When students return from overseas, it’s quite common to hear them use the phrase, “study abroad changed my life.” While I loved the five months I spent in the heart of Sydney, Australia, I would be more likely to say that study abroad shaped my life. Studying overseas not only provided me with international friendships and personal confidence, but it also helped to solidify my choice in a future career.
Heading to Australia, I was a recently new psychology major with no clue of what I wanted to do following graduation. However, while I was traveling, learning, making new friendships, and gaining independence, something clicked. Now, a full year later, I still have the same confidence in my career choice. So, while most of my classmates are moving on to pursue doctorate degrees in psychology, I’m applying for jobs in international education. And even though the uncertainty in my future is somewhat frightening, I’m glad I’m pursuing a career I am passionate about.
Here are some typical questions I am asked about my future in international education:
What inspired you to pursue a career in international education?
My main source of inspiration came from my interactions with IFSA staff before, during, and after my time abroad. They were extremely encouraging, supportive, timely, and professional in all of my interactions. I became close with my student services coordinator, Fiona, while I was in Sydney. Not only is she one of the most hilarious people I’ve ever met (she’s a real comedian) but also the most genuine. Her job allows her to meet a new group of students from the United States twice a year. However, Fiona still made each student feel important, and helped in any way she could during the transition process. Clearly this was her job, but to many of us she also was a friend. On a weekend trip sponsored by IFSA, myself, two friends, and Fiona woke up at 5:30 in the morning to watch the sunrise over Bathurst, Australia. Seeing the moon and sun in the sky in the presence of great company isn’t something I’ll likely forget soon.
How can study abroad stay relevant in your life years after you have returned?
Since returning from Sydney almost a year ago, I’ve stayed active with IFSA in order to keep my passion for international education alive. So, for students who don’t change their career path during their time abroad, still having connections with other IFSA alumni can help study abroad stay relevant in their lives. Revisiting experiences or feelings one had during his or her time abroad can keep the memories alive. And, sharing these experiences with prospective students can not only encourage others to explore the options that study abroad offers but also help someone share their story. Even when all of your friends are sick of hearing you go on and on about the St. Patrick’s Day you spent in Ireland, there will always be new students who can’t wait to hear about it.
Also, the networking options available to students through these alumni groups can help immensely when pursuing or advancing a career. IFSA students are encouraged to join alumni groups on Facebook after returning from overseas. Many of the alumni studied in the same countries and universities, allowing students to connect on many levels. IFSA staff regularly post updates about current events or opportunities to return! Also, since returning I have had the opportunity to become an IFSA ambassador and promote study abroad on my campus. Working with the study abroad office has helped to reassure me of my career goals, and planning events for prospective students has also been a monumental factor in working towards a career in international education.
Can you do ‘that’ without being fluent in another language?
Yes. While being fluent in a foreign language is always beneficial, students are frequently traveling to English speaking countries for study abroad and exchange, making monolingual professionals still needed and useful for careers in international education. English-speaking countries with well-developed study abroad programs include Australia, England, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, all of which need advisors in the states and at the host universities.
Also, many countries and universities have English-speaking representatives, allowing the opportunity to still be in communication with people from many different cultures.
Why did traveling outside of the US help you make this decision?
I think that travel encourages learning at any point in life. Many students pursing careers in the medical field travel to third-world countries and perform mission trips, aiding and assisting the natives of the country. Study abroad can be seen in a similar light. It is a chance to get away from the comfort of your daily routine, it’s a time to feel vulnerable and use that insecurity to explore new options. To attend a university over ten times as big as your home university. To meet someone new and hope they share the same passion for adventure, and to hope they will be your travel partner for the next five months. All of those reasons and ten thousand more are why students returning from abroad feel a new-found confidence. So, while yes, study abroad is scary and uncertain (quite similar to my future post-graduation), it is also a great opportunity to expand your cultural pallet and even shape your life in a new way.
My time in Australia was full of adventure, growth, and independence. I can only hope that I have the opportunity during my career to aid students in experiencing the growth, understanding, and benefits of international education, travel, and friendship.
Kelsey O’Shaghnessy is a student at Butler University and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at the University of Sydney in 2013.