One of the stranger parts of working in my corner of higher education is explaining my job to "regular people". When I tell them my title, they have all of these questions and I tend to deflate them with my answers.
Person: Ooooh, I bet you travel around the world a lot!
Me: Not really. I work on a campus. Mostly I email.
Person: It must be fun getting to plan trips for people.
Me: Nah, I don't really do that.
Person: Well, I bet you speak all of the languages!
Me: My Spanish is comparable to that of a 4-year-old with a strong grasp of the present tense.
If I'm feeling surly I break into something about 24/7 crisis response and pulling my grocery cart over to run a StudioAbroad locator search on my phone when a glance at my Facebook feed reveals a terror incident took place. (I'm super fun at parties.)
If you are a new reader of Study Abroad Careers this dream job fantasy might be what has drawn you to the field in the first place and how you landed on this website. You definitely studied abroad and now want to keep living that global life (kudos). Working in study abroad seems like the best way. It totally can be a dream job, just not in the ways you first think. Working inside study abroad is way different and sometimes even better than being on the other side.
If you are a long-time reader you probably already know my goal is to show the authentic honest portrait of what we do in international education vs. sell the Instagram version. That's why I feature real people in the field via Real Careers. That is why I have guest bloggers and interviews about different facets of the work. I want people to know that even though I'm not jet-setting, playing Rick Steves, or a polyglot, I still have a truly fantastic job. It's not because of the cool factor, it's because I get to interact with students during one of the most meaningful times in their lives.
Why am I telling you all this? Because so many people fall in love with the idea of working in education abroad that they jump right to job applications part before taking the time to consider what they want and need from a job. Then they wind up a bit deflated if that specific job doesn't provide what they hoped. It took me 15+ years to figure out that if you want to be truly happy in your work it's not just about working in the field. If you don't want to burn out, you also need to think hard about 2 more pieces:
1) In what kind of environment do you thrive?
2) How do you want to spend your days?
Those things can matter so much more than the job title or pay. The mission of your organization might light you on fire, but how do you actually fill those 40+ hours? And what is your work environment like? Surprisingly, this can vary WIDELY based on where you work and what role you have within that organization. A person who has the job title Regional Field Recruiter for a 3rd party study abroad program provider will have days that look very different from a person who is a Study Abroad Program Assistant in the exact same company.
The recruiter might work from home 10 months a year and spend upwards of 75% of their time traveling regionally with no time for a pet or partner. When they are not standing at a college info table or giving presentations (trying not to lose their voice), they are entering contact details from student interest cards at the Comfort Inn or following up with students via email from a laptop at the airport. They only interact with students on the front end and never get to hear about a given student's experiences but they have all the frequent flyer miles and hotel points to score a summer vacay.
Conversely, the program assistant might never travel unless they are lucky enough to get their turn to go to NAFSA. Instead they work in an office with a team of awesome study abroad pros who helped onboard them (and like to walk on lunch breaks). They might have zero face-to-face contact with college students, but their days are filled with phone calls to participants (and wary parents) from universities all over the US. They exchange emails (in English) with colleagues at universities abroad, having to keep the time zones in mind as they work. The walls of their cubicle might be lined with thank you postcards from former students they've never actually met.
And it is not just the title that makes things different "on the ground". A Study Abroad Advisor working at a small liberal arts college will likely have a different type of day and work environment than someone with the same title in a large research university. Office size, university demographics, institutional philosophy, access to technology, bureaucracy, budget constraints.... all of these will impact the way you are expected to do your job. You won't be able to foresee all of these factors up front but it is helpful to do some reflection before you set out on a job search.
If you are already in the field and considering a move to another role/organization you probably already know the answers to the questions below. If you have never had a full-time job, it might be hard to know, but prior schoolwork or part-time jobs can still help you to take an inventory of where you stand.
So think about it...
Notice how none of those questions have anything to do about study abroad?
Now go back to those study abroad job descriptions you were just checking out, eagerly ready to apply online. Do these jobs still meet YOUR criteria? Is it too hard to get a feel? Could some informational interviews with working professionals help you better understand which roles and organizations are a good fit? If you are already actively engaged in a search....Think about your upcoming phone or in-person interview. What new questions might you want to ask at the end of the interview? Are there things you want to pay attention to as you tour the office?