Like many who have studied abroad, when I returned from my semester overseas, I spent most of my free time fantasizing about ways to go abroad again.
There was only one looming issue: I lacked a disposable income. So I made it my personal mission to find a way to “get paid to travel” while simultaneously pursuing a career path inspired by my passions. It was a long, interesting, and fun journey that led me to where I am now – as an International Admissions Counselor. Many people have asked me how I got into this field that allows me to work and travel at the same time, so I would like to share some tips for pursuing a career in International Education along with my personal experiences that may help others who are curious about this unique and rewarding career path.
1. Find your “perfect fit” Master’s program
While there are many roads that can lead to your dream career, a Master’s degree in International Education is an ideal way to gain direct knowledge and training for a career in Study Abroad, International Admissions, International Student Services, and other related areas. It is a very specialized degree, and it is perfect for those who are absolutely sure that their passion lies in International Education. I chose to attend SIT Graduate Institute, a small graduate school in Vermont. (There are several other similar programs around the world at both large and small institutions.) The cohorts and networks developed in an International Education program lead to lifelong connections and collaborations. It is also nice to be surrounded by likeminded people who feel equally as impacted by their study abroad experiences and share the same goals.
Networking with people who have the job you want is one of the most valuable experiences you can have in your professional life. One of the most important organizations in the field is NAFSA: Association of International Educators. NAFSA holds annual national conferences in major US cities, and each region of the US has its own local conference each year. Can’t swing the registration fee on a tight budget? There are student discounts as well as opportunities to volunteer at the conferences and receive 50-100% reimbursement of the registration fee in return.
3. Work abroad
The best way to develop your intercultural communication skills in a professional way is to work (or intern) abroad. One of the most common jobs abroad for native English speakers is teaching. These positions are most often paid, and some are paid very well! Certain English teaching positions require a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification (which generally takes about a month to obtain), some require a degree, while others are simply looking for talented native English speakers. If you like teaching, this is an ideal way to enjoy a career abroad and share your native language with students who are eager to learn. Many graduate students choose to find internships in universities abroad, working with in-country study abroad students. No matter what the position, working abroad is certainly a worthwhile experience that will teach you about other cultures in the most direct and interactive way.
4. Study languages
I am not a great example of success in this area, as I personally have “dabbled’ in the study of several languages (chosen based on where I was living or what I perceived to be the most relevant language in my life at the time). I wish I could say I was fluent in even one of those languages, but I am still working on it (actively!). I highly recommend, if you are not already bilingual, to focus on a language that you truly enjoy learning. Learning languages can be both fun and rewarding. If you have the opportunity to take a language class abroad, take full advantage! You do not have to go abroad, however, to practice your language of choice. Language schools and conversation exchanges can be found in most major cities and online. Many employers in International Education are looking for candidates who can speak at least one foreign language. It is absolutely not impossible to find a career in International Education without a second language, but it is a great asset to have!
5. Don’t give up, and keep a realistic outlook
Jobs in International Education are not as common as many other careers, so your job search might take a little longer than others’. Rest assured, there are great jobs all over the world in this field. At the same time, keep a realistic perspective that, like in any job, there will be aspects of it that are not always what you imagined. Not every day will be fun and exciting, and you may not travel as much as you had hoped (depending on your position), but it is most certainly a rewarding career and one in which you can truly make a difference in the world. Passion and innovation are common traits of International Educators. If you are interested in this career, you likely possess those traits, and I urge you to keep your options open, explore, and surround yourself with as many like-minded people as possible.
Maria Sandone is an International Admissions Counselor at Medaille College. She loves working with students and helping them to achieve their goals. Outside of work, she spends most of her free time eating cheese, planning future trips and attempting to learn languages. She previously worked in Ukraine and Italy and studied abroad in Australia. She holds an MA in International Education from SIT Graduate Institute.