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How to Break into the Field of Study Abroad

This is definitely my most asked question – “How did you get into the field of education/study abroad?”

To be honest, I fell into it. I have discussed it on the blog before in more detail, but the short version is that I had an opportunity to work for my undergraduate advisor in Rome. That opportunity turned into a yearly summer job that I loved, and since I was a high school teacher and then full-time PhD student, I was able to work abroad in Italy every summer. Over the years I became passionate about education abroad and when it came time to pursue my PhD, I knew that I wanted to incorporate it into my future career plans.

Falling into education abroad was a blessing and a curse. While I had lots of on-the-ground experience, I had no formal training/education in the field and I was not part of the profession. This meant that despite my 10+ years of experience, I initially struggled to get my foot in the door.

I know many students who are so changed by their experiences abroad that they want to pursue education abroad as a career, but most, like I was, are not sure what positions to apply for, what qualifications employers are looking for, or even where to find jobs in education abroad. I have learned sooooo much over the past six weeks working full-time in the field of Education Abroad that I wanted to share more information on the field at large and some excellent professional resources.

First, I think it is important to understand the field of International Education generally. Under the umbrella of International Education are three subfields — International Scholar and Student Services, Education Abroad, and English Language Learning. Most people select one of these individual subfields to specialize in. But, at smaller universities, or if you are looking to move into a director’s position one day, you will need familiarity with all three.

  • International Scholar and Student Services, or ISS, deals mostly with international scholars and students here in the US. In this field you would need to understand or learn about F1 and J1 visas and have an interest in advising and supporting an international population at a US institution.
  • Education Abroad deals mostly with sending US students abroad for semester/year exchanges, faculty led-programs, and third party partners or affiliates.
  • As the name implies, English Language Learning, or ELL, focuses on providing English language training to non-native speakers at US institutions.

First thing is first, you need to have a passport, have traveled, and, preferably, studied abroad. All employers in all of these subfields will be looking for this. All jobs will also require at least a bachelor’s degree, and will likely prefer a master’s degree. Knowledge of at least one other language will also be listed in most job qualifications. Unless the job is looking for fluency in a specific language to work with an embassy or student population, this is another way that they are ensuring applicants have experience abroad and a global perspective.

Finally, you need experience. This will be the hardest to gain. If you are still in school, it is best to intern at your university’s International or Study Abroad Office. If you are already out of school, you will need to acquire time working/advising students. You can substitute teach to gain experience, but I would recommend considering a master’s program, especially if you can find one in International Education.

On your resume, be sure to highlight anything relating to the following — travel, language, student travel, teaching/working with students, and crisis management training.

Because the field is generally pretty new, there is not a lot of consistency in job titles/positions, or even the way universities organize their international offices/programs. This can be frustrating, but generally “advisors” are the entry-level positions (i.e. study abroad advisor or international student advisor) you will be looking for if you want to break into the field. Most job openings are posted on multiple platforms, but HigherEd Jobs and Indeed are great places to start looking at what is out there.

NAFSA is the largest and most prominent professional association for international educators. The NAFSA website is an amazing resource that posts job openings, professional resources (definitely read through some of these before crafting your resume and personal statement), and information on programs and events. Joining is expensive, but could be the ticket to getting into the field and landing a job. If you don’t want to join on your own, you can also register to attend your regional conference. Regional conferences are the place to network with potential employers, expand your buzz or keyword vocabulary, and have your resume reviewed by professionals working and hiring in the field.

All jobs will ask for at least these two items when applying, and if you are trying to break into the field, your resume and personal statement will make or break you. If you are a grad student, be sure to highlight your teaching experiences and translate your academic skills into relevant professional skills (see this post for more info). You also need to tailor each resume and personal statement for each position you are applying for.

In your personal statement, don’t waste time discussing the platitudes of study abroad, they know this already, that’s why they are in the field. Instead, make concrete statements about how your experiences align with the position you are applying for. Refrain from discussing the impact your experiences had on you, instead state in your letter what you did and the knowledge you gained during your own experiences abroad.

And finally, despite the ongoing debate within academia, I think the look of your resume matters. In fact, my boss went on and on about how great my resume looked and how it stood out because it was so well designed. If you are not a graphic designer, don’t worry, you can buy Word-freindly, but still sleek, resume templates here.

I am sure I am missing more tips and advice, but studies show that people don’t read blogs longer than 1,000 words. So, I will stop here for now. Feel free to leave any tips or ask any questions below!