Travel, Study, and Then What?
Students are studying outside the United States in record numbers, as reflected by an increase of 8 percent in 2007 compared to the year before (Institute of International Education [IIE], 2008). Even though study abroad has been practiced by higher education students for a century (Hoffa, 2007), today it is recognized as an intensive intercultural training experience and an important pre-professional exercise. However, what career development resources can students access prior to initiating a study abroad experience, and what resources are helpful upon return or after graduation to help connect learning abroad to career qualifications? For this investigation, education abroad experts at leading U.S. study abroad offices reported the resources they utilize and lack, offering a descriptive picture of both the support and connectivity across education abroad and career offices at college and university campuses.
During summer 2007, thirty-seven education abroad and career advisers completed an online survey. The returns were analyzed alongside data from national-level annual reports (IIE, 2008) and available institutional datasets to determine how education abroad and career development professionals view this challenge. This paper will focus on the immediate responses of the advisers in terms of the tools at their disposal, resources they would most like to have for the profession in support of students' international career development, and recommended future resource development in this area. The research also draws attention to the need for expanded interaction among education abroad personnel, career office staff, and related campus offices.
Background: From a U.S. to a Global Perspective
Historically, study abroad and global careers were loosely connected concepts. Logical trajectories beyond a junior year abroad might have been translation work, the U.S. Foreign Service, the Peace Corps, international sales, or employment in higher education itself. In the contemporary context, the broad socio-cultural interpretive skills that result from an extended study abroad experience apply broadly in a multicultural society. Professionals from the arts to the military apply these skills in ways that speak to the uniqueness of human adaptability through continuous historical migrations (Pieterse, 2004). In many ways, learning abroad, with assumed connections with professional advancement and public aesthetics, continues to this day to relate to gaining skills relevant in an emerging, although highly contested global (Burbules & Torres, 2000), flat world (Friedman, 2005), or similarly described economy. On a parallel level, however, the current pace of globalization challenges career advisers to address new practicalities that link intercultural learning outcomes associated with education abroad to professional skills in specific fields.
Connecting Study to Careers
Since 2000, the numbers of students seeking international learning experiences have grown consistently (IIE, 2008). For the U.S. student, this means greater numbers of foreign students in U.S. classrooms, more diverse student populations in other countries, and a greater need to link learning to a future professional context. If the professional world operates in a multicultural, multilingual context, students today must show they have developed the qualifications to function effectively in the emerging global economy. In the college and university context, education abroad, career development, and academic advising professionals all will need to be aware of what intercultural learning outcomes constitute and identify resources that can support students' needs as they transition from university to professional work.
The fields of both education abroad and career counseling have seen dramatic shifts in recent years. From the early years of one-person offices with massive job-posting bulletin boards to today's diverse staffing models with specialized offices within each college of research universities, these fields have matured and grown as accountability movements have linked institutional success with immediate job placement after graduation. The vocationalization and academic capitalism (Slaughter, 1998) associated with higher education today; increasing use of competitive rankings; alumni donor prospects; and the increasing research, funding, and incubator connectivity that happens between the corporate sector and higher education support the rationale to expand these services. Connections between the career office and education abroad advisers have grown in recent years, as direct links between experiential, internship, intercultural, and similar capstone learning experiences are tied to advanced professional qualifications (Matherly & Nolting, 2007).
The survey reported in this study was utilized to determine if indeed there are identifiable needs of the field, according to education abroad advisers, as well as commonly used tools, texts, or online sources. The results are reported below.
The survey was e-mailed to education abroad (EA) interest group members within the Association of International Educators (NAFSA), which is the largest professional organization of international educators. The objective of the pilot survey was to gain a clear signal that career development issues are important to EA advisers and to learn what tools they either use or lack in their work relating education abroad learning outcomes to student career development. The survey was designed both to take a snapshot of current practices and to gather descriptions, lists, resources, and networks associated with both career and education abroad offices. Though most of the respondents were U.S.-based education abroad advisers, the task force identified student as a higher education student from anywhere in the world, unless otherwise distinguished by the designation U.S. or international or by specific region. The task force did not recognize distinctions between full-time, work visa, or other categories of student; students seeking professional internships in the United States; or U.S.-born students seeking work opportunities outside the country (among numerous other distinctions). Primarily, this was to demonstrate to international educators a borderless approach to the study, thus not distinguishing between students from midwestern United States and those from Japan who happen to be completing a summer business internship in Mexico, for example. As a result, perhaps the responses included more imaginative ideas for online portals through which students, employers, and advisers might someday communicate in a borderless, virtual job market. The questions were designed to elicit descriptions of best practices, produce lists of existing resources, and to clarify how professional organizations can help advisers meet career development needs. From the targeted sampling and overall response, the data indicated that professional linkages occurred between education abroad and career advisers; however, the data also indicated there were wide gaps in support, knowledge of existing resources, and needs of the professions. The remainder of this paper addresses both the findings and future considerations associated with the research.
The respondents offered extensive comments and suggestions about developing future resources to align education abroad with career development. An element of frustration was evident in the responses: In some offices, employers rarely (43 percent) or never (10 percent) seek help in identifying students with international career interests. More than 63 percent of responding advisers indicated they did not have an appropriate level of information and resources to assist students with their international career development needs. A summary of the overall findings is shown in Table 1 below.
|1.||As universities emerge as global institutions, there is a distinct need on U.S. campuses to form knowledge networks that make learning and working a global exercise.|
|2.||Education abroad and career offices on campus have distinct missions that intersect in at least one key way: connecting learning with future employment. Minimal routine interaction between these offices on most campuses results in limited networking and, most probably, unexplored intersections between the missions of these offices.|
|3.||Education partnerships with the private sector could pioneer education and work connections in the global economy.|
|4.||There is a dearth of resources available to education abroad professionals that connect what they do with the learning that students achieve in education abroad programs with students' future work endeavors. NAFSA and partners should encourage research in this area.|
|5.||While some resources exist on certain campuses and elsewhere, there is no comprehensive archive or database on international careers; internship opportunities; visa, travel, and cultural information; case studies of people who have made successful work transitions to other countries; and organizations that hire, serve, train, or connect these people.|
|6.||Existing adviser training materials should be updated with information on linking the education abroad experience and student career development interests.|
|7.||In order to build a common base of knowledge for the education abroad and career services fields, an online repository/database should be developed that includes extensive links to global career development information; workshops, Webinars, and similar learning events; and support organizations.|
|8.||International educators responded with requests for research and dissemination of new knowledge on these issues. There was particular interest in disseminating best practices.|
Advisers Share Resources
The field of international career development is becoming increasingly specialized. Career staffs work within each college and often within academic specializations at major technology and graduate universities (such as Johns Hopkins University and M.I.T.). Increasingly, offices are specialized and, all too often, independent of the university-wide career office. This causes both benefits (through specialization) and drawbacks (fracture and separation on campus). A small number of respondents, all indicating they enjoyed support and were well connected, also indicated that their greatest connectivity and source of success was a direct channel to global corporations. The success of direct partnerships may indicate a direction for future development among colleges, career offices, international education units, and career organizations in developing inclusive practices for private, nonprofit, and commercial interests in their work. At the same time, the vast majority of respondents indicated there were a handful of beneficial websites to which they directed students and a few commonly used campus practices or recommendations to connect international experience with career development.
Sources mentioned most often as providing detailed and helpful information included the University of Michigan International Center, The University of Minnesota Learning Abroad Center (2008), and the Boston Re-entry Conference. Other often mentioned sources included:
- Association of International Educators (NAFSA): www.nafsa.org
- British Universities North America Club (BUNAC): www.bunac.org
- Transitions Abroad: www.transitionsabroad.com
- Idealist.org: www.idealist.org
- What's Up With Culture?: www.pacific.edu/sis/culture
For the most part, the above sites help students connect their interests with volunteer, part-time, or short-term work abroad experiences (BUNAC and idealist.org), offer adviser and student resources (NAFSA), or both (Transitions Abroad). The last siteidentified in the responses as What's Up With Culture?offers a pre-departure online tutorial for study abroad students. Several other sites were included and many more exist. In many cases, these websites were offered in association with other international education resources to help students relate their newly acquired intercultural life skills with the communications skills necessary for the workplace.
Translating Experience into Practical Skills
Respondents indicated a need to translate experience abroad into practical skills and suggested that students often lack the sound bites and precise stories to connect how they could make a difference in the workplace. Texts by Adler (2007) and Oddou and Mendenhall (1998) and articles by Black (1988, 1991), among a few others not readily available online, as well as Frontiers journal and NACE Journal (see additional resources below for these and related websites) were all mentioned as sources to help both students and advisers develop the language needed to connect experience with employment. However, advisers also noted that much of the literature is in the realm of scholarship or textbooks, signifying that student-friendly and entry-level professional resources are needed. To this end, the respondents identified key activities in practice that support applying international experience to career development: (a) on-campus job fairs and placement services that include education abroad offices; (b) global partners and international alumni willing to network with emerging graduates; (c) post-graduate fellowships and internships; and (d) Peace Corps, Council on International Educational Exchange, BUNAC, or similar job placements.
There is every indication from advisers that not only are students more interested in global careers, but employers prefer to hire trainable employees who already have both language and communication skills to succeed in the workplace. Primarily, advisers saw a need to help students better articulate their transferable skills; better connect advisers across offices, colleges, and regions and across commercial, government, and nonprofit sectors; and initiate further research and especially resource development. Respondents also expressed considerable interest in compiling employer and student testimonials on the importance of international experience, which perhaps might exist in an intranet or on public websites.
Connecting Research to Development of Practical Tools
The research priority included the need to document the connection between international experience and professional work as well as engage in applied research that will produce comprehensive training, advising, and career office resources. One suggestion from four respondents recommended developing an interactive website or portal to student international career development. Each of the four referenced the JobHuntersBible.com website (Bolles, 2009), the official site for the book What Color Is Your Parachute?, as a model, so perhaps a group hatched this concept prior to the survey and then the respondents independently offered it. Nevertheless, an online portal is an ideal that offers multiple pathways to learning about the strengths associated with intercultural learning, tried and tested career searches, links to online job sources, a discussion board for both seekers and sources of jobs, and an archive for articles and links to other educational and global career development resources.
Primarily, however, the respondents indicated a need for an online tutorial or curriculum to guide the prospective graduate through everything from personality, language, and intercultural assessments to categories of jobs available according to qualifications plus company and staff profiles that give a sense of future workplace environments.
Respondents also offered an array of suggestions about the need to link students to international career sources. First, suggestions called for a link between international career training and pre-departure orientations for study abroad programs. Second, respondents said added emphasis on practical internships abroad would help to attract employers' interest in graduates with such intercultural learning experience. Next, students should relate their experiences during interviews much as they express these studies and internships in their résumés. Many respondents lamented students' lack of interest in contacting alumni or completing informational interviews while abroad, though these efforts could serve to make career connections prior to graduation. There was a noted lack of connection between the appeals from business leaders for team players in the workplace and the lack of team projects in the classroom. Finally, respondents saw a need to build advising partnerships with high school counselors and language teachers and in similar environments where younger audiences might learn to construct careers over much longer periods of time and through complex personal and professional networks.
Communications Skills as Key Competency
In a comprehensive analysis of the data, one item appears time and time again: students' lack of communication skills. Advisers indicate that students lack the ability to articulate their study abroad experiences or refine their résumés to highlight heightened intercultural skills and cannot network across cultural, professional, and other social arenas to make successful transitions from student to professional life. This may result from trying to translate the benefits of short-term study abroad programs (most are now in the range of four weeks) to learning outcomes associated with earlier full-semester study abroad standards. Such concerns about limited communications skills are common stories in current news, often in association with technology, toys, and individualism of the present age (Koschalk, 2008; Liberatore, 2008). In this case, students who have studied abroad and have nearly completed baccalaureate or even graduate degrees reportedly lack skills to effectively communicate benefits of their learning experiences into the professional realm.
Perhaps the above is one rationale for including the position of career development officer at institutions. It may even imply the need to better connect students with their own learning outcomes. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note this finding in a study that not once asked about the communications skills of students. With the resources reported above, career and education abroad advisers will have an expanded array of available tools and potential projects to consider.
This study indicated that career and education abroad advisers lack the resources to connect students with global careers. Furthermore, these same advisers point to a gap in student learning abroad and students' ability to communicate the benefits of their experiences to the workplace. University alumni, development professionals, and business operations managers increasingly recognize the value of global connectivity, and for more than a decade have been cultivating international business and financial relationships (Peterson, 1998). Career officers are positioned to connect students across national and cultural boundaries, but only with adequate resources to do so. As universities endeavor to train global citizens, they would do well to recognize the specific support offices that can link alumni and professional networks with students at the earliest opportunity, and from a U.S. perspective, long before students leave for study abroad or return home.