide appropriate orientation to hundreds of students going to hundreds of different locations with a tiny staff.
When I debrief with students during re-entry they always have criticism of orientation. It used to bother me, but I've come to realize it has less to do with orientation and more to do with how much they have grown and changed during their study abroad program.
Hindsight is 20/20. Students will simultaneously tell me that orientation was overwhelming with information overload AND say that we did not give them enough information to foresee exactly what would happen through each step of the overseas experience.
This is 100% understandable when you think about it. First-time study abroad is scary. Going to someplace new (alone) provokes anxiety. If I give them all of the details in an attempt to reduce their fear of the unknown, I also create information overload. But if I stick to broad topics they panic that they don't know what is ahead.
There is no perfect orientation. This is something I have come to learn, but it took time. When I first started my study abroad career I tried to create the orientation I wished I had, only to find that it still didn't meet the needs of my students. And as I have interviewed a variety of peer advisors and study abroad career hopefuls, this is a reoccurring theme. Nearly every newcomer says something negative about their study abroad preparation and how it sparked their desire to contribute to the field. [ INTERVIEW TIP: Tread carefully here-- it makes you seem judgemental vs. motivated if you rag on your advisors]
While I've resigned to the fact that pre-departure orientation will never be all that I hope, I have not given up on improving student engagement with the content. My favorite way to do this is through multimedia. You might be thinking, "Wait didn't you say you already have a tiny office?" Yep! There are 3 of us. And I have zero budget. Zero movie-making skills. Limited time...you get the picture...
This brings me to my favorite (free) orientation hack -- YouTube.
I use YouTube videos in orientation to bring things to life and keep the attention of students. There's tons of great content already out there that can be used in orientation. You just have to look.
Sometimes it takes a bit of work to frame the content. For example, I use this video by a study abroad student in Japan to demonstrate the W-Curve model of culture shock and re-entry but always explain that it doesn't matter where the video takes place -- there is commonality in the experience.
I'll show the video first and follow it up with the more technical chart, showing the W curve model (Gullahorn & Gullahorn, 1963) and requisite disclaimers. Then I'll refer back to points in her video where I suspect she was experience the different peaks and valleys of adjustment.
Another example is this video by UCSB I used to use for discussions on cultural stereotypes. It grabs their attention and provokes reflection to hear international students (and returnees) speak about Americans on study abroad. Many of my students haven't considered themselves as "having culture" and only think of study abroad from a position of self fulfillment. Using the clip is a good fun way to provoke dialogue on the ugly American stereotype.
Those are just two examples of easy free ways I spice up orientation with zero time or money resources available. I'm curious to hear from other education professionals on this topic. Surely I'm not alone in using this hack.
Do you ever use YouTube in your orientation?
Are there videos you recommend?
Has anyone found good content on Vimeo? Other sites?
Share your ideas and links in the comments below.
I used to play a game at the airport on my way to NAFSA conferences. I called it "spot the international educator". It was little things that were a giveaway -- a Peace Corps tote bag, Bjorn/Clarks shoes, wrinkle-free flowing travel clothes, a university luggage tag, a cell phone conversation about an in-office emergency as they were about to board a plane... I know I am ridiculous, but I was good at spotting my fellow IE colleagues!
Obviously, you can't tell by looking at someone whether or not they work in international education, but there are still some things we all talk about, or joke about, because they are shared work experiences. In the spirit of this same fun, here are my top seven signs you are a study abroad advisor:
7. Date Amnesia
When the New Year rolls in you’ve got it covered. You've been writing out 2016 for a good 6-12 months as you work on future program enrollment. Despite this fact, you can never remember what year it is. Sometimes date amnesia is accompanied by complete lack of seasonal awareness. (But you still measure time in semesters)
6. Terminology Aversion
The terms "trip"and "tour" make you shudder and want to stand on your desk chair, asserting "We are not a travel agency!" Similarly, if you had a quarter for every essay where the student wants to immerse or submerge themselves abroad, you'd be able to retire now and go on an actual trip.
5. Travel Warning Twitch
Your friend mentions her upcoming beach vacation in Mexico and your internal work dialogue starts, “Does she know there is a Travel Warning? I wonder if she has insurance with evacuation or global assist? Does her policy cover D.O.S. travel warning countries?”
4. Social Media Spillover
You are cruising your Facebook feed to relax and you see there's been an earthquake on the other side of the world. You you instantly pop out your smartphone to do a locator search for students and go into emergency mode—even when you know there are no programs there. You are just certain the phone will ring, regardless. The 24/7 nature of our jobs (and mobility of our students) mean there is no off switch.
3. Wanderlust-killing Pragmatism
When you hear someone swoon about one day moving to [insert country here] to open a farm to table B&B, you inadvertantly kill their joy with, “You do realize you need a work visa, right? And have you researched property ownership rights in that country? How about tax treaties?”
2. The Box of Bags
They range from the nicer conference bags (NAFSA/Forum) to the nifty canvas totes from partner universities...you have them all. And you can't bear to toss them out. But when it comes to BYO grocery bags, you've got it covered. If you already purged the bags, you likely still have the name badges & flair. You know who you are!
1. A Prominently Displayed Postcard Collection
Admit it...Your heart swoons when a student sends you a postcard from abroad. You've got those suckers pinned up like trophies in your office. You get butterflies when students thank you for your help and even more grins when it's from the student who was always late with paperwork. The fact that they developed the agency to hunt down a stamp and mail you an update from abroad (unprompted) makes you feel like a proud parent. THIS is why we do the work we do-- study abroad changes lives.
First question: How do you feel about intern (or peer advisor) training? For most of us, it comes at a time when we are already super-busy gearing up for the start of a new semester/year, and while student staff turnover can bring fresh ideas and energy to the office, the reality for advisors is that student training can be time-consuming and repetitive. When you have explained office protocol for the 9th, 22nd, and 44th time, you probably aren’t doing so with the same enthusiasm as the first time, and it’s likely that your new students notice.
Second question: Throughout the semester, do you find yourself wondering if students remember anything from the initial training? Do you shake your head at their inability to perform basic office skills? (Okay, that was three questions.) If you answered no, I’m jealous, and you’re lucky. As I touched on in a previous post, it can difficult to strike the balance between a “tough love” attitude and viewing a failure to meet expectations as a learning opportunity.
The solution that my colleague Korbin Dimmick and I developed? Battle of the Interns, or BOI! Don’t worry – we aren’t pitting our students against each other in a fight-to-the-death match where the winner earns the favor of the advisors that week. What we are doing is employing a bit of friendly competition to re-enforce the policies covered on the first day as well as enhance certain professional skills that will help the students transition to their first full-time position after graduation. Plus, it shakes things up and adds some harmless entertainment for the advisors.
We knew we were on to something when one of our former students told us that one of our challenges was something similar to what she was asked to do in a Teach for America interview and that she performed better because of the prior preparation. (She was later awarded a position.)
Korbin and I recently presented a session on this topic at the NAFSA Region VII Conference, and you can check out the full details here. In short, the “battle” takes place throughout the semester, with challenges being completed every other week during our weekly intern meetings. To pump up the excitement, we play a snip of our chosen BOI theme song before each challenge and occasionally bring in small prizes.
The foundation of each challenge is the acquisition or enhancement of a certain skill, such as written and oral communication, event planning, teamwork, and problem-solving. The challenges can be individual or collaborative, vary in length (usually 5-15 minutes), and result in ideas to benefit or enhance the office. We make an effort to balance the number of administrative-type challenges with the ones that are more fun, and we strategically choose challenges to play to the strengths and weaknesses of all of our interns so that the “star” doesn’t always win and the “needs improvement” student doesn’t feel targeted.
At the end of the semester, we oversee the final challenge: an obstacle course of tasks, which include answering a couple of reflection questions to provide feedback on BOI and the internship in general. We adjust challenges every semester based on this feedback and on each intern’s specific need for improvement.
You may be thinking, “What’s the point, though? That sounds like a lot of work, and you should know education abroad advisors don’t have enough time as it is to finish all of their ‘to-do’ items. How can I justify devoting time to something that doesn’t seem to directly benefit the office and/or support the office mission?” In response, I say great questions, but we’ve seen a number of benefits for the office:
As for the time issue, I say touché, but we’ve developed the program over a few years, a little at a time, and are firm believers that sharing is caring. If you’re interested, we’d be happy to share some of our materials, and you can adjust them to work for your office.
After checking out the challenges we’ve used in the past (in the presentation linked above), are there any you think would work well for your team? Do you have suggestions for new challenges?
“I know the deadline has passed, but I’ve just been so busy. Can I submit my application late?”
Which of the following responses would you give?
A) “I’m sorry, it’s a firm deadline. We encourage you to submit an application for the following semester.”
B) “Sure, it’s only one day late. Let me make a note.”
C) “Late applications can only be accepted if you include a 500-word essay on why you missed the deadline and why you must study abroad next term (as opposed to a future term).”
D) “Well, it depends on XYZ. Answer these questions…”
Most offices have a policy on late applications, and you would likely respond according to that policy. But you probably also have a preference based on a personal advising philosophy. In my opinion, each option presents its own set of pros and cons in regards to student development.
“A” is big on the tough love, which preps students for the “real world” and challenges them to get it right next time. The problem with this tactic is that it may leave the student with a negative opinion of you, your office, and/or study abroad in general, which may affect the decision to resubmit the application. This in turn leads to one less person you can count in the ever-important tally of study abroad participation rates.
With “B,” you are securing the participation (assuming the student does not withdraw before departure), and the student leaves happy with you. However, what does the student learn about deadlines? That they do not matter, and there are no consequences for missing them. (Read: Lost student development opportunity.)
“C” may seem like the middle-of-the-road answer – you accept the application, the student learns there are consequences for missing deadlines, and everyone walks away satisfied, right? Maybe, but this option creates more paperwork and an additional check for you when you are already have a zillion things to do.
Lastly, “D” promotes a policy of preference. “Yes, you can submit late if your reason is good enough.” Of course, extenuating circumstances do occasionally surface, and in these cases, showing understanding in a difficult situation can also be a learning experience for the student.
Personally, I have always been a strong believer in the “tough love” strategy (with exceptions for special situations), but studying student development theories in graduate school swayed me toward the “learn from this experience” approach. But situations don’t always play out exactly like any of the options above, so I sometimes wrestle with how to effectively advise these students.
This back-and-forth struggle to find an advising balance also applies to working with our interns (peer advisors). We have been lucky with the caliber of the students that have worked in our office, so I’ve grown to put a lot of trust in them. I expect them to do good work and submit it in a timely manner (as any employer does), but because they are still students, they will at times fail to meet my expectations in one way or another.
When this happens, I struggle to place my disappointment. Should I be upset with the student because they failed to complete a task, or does the fault lie with me since it is my job to help them identify and overcome any associated weaknesses? Does the answer change if the behavior or work is consistently below average? It can sometimes be a tough balancing act, and I have to remind myself frequently that their position in my office is supposed to be a learning experience.
With this in mind, my colleague and I created “Battle of the Interns” to infuse professional development opportunities into the internship and help the students determine their strengths and weaknesses in an office environment (check back later for a post on this!). We’ve received great positive feedback thus far, and for us, this was the answer to at least some of the challenges we were facing with our students.
Do you have any unique advising situations to share or any advice on how to develop an effective advising strategy?
Let’s be real. Odds are, if you’re reading a blog about working in education abroad, you love to travel and are hoping for a position that allows you to do so. In my current role, I have been able to conduct international site visits at exchange partners in France, Germany, and Switzerland and have served as the on-site coordinator for three programs in Belize and the Virgin Islands. Pretty sweet, right? But what most people forget is that when my employer sends me to these amazing places, I do spend most of my time working, so it isn’t the same as traveling for leisure. (No really, that’s the truth.)
For my first trip to France, I wasn’t sure to what to expect, and that’s tough for a girl who likes to always have her ducks in a row. Since this was my first international business trip, I was anxious about getting it “right”: asking all the right questions in meetings with international colleagues, documenting everything from conversations to campus tours to reimbursable expenses, and successfully navigating a culture and language unfamiliar to me.
Having never been to France, I researched cultural business practices, common language phrases, and information on the French education system. Much of this research should be done before jetting off on any international trip, but I was trying to fit this research in with the busy end-of-semester rush. I knew, of course, that I would be fine, but a work assignment of this magnitude can be a little stressful (or a lot stressful, as was the case when my second site visit to Germany and Switzerland was affected by a spontaneous week-long train strike).
Once on site, I’m busy confirming meeting times and locations, actually finding the meeting locations, touring the campus and surrounding area, and speaking with faculty, international office staff, past and future exchange students, and other relevant personnel. Afterwards, it’s on to the next location, so a large chunk of time is also spent traveling between institutions.
Serving as an on-site coordinator for a program brings a completely new set of challenges. Yes, I participate in all of the fun activities with the students. Yes, I have been to paradise for work. But… I’m also the “fix-it” person 24/7 for a week. A student missed the connecting flight? Make arrangements to go back to the airport to pick the student up later. The cafeteria doesn’t have the correct information for your group? Supply them with a detailed list of contracted meals, program participants, and any dietary requirements. The lights don’t work in the accommodation? A student is locked out of his/her room? Call Housing and/or Campus Security after hours. A student needs to visit a health clinic? Set up a case with your insurance provider, locate a clinic, and accompany student to the appointment. The faculty director wants to add an activity to your packed itinerary? Call to see if the transportation vendor can adjust at the last minute. Water activities are voluntary, and a student chooses not to participate? You also do not participate and must find another comparable activity for the student during that time (bummer, right?). Trying to fit in a quick lunch between activities? Expect to be interrupted seven times by students, the housing contact, and the dining contact. Additionally, you are on-call 24/7 in case of emergencies. It’s stressful, y’all. Your job is literally to absorb any problem that arises in order to ensure the students (and on-site faculty, to an extent) experience a seamless program.
I wouldn’t change a thing, though. Travel is my passion, and I have always been interested in education, so I’m lucky to have found a job that combines both of these areas. Plus, these experiences are invaluable opportunities that will benefit me as I work to advance in the profession, and I am able to connect with students, faculty, and colleagues I may not have met otherwise. Besides, even though I’ve done my best in this post to prove that I really do work while abroad, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t manage to sneak in some time to explore on my own!
When I finished my master’s program and began working in my first education abroad gig, I was exhausted. I had studied, volunteered, interned, worked, and interviewed my way through two degrees and into that coveted entry-level position. I’d achieved what I’d been working toward since I was five, and I wanted to savor my success for a hot minute. But people kept asking, “What’s next? What’s your 5-10 year plan?” Couldn’t a girl catch a break? I wanted to soak up as much as I could in my new position and take a break from the “extracurriculars.” But if you’re a career-driven and goal-oriented gal (or gent), those “extracurriculars” (better known as professional development opportunities) are vital in helping you move up. Check out my 5 easy ways to stay on track professionally:
#1: Conferences and Workshops
Okay, this one’s pretty obvious. Attending professional conferences allows you to network with and bounce ideas off of people in your field, learn about best practices from other institutions, complete workshops on focused topics of interest to you and/or your office, and present sessions yourself (which gets your name and bio in front of hundreds of other folks in the profession).The big ones for EA, of course, are NAFSA and Forum on Education Abroad, and while both offer fantastic opportunities for growth, they aren’t always realistic options for some people. Small office budgets or tiny graduate school budgets can be a major roadblock (although lower registration fees for full-time students and travel grants can subsidize costs – always check for those!). Other conference possibilities are NAFSA regionals, state international education associations, Lessons From Abroad (LFA) for recent study abroad alums, software companies, and other specialty areas in higher education that somehow connect to the work you do in EA. All of these are great ways to slowly get your feet wet if the national conferences are out of budget or just too overwhelming. For example, LFA offers one-day, regional conferences with registration fees as low as $15, and those looking to enter the field could volunteer to help with conference coordination and present a session for the students.
#2: Human Resources Courses
Employees (and sometimes graduate assistants) at universities can take advantage of courses offered by the Department of Human Resources to enhance current skills or learn new ones. They may be offered free of charge or for a lower rate than what you would pay elsewhere. Possible examples include Introduction to Microsoft Excel, How to Supervise, Using Myers-Briggs to Improve Team Dynamics, SafeZone (trains university personnel on how to create safe environments for the LGBTQQA community), Active Shooter Response, and C-CERT (Campus-Community Emergency Response Team).
As you can see, some courses are geared toward general skills applicable to many situations while others focus on the acquisition of precise skills or knowledge. All of these contribute to continued development as a professional and may help you explore a new area or build on previous training. For example, for my current role, I had to be trained specifically on managing international travel crises, but Active Shooter Response builds on that training by allowing me to view crises response from a different perspective.
#3: Tuition Benefits / Auditing Campus Courses
Many institutions offer their employees the opportunity to take courses on campus for free or reduced rates. Even if you’ve already completed one, two, or three-plus degrees, you can add another area of specialty to your knowledgebase by earning a graduate certificate. Another option would be to audit a class related to your current position, which means you wouldn’t take the class for credit but could attend to learn about the subject. Would some aspects of your position be easier for you if you had a basic understanding of writing computer code? Take a class in IT. Need to produce new marketing materials for programs? Brush up on your graphic design skills with Intro to Graphic Design. Would you like to write a grant for the office but not sure how to start? Take a class on grant-writing. The possibilities are numerous.
#4: Campus-Wide Committees
This option was a bit of a surprise to me. I came into my role thinking I’d work in a specialty, so to speak, that would collaborate with other specialties (offices and departments) on campus when the need arose (co-sponsoring events, inviting guest speakers, etc.). But there are other offices on campus whose responsibilities include implementing campus-wide initiatives, which requires coordination with multiple offices in a variety of disciplines / specialties / locations. Actively seek out these types of opportunities because their benefits are many: network with people across campus that you wouldn’t have met otherwise, expand your knowledgebase with the addition of unique skills that may grab the attention of a future search committee, and learn about what different offices and departments value and how you may be able to collaborate with them on a project in the future. Examples of campus-wide committees on which I currently serve are the ePortfolio Project, housed in the Office of University Writing, and the Green Dot Bystander Intervention Program Committee, run out of Health Promotion and Wellness Services.
#5: Create Your Own Adventure
Once you’ve explored all of the options listed above and are ready for a new challenge (or didn’t find what you needed in those suggestions), get creative. This one is sometimes a struggle for me because I’m more detail-oriented and less think-outside-the-box. But you know you – what your interests are and where you’d like to end up (if only vaguely). Do you see a future where you’d be asked for teaching experience? See if your campus allows administrative staff or graduate students teach a freshman-level success strategies or study tips course. Want to learn more about the day-to-day workings of another office? Ask to shadow someone in that office for a day or for an hour a week. Feel closed off in your workspace and need a brainstorm session with your office team? Propose an office retreat where you and your team can get away from the same four walls you see every day. A change of scenery does wonders for productivity and team morale. And this doesn’t have to be a big production – it can be as small as taking an extended lunch off-site.
Regardless of what you need / want, the key to getting your supervisor on board is to figure out a way to connect your participation with benefits for the office. While professional development opportunities allow individuals to grow and gain increased knowledge of their field, the assumption is that the individual will bring that knowledge back to the office with the hope of improving services and sharing ideas with the team.
What other professional opportunities would you add to my list? Anything from those who may not work in a university setting?
Every campus has a different approach to study abroad marketing. But one thing you will find everywhere is some version of a study abroad advisor, at a table, talking to students, answering questions, and handing out print marketing. Websites are great, but we all still revert to the tried and true, low tech, human-to-human interaction because it works.
You might find yourself at the study abroad fair, a table in the student center, or invited to a larger event where study abroad is represented alongside co-curricular opportunities. Whatever the scenario, if you have a study abroad career, you will at some point work a study abroad outreach event.
While you are busy worrying that you don't know the portfolio of programs well enough, there are a few OTHER things you should know before standing behind a skirted table for the first time...
#6 You'll lose your voice talking to students
Bring a huge bottle of water....HUGE, I tell you. Talking nonstop to throngs of eager students and competing with the roar of conversation at nearby tables majorly wears on your vocal cords. If you know me personally, you know I am "a talker". But even my motor mouth gets sore if I do study abroad outreach. When I work an information table I am smiling-- a lot-- and talking-- a lot. Being "on" for several hours can be draining when you are used to office work. No one prepared me for how physically draining it can be. Protip: Consider lip balm and mints along with your bottle of water.
#5 Carrying brochures is a crossfit workout
Rain or shine, snow or heatwave, you will find yourself schlepping surprisingly heavy marketing materials across campus. I consider myself to be a reasonably strong, moderately fit person, with "mom arms" that can carry heaps of stuff simultaneously. But I have pulled muscles hoisting boxes of catalogs and setting up tables for information sessions. Take care of yourself. Don't be afraid to ask for help from coworkers. The rolling suitcase isn't just for site visits. It's your new best friend.
#4 The term "trip" will make you cringe
Every profession has their buzzwords. Study abroad is no different. But we also have words that make us uncomfortable. Maybe it is a silly insecurity, but non-academic terms for study abroad will start to grate on you the way "dorm" makes the residence life folks twitchy.
#3 You'll get way too excited about new Marketing
#2 Program sign-in sheets are never legible
Never. At study abroad fairs or info tables lots of us still tend to go low tech. This means the dreaded "Sign Up for More Information" sheets and a ballpoint pen. If you are lucky you will have some help in the form of a student worker who types up the lists of names and emails the next day. But we all know how handwriting is these days. Prepare for squinting, wild guesses, and deflating bounce backs. Maybe one day study abroad will catch up to the 21st century.
#1 Student enthusiasm is contagious
No matter how tired I am at the onset, I never work an outreach event without leaving on cloud nine. Talking to students about their dreams of study abroad, sharing my own overseas experiences, and seeing those eyes light up -- especially in a first generation college student or person who never thought they'd leave the country-- is the reason why I do the work I do. Let's be honest. Sitting in an office all day, answering emails, shuffling paper, and putting out fires is my daily reality. But the few opportunities I have to directly promote global education on campus helps renew my enthusiasm and reminds me how blessed I am to work in international education.
If you are interested in an education abroad (EA) advisor position, odds are you have heard that each day brings different challenges and that ours roles require us to wear many hats. I love this aspect of my job, but when my mentors told me these things prior to my job search, I didn’t quite understand how each day could be so varied – you’re an advisor, so you advise students every day, right? However, having now been in my first position for three years, I finally appreciate the unpredictability of day-to-day work of an EA advisor and thought I’d offer a peek inside a typical week for those who want to know what it’s really like behind the scenes.
· Respond to emails that came in over the weekend (or that I didn’t get to on Friday).
·Check Microsoft Outlook calendar to get an idea of the week ahead. Make To-Do List, separating out priorities from routine tasks.
·Meet with co-coordinator to finalize Marketing Your Study Abroad workshop and handouts.
·Meet with office intern in charge of activities and agenda for evening event of the Global Tigers, our SGA organization for study abroad alumni. Estimate attendance and order catering.
·Respond to emails.
·Prepare for and conduct weekly intern meeting: miscellaneous office notes, individual project updates, Battle of the Interns challenge, ePortfolio assignments.
·Oversee Global Tigers event.
· Respond to emails.
· Weekly staff meeting with director. Assigned priority statistics project for provost, so shift tasks to accommodate new deadline.
· Meet with co-coordinator to discuss updates to general study abroad presentation and handout. Assign tasks for each to complete before first Study Abroad 101 session on Thursday afternoon.
· Co-present Marketing Your Study Abroad Experience workshop.
· Respond to emails.
· Respond to emails.
· Meet with office intern regarding questions on ePortfolio assignment.
· Appointment with outgoing student regarding application next steps.
· Study Abroad Fair preparation: Request quotes for Study Abroad Fair print marketing from three university-approved vendors per new policy, submit Campus Event Request form for approval, order tables and chairs, receive and document registration forms and payments for campus and non-campus vendors.
· Field walk-in inquiries from incoming exchange students regarding billing, health insurance, course registration, dining fee, access to campus resources.
· Working lunch with ePortfolio Project cohort members regarding planning for the semester.
· Appointment with outgoing student regarding assistance with program selection.
· Respond to emails.
· Conference call with Lessons From Abroad (LFA) Georgia Conference Committee to confirm final marketing push, registration details, schedule of sessions.
· Update Meet the Staff board with new interns.
· Monthly Advisors Caucus meeting (academic advisors, career counselors, study abroad coordinators, Registrar’s Office, learning communities coordinator, etc.).
· Respond to emails.
· Respond to emails.
· As LFA Georgia School Liaison for Alabama, send final reminder to contacts at Alabama institutions regarding marketing and registration.
· Attend sub-committee meeting of Green Dot Bystander Intervention team to plan for campus-wide launch event in October.
· Prepare for Outgoing/Incoming Exchange Workshop for faculty advisors, department administrators, and academic advisors.
· Two appointments with outgoing student.
· Respond to emails.
· Co-facilitate Outgoing/Incoming Exchange Workshop.
· Field walk-in incoming exchange student inquiry.
· Respond to emails.
· Appointment with outgoing student.
· Answer questions from office business manager regarding purchases for Study Abroad Fair.
· Project for director: Update materials on office website for faculty, department administrators, academic advisors, etc. regarding incoming exchange procedures.
· Continue work on exchange website materials. Send draft to director for approval.
· Respond to emails.
· Fight the mad rush to leave for the weekend.
As you can see, EA advisors do much more than simply advise students. No two days are ever the same. Sometimes, my job requires that I re-prioritize and regroup to keep up. But it is the variety that makes the job so energizing.
So, I'd love to hear from you. Was there anything in my week that surprised you?
It's back to school time. College students are flooding onto campuses across the country. My inbox is once again filled with eager messages from freshly-returned sophomores and juniors who want to squeeze in a study abroad meeting with me before classes begin. International student orientation is underway. Things are bustling everywhere. I can hear the marching band practice through my office window. RAs are gearing up for move-in weekend.
Outside the student center a digital sign is programmed with a special welcome for the incoming freshman class. It reads...
"Welcome Class of 2019!"
Excuse me?!? How on earth is this the class of 2019? That's impossible. You really mean I'm 19 years older than my students. Not buying it... I'm closer in age to the parents than the students? There must be a mistake. I was the one moving a futon up an apartment staircase just a few years back. (Question: Do students still buy futons?)
One of the things about working on a college campus is that you get caught in a strange time warp. Even though you are growing older and moving on with life's milestones, your students remain the same age. You realize your perception of yourself can be very different from the reality. Working on a college campus highlights how far removed we have become from the current generation. You might be familiar with this concept from reading the Beloit College Mindset List in past years.
Let me share a few examples of what I mean:
* My advice on cell phones abroad, writing checks, or Facebook (which apparently students don't use for socializing anymore) is laughably out of date
* I make references to TV shows or musicians and get blank stares
* A student in my office has never seen a typewriter and gets excited to hear one
* A student comments on a black leather finger-less glove and denim vest by calling it "So 90's" and I have to refrain from correcting his inaccurate recollection of fashion history
* I find myself thinking, "What is wrong with kids these days?" or "When I was that age..." then die a little inside when I realize I sound old and bitter.
Recognizing that I might have traded in some of my youthful enthusiasm for a heightened awareness of risk management, I appreciate the role of our peer advising team. We employ 2-3 study abroad alumni as "peer advisors". They handle the exploratory advising and outreach presentations. Our peer advisors do a great job and help their peers see the experience as attainable. It's easy to forget how scary and overwhelming it can be at the beginning. Students like speaking with someone their own age.
While I do feel prematurely "old" at times, I have to admit there is something energizing about working with college students. During this time in their life they are experiencing unprecedented freedom. They are forging what will likely be lifelong friendships. They grow and change so much in these 4 years. I get to be a part of the institution that helps provide the foundation for all of the growth. I am inspired by their creativity (and silliness) and it has a magical way of helping me to feel young too.
I was there to clean out a closet.
You read that right. I flew all the way to Australia to inventory, sell, destroy, and ship stuff contained in an approximately 10' x 8' closet located in a tiny coastal town.
the problem with leftovers
In study abroad we talk a lot about program development and creating new ways to immerse our students in the local culture. There are tons of resources on how to build a new study abroad program. We almost never talk about the flip side. What about when we create programs that, for one reason or another, don't work out? I'm referring to programs that need to be dissolved because they are no longer meeting enrollment, financially solvent, or satisfying the needs of our students. What then?
The program in Lennox Head was one of these programs. I won't get into the complexities of why, but the program my institution operated there for over 10 years was closed down. Over that decade equipment was purchased, student belongings were left in storage for the subsequent participants, and there were physical remains left behind.
You might be thinking, why not chuck it in a bin or leave it for someone else, but universities, particularly state universities, have strict protocol for how these sorts of things are handled. For example, you can't donate items to charity if they were owned by the state because it might be seen as favoring one charity over another. And electronics that could contain data need to be wiped and destroyed by a certified tech. It is not so easy as walking away. Last summer it was my role to ensure that every rule was followed and all materials were properly inventoried and handled.
local impact from our global programs
There was another thing I realized when I prepared to say farewell to little Lennox Head. Our programs don't operate in a bubble. It's not just about my university. I had to explain to the locals why we were closing up shop. They asked things like, what could they do to help bring the program back or if it was something they'd done (that one broke my heart).
Our study abroad program had grown to be a part of their community-- our students chatting with locals at the lawn bowling club, shopping in the markets (spending $$$ on surfboards they could barely get up on), and volunteering for beach cleanups. Yes, sometimes it wasn't the best impression we made (mostly loud students coming home from a night at the pub). But the people in town loved sharing their Aussie culture, comforting homesick Midwestern students, and talking about the local history, plants & animals. The town became an unofficial sister-city to our campus.
I suppose I am sentimental about this program because it was where I worked for my first residential study abroad job in 2006. Or maybe it is just because the town is so small, the people so friendly, and the landscape so breathtaking. Regardless of the reason, last summer inspired me to think about program sustainability in a new way.
It's great when some of those items (hairdryers, bath towels, guide books) can be left for the next group. But what if there isn't a next group? Has anyone thought about the impact on the local community? Does your office have an "exit" plan? Are there partnerships with local agencies in place so that students can donate their unwanted personal items on the last day? What measures will the institution take to sell or repatriate equipment purchased with program funds? Are you prepared to incur the cost of sending staff to dismantle the program? Are you familiar with the regulations and laws governing property disposal?
These are important questions for international educators and just as critical as "Where should we build a program next?"
NOTE: If you are an education abroad professional who has experienced the "death" of a program and would like to present on this topic at an international education conference in the future, please get in touch: email@example.com
When your job is to send students abroad day after day, it's virtually impossible to avoid periodic fits of wanderlust. I'll admit sometimes I spend a lunch hour on ITA Software pointlessly planning trips I can't afford to take. (I know I can't be alone here.)
Here are 3 ways study abroad advisors can deal with a dusty passport:
Ask for professional development
You never know if you don't ask. Approach your boss about a site visit, international conference, or opportunity to serve as a program assistant on a faculty-led program. Be reasonable (and patient). You might have to wait until the next fiscal year. And you should be prepared to communicate how the experience is an investment in your training as an advisor.
While a conference is nice, try to visit a program. There is something to be said for periodic travel abroad with students -- it is an important reminder of not only why we engage in our work, but how scary it can be for them that first time. Working in an office we quickly forget what parts can be confusing. This spring break I got the chance to travel as a program assistant for a new leadership program in Ireland. It completely rejuvenated me in ways I didn't think were possible.
Apply for a Fulbright Grant
If you are familiar with the Fulbright program this one might confuse you-- how can you get a year off of work? Don't worry. Fulbright has a special grant program for international education administrators. You can read all about it here.
The Fulbright IEA program is like a study abroad experience for study abroad pros. You get to spend 2-3 weeks learning about the education system and hot topics in a targeted country abroad. I was fortunate enough to participate in a Fulbright IEA program to the United Kingdom in 2013.
It was, hands down, the best professional development experience of my career. In addition to great learning abroad, I made important contacts with other higher education administrators in the US. I still remain in contact with my cohort. You can read more about my Fulbright experiences here.
Find local opportunity for cultural engagement. No matter where you live, chances are, there are small ways you can step outside of your comfort zone. Find a conversation partner and learn a new language, volunteer to help organize a cultural festival, get involved in international student orientation on campus, see if any organizations have opportunities for home hospitality dinners, etc. You can even do touristy things in your hometown to see it with new eyes. Better yet -- take your international friends with you.
Just know that wanderlust happens to the best of us. It's one of the occupational hazards. If none of the above satisfy your craving, save up those vacation days and keep on Googling.
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.