“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” –Henry David Thoreau
I don’t know about you, but I love bucket lists and setting goals. I’ve found that studying and traveling abroad has simultaneously made me a list maker and somehow more carefree. I encourage you to craft your own personal and professional goals around your values, and then pursue these goals with an open mind. In the spirit of lists, I’d like to share eight tips about getting a job in international education, which is a field quickly rising in popularity as more people have significant international experiences.
Hone in on Your Passion
Ask yourself: “Why do I want to work in the field of international education?” This may seem obvious, it is often overlooked as a starting point. You may be set on working in the education abroad office simply because you studied abroad, but there are actually many other options that may equally fulfill your desires. For example, you can recruit students to visit the United States, work in an international student office, or teach English (or any other language for that matter). I encourage you to think outside the box when you are planning your future or beginning the job search. If the ideal job that you want doesn’t yet exist, consider creating it!
A Step in the Right Direction is Better Than Waiting for the “Perfect” Entry Point
Career paths progress at many different speeds. Don’t compare yourself to someone else, because each journey is different. You may have to initially take an entry-level job simply to get your foot in the door, but if the job is in your career field and helps you gain valuable skills, then it is worth having an unimpressive title or making less money than you originally anticipated. My first job in international education was a simple sales job, but it helped me gain important skills and experience for what I really wanted to do. While no job may ever fulfill all of your desires and passions, it should incorporate most of your values and provide a rich learning experience.
Work Backward From Your Ideal Job
I like to save jobs that come through listservs, and browse jobs at many different levels in international education. Many mentors have encouraged me to look at the requirements of my next or ideal job. If you want to be the Chief International Officer at an institution, then research the job descriptions and career paths of current CIOs. Going back to the list concept, you can look at the requirements and expectations of those jobs, and make a timeline and discover how to best gain those skills starting now.
Flexibility is Key
I always tell students that the #1 rule of travel (and life!) is flexibility. This is definitely true within international education as well. It is a smaller field with a fair number of qualified candidates, therefore you may find yourself working in an area of the world or country you didn’t originally anticipate. You may have job duties that don’t seem to provide long-term benefits, but they all help to build your portfolio. Don’t say no to potential career growth opportunities, even if they are not wrapped in a shiny box or as you expected.
One of the best perks about working in higher education is that professionals of the field have a strong commitment to learning—as evidenced by the number of people who have masters or doctoral degrees. In fact, it is almost an expectation now that international education professionals have advanced degrees. However, before you jump into an expensive and time-consuming program, make sure it’s the right fit and will meet your goals. You might find your “ideal job” doesn’t necessarily require these education levels. Likewise, there are many part-time and affordable programs should decide to pursue an advanced degree, especially if you are trying to work and obtain a degree simultaneously.
Another way that the commitment to learning manifests itself in international education is the commitment to professional development. Students are always changing, and the field and regulations are constantly evolving. Stay on top of these changes by getting involved in a professional organization or attending conferences. NAFSA: Association of International Educators is a great place to start. There are also many other ways to get involved, like the International Education Knowledge Community through NASPA, state and regional organizations, and a variety of other international organizations. Don’t underestimate the power of getting involved in your local international community as well. Furthermore, don’t simply join these organizations and go to conferences: consider volunteering or serving in a leadership role! You can extend your influence additionally through writing for publications or serving on committees.
Network, Network, Network
You probably already know that more jobs are found through networks and connections than any other way. It can be intimidating to network at professional events, but it’s necessary in today’s world. Join a mentor program through a professional association, e-mail people that have your desired job, and remember to follow up! If you have a great conversation with someone but never follow up, the conversation might as well have never happened. It’s a small field and a small world, so never underestimate how a seemingly random connection can lead to a dream job years down the road.
“Good things come to those in life that wait”. This old adage has a lot of truth, but in today’s world, you can never start soon enough to build your network and shape your career. Get out there and e-mail offices and contacts even before jobs are available. Volunteer to serve on a committee even before you feel fully “experienced enough” to do so—it can definitely sharpen your skills quickly. Be confident in yourself, and others will follow suit.
There is no perfect way to enter or advance into the field of international education, and each person has a unique story. Your goals and objectives you make today may lead you to have new experiences and new goals. The beauty of the field is that there is always someone new to meet, a new culture to experience, and new skills to learn. Keep adding to your list of goals and experiences, and you’ll be met with a world of opportunities.
Natalie Cruz is the coordinator for International Student Life at Emory University, where she has been developing the office from the ground up since its recent inception. She discovered her passion for international education through meeting international students her freshman year, which led her to study abroad for a semester in the UK. After college, she volunteered for 3 months in Ecuador, and then went to work for an international educational travel company. In addition to working with international students currently and during her graduate program, she has also led three short-term programs for students to Ecuador, Puerto Rico, and Iceland. She has a BA in Psychology from Clemson University, and a MEd in Student Affairs and Higher Education from University of South Carolina. You can connect with her at @natalieicruz on twitter.