Nov25201411:17 am

Why the wink and the gun? My submission to the Race Card Project

Attending CIEE’s annual conference last week in Baltimore, I had the opportunity to hear Michele Norris of NPR speak. Norris talked about how she “had it all planned out” but ultimately had to set those plans aside, when life pushed her in a different direction (a sentiment I’m sure many of us can relate to). Specifically, Norris meant she thought she never wanted to be “the reporter who was always talking about race,” but ultimately came to embrace her passion for encouraging candid conversations among Americans about race, ethnicity, and cultural identity.

To that end, she began the Race Card Project, an effort to encourage these conversations. She asks people to distill their thoughts, feelings, and observations about race into one six word sentence. She challenged the CIEE audience to try. Mine came out like this:

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 10.45.24 AM

Norris tweeted me back, asking to hear more. So here it is:

I grew up in a mostly white suburb north of Cincinnati, Ohio. My grade school was not diverse. I remember one black classmate in my year – we played baseball and basketball together – and one girl of Asian descent, but that’s about it. My high school was more diverse, but not by much.

When I was 15 and a half, going on 16, I enrolled in a driver’s ed course, as everyone at that age does. The driving school was in a diverse neighborhood that was also central to many other neighborhoods – so the school drew students from a variety of different places and backgrounds. Which meant a variety of races. Which meant I was in class for the first time with a lot of black students.

I didn’t think much about this in the broader sense of racial politics or diversity. But I do remember being aware of it, aware of the details, like the way my black classmates talked to one other, interacted with the teacher, and approached the learning environment – which was often different than what I was used to at my mostly white school. Not wildly or uncomfortably different, but different enough that I can, 18 years later, still remember being in that classroom.

One day in class, the teacher asked a question. I couldn’t tell you what that question was, but I guess I knew the answer, so I volunteered. I was correct, and the teacher said well done. I remember one of my black classmates turning around and praising me for my correct answer. I don’t remember exactly what he said, and I don’t remember his particular tone or intention. Meaning, he might have been actually praising me, or maybe he was gently giving me shit for being a know-it-all, or more likely somewhere in between. Just one teenager talking to another.

And anyway, that’s not really important. What’s important – and what I do clearly remember – is my reaction. I gave him the wink and the gun. You know, the wink and the gun: that gesture where you stick out both hands like mock guns, thumbs raised and pointer fingers pointed ahead, while winking and making a little clicking sound with your tongue and your back teeth. The reaction to this was instantaneous: raucous laughter all around. Someone yelled with glee, “Oh, he gave you the wink and the gun!” The teacher called for order, things quieted down, and class continued.

I was left burning with some combination of embarrassment and confusion. Why the wink and the gun? Why did I just decide on a gesture I’d ever done before and probably haven’t done since (at least non-ironically)? Did I think this was something black kids my age did? Did I think it would make me “cool” with him? Did I just not have any idea how to relate to a black peer, so I crashed around searching for something, anything, I thought to be appropriate?

In the grand scheme, a small moment. But one that has, for whatever reason, stuck with me. I’m not even sure there’s a broader point here. But if there is, maybe it’s this: when we’re getting to know people different than ourselves (different race, gender, neighborhood, country, culture, etc.), it’s probably best to just be ourselves. And maybe even more importantly, best to allow those we’re getting to know to be themselves too—and avoid imposing upon them our own (likely erroneous) notions of who they are.

Oh, and also, don’t give the wink and the gun. To anyone. It makes you look like an idiot.

No responses yet | Categories: The World at Work

Nov2420143:43 pm

Dealing with the overwhelm: you’re not as busy as you think you are

Are we really as busy as we say we are? Hanna Rosin doesn’t think so.

In Working World, Sherry and I talk about a condition familiar to many, known as “the overwhelm” (a term also mentioned in Rosin’s article). The overwhelm may be not only something we all deal but also something many of us (perhaps unconsciously) strive for:

“Busyness of a certain kind…became a mark of social status, that somewhere in the drudgery of checklists and the crumpled heaps one could detect a hint of glamour.”

This makes sense to me. How many times have I responded to the question of “How’s work?” with the barely-thought-out answer of: “Busy.” And this comes whether I’m actually particularly busy or not. Why am I compelled to characterize things as busy, regardless of reality? Likely because answers like “slow,” “not too bad,” or “you know, I’m actually pretty bored at the moment” aren’t the right ones. I might come across as unengaged, lacking passion, like a slacker. It’s “busyness as a virtue…a conviction that the ideal worker is one who is available at all times because he or she is grateful to be ‘busy.’”

This trap is hard to avoid. We stay late at work or check/answer emails immediately not always because we need to or are required to, but because we think this is a mark of productivity. And this leads us down a path where we confuse being a hard worker with being a smart or talented or efficient one.

One aspect of the international nonprofit world that I am grateful for is a commitment to work-life balance. To ensuring that excess hours and unnatural email response time expectations are not a part of the package. Some of this stems from being in an industry in which salaries are typically lower, and thus some extra “compensation” can be gained from humane hours and expectations. But part of it also comes from working with and around a group of people who are innately curious, restless, and inclined toward a broad interest in the humanities. And what I mean by this is: the international education and exchange community is full of people who like to travel and do other stuff good too. So it’s often not a challenge to get them to listen when you say, “stop working and go do something else.” They’ve likely already booked a plane ticket.

Sherry and I try to give our own antidotes to feeling the overwhelm in Working World: Disconnect. Take a walk, read a book, see a movie, plan a trip (go on a trip!), spend time with family and friends. I think we’d both stand by these recommendations. But I also love this solution from Rosin’s article:

“The answer to feeling oppressively busy…is to stop telling yourself that you’re oppressively busy, because the truth is that we are all much less busy than we think we are.”

No responses yet | Categories: The World at Work

Oct27201410:04 pm

USAID Summer Pathways Internships

Just a brief note: I was made aware that USAID has posted their Summer 2015 Pathways Internship Announcement on USAJobs. There will evidently be multiple opportunities in various offices throughout the agency, so take a look if you’re interested and apply!

No responses yet | Categories: Uncategorized

Oct2720149:40 pm

Global pro bono programs—a focus on the transfer of skills, not the forcing of solutions

In many cases, corporate “global pro bono” programs are able to deliver real, tangible good in the communities in which they operate. How are they able to do this? By focusing not on “dropping in a solution,” but rather on “the transfer of skills,” according to Deirdre White, the CEO of PYXERA Global.

White focused on this topic of the global pro bono in her talk at American University’s School of International Service on October 14 (a talk organized by my co-author, Sherry). Deirdre (also a profilee in Working World) and PYXERA work with corporations around the world to develop and implement corporate, cross-border social programs that work to contribute the corporate employees’ skill sets to a local program or project. Since 2008, PYXERA has worked with 26 corporations, sending 8,000 employees (usually for a month) to 80 countries on five continents. This is impressive. Read the rest of this entry »

No responses yet | Categories: Uncategorized

Oct16201411:23 am

The mid-career melt, or Enjoy your adventure this week

I recently spent the weekend with a close college friend, Brian. My university buddies are scattered around the country and world, so any chance to spend a few days with them (as individuals or a group) is rare and cherished. During our time talking and catching up, Brian and I realized that, as we both approach our mid-thirties, we’re each feeling a sense of stasis, a stagnancy that’s hard to pinpoint but is clearly present. It’s a professional stagnancy, it’s a personal stagnancy, it’s a combination of both.

Both of us have good jobs we enjoy. We are both married to awesome people. We have supportive families, good homes, plenty of books to read and music to listen to, a college football team that’s finally doing well again…so what’s with the complaining? Fair enough.

We realized this stagnancy comes from reaching the end of that first ladder, the “young professional” ladder, and not knowing where to climb next. As scary as being a young professional can be—with all of its requisite challenges and uncertainty—I’m realizing that entering mid-career territory comes with its own set of difficulties. I’m no longer worried about getting my first job, or paying my rent with a meager entry level salary, or learning how to move from operating in an academic environment to a professional one. Read the rest of this entry »

No responses yet | Categories: Uncategorized

Oct920145:47 pm

Corporate volunteerism with Deirdre White of PYXERA Global

I’m very pleased to be hosting a conversation next Tuesday, October 14th with Deirdre White, President and CEO of PYXERA Global (and a profilee in the second edition of Working World). Deirdre is a renowned leader in the field of international economic development and will be speaking on the topic of “corporate volunteerism: the nexus between citizen diplomacy and development.”

In addition to its international development work, PYXERA is also the base for the Center for Citizen Diplomacy. I served as one of the founding board members of the Center and now am honored to continue as a board member of PYXERA Global.

Corporate Volunteerism

2 responses so far | Categories: Uncategorized

Oct720149:48 am

Interesting job opening: Director of Alumni Engagement at World Learning

I wanted to pass along this very interesting position that just became available: Director of Alumni Engagement at World Learning. As the idea of alumni engagement becomes increasingly recognized–by nongovernmental and governmental entities–as an essential way to extend the impact of exchange programs, I won’t be surprised to see more and more of these kinds of positions being created/coming available.

Note preference for someone who has participated in a World Learning Program.

No responses yet | Categories: Career Resources

Oct3201412:09 pm

“How much alcohol can you handle?” and other awkward interview questions

On the heels of Sherry’s great post that included discussion of employer perception during interviews (i.e., how are tattoos and piercings perceived during an interview?), I was intrigued by this article over at QZ.com: awkward questions asked during Korean job interview, including:

  • Are you dating anyone?
  • How long does it take you to do your makeup?
  • How much alcohol can you handle?
  • What do you plan on spending your first paycheck on?

Although the article notes that such personal questions are no longer typically asked in interviews at Korean companies, the reason they were ever asked in the first place is illuminating: to get a sense of the job applicant as a person and determine whether he or she would fit into company culture.

Working in a small organization with a staff of only four, I’m keenly aware that personal fit matters. When we hire, we’re looking for someone who is not only smart and skilled and accomplished, someone who can get the job done, but also someone who will mesh well with the team. We don’t all have to be best friends, but it is important that we are cohesive both professionally and personally. Our performance as an organization depends on it.

And thus our interviews reflect this fact. We ask questions that are not awkwardly personal or borderline inappropriate, like those listed in the article, but ones that are meant to draw out personal interests and activities, especially those related to our industry. Talk about a particularly meaningful experience during your time studying abroad. Where did you go on your most recent international trip? If you could study one language you don’t currently speak, what would it be? What’s the last book you read and would you recommend it? (That last one’s not international, but I think it’s an interesting conversation starter anyway.)

The point is that anyone prepping for an interview would do well to prepare for some personal discussion. No need to disclose your dating history or your drinking prowess—but if you can talk compellingly about some of your personal interests, and paint a fuller picture of yourself as a person beyond the professional realm, you’re more likely to make an impression in an employer’s mind as someone they want to work with.

No responses yet | Categories: Uncategorized

Sep29201411:52 am

A strong sense of service

One of the joys of traveling around the country promoting the second edition of Working World is that I have the opportunity to meet with extraordinary young people who already have a strong sense of wanting to be of service. I share the comments of the New Visions high school group (and their teacher) whom I wrote about last week less because of their positive comments about my presentation (although I greatly appreciate them), and more because of what their comments say about them and what they hope to achieve. It is always heartening to get beyond the beltway and beyond the headlines to restore one’s perspective and renew hope.

We are often buffeted by so much bad news and tragedy that is is instructive to be reminded that there are many fine young people getting ready to be a force for good in our turbulent world.

Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us. I learned a lot about the interview process I didn’t ever think of and in the future I know that will be helpful when starting a career.

- Madison Pagano Read the rest of this entry »

No responses yet | Categories: Uncategorized

Sep2520141:11 pm

A spirited discussion with students in Albany

Last week I enjoyed giving my first series of presentations on the second edition of Working World. Diane Conroy-LaCivita, the Executive Director of the International Center of the Capital Region in Albany, NY (a member of Global Ties U.S.), organized a great schedule. It included appearances at Siena College, The School of Public Health (University at Albany), and The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza. The Book House is a welcoming and independent bookstore with many appealing books, games, and book related items. (I did my part for the New York economy by shopping after the discussion, which focused more on issues relevant to mid-career professionals.)

The photo below was taken after a lively discussion about careers and Working World at the Center for Global Health at the University at Albany. This group of high school seniors – participating in a “New Visions” advanced placement enrichment program—has already decided that they want some kind of career in global health. It was truly a privilege to share the structure and highlights of Working World with them. The Q&A section morphed into a spirited dialogue. They asked some thought-provoking questions. Mark and I welcome your answers to these questions.

Q: How are tattoos and piercings perceived during an interview?

A: Various managers will react differently. In my opinion, however, you do not want to distract the person interviewing you from focusing in on your experience and abilities. I remember interviewing someone with a tongue piercing and my mind kept drifting away from what she was saying. I kept wondering, “Does that hurt?” It’s always best to err on the conservative side until you can assess the culture of a particular organization.

Q: What is your greatest regret regarding your career? Read the rest of this entry »

3 responses so far | Categories: Uncategorized

May1420143:32 pm

Close Up Encounters

On a recent flight from Washington, DC, to Minneapolis, I enjoyed one of those now rare occasions—they used to happen quite often—when I had an interesting conversation with my seat partner. In this time of headphones, ear buds, and other cocoon-creating tech devices, it was fun to exchange ideas once again with a random stranger.

Being co-author of a book on careers, I am keenly interested in ways people make a living, how they view their jobs, and the extent to which they deliberate about their careers.

The conversation began the way so many in Washington, DC, start. I asked, “What do you do?” My seat partner replied: “I work for an organization that brings high school students to Washington, DC, for a week’s immersion in government.” “The Close Up Foundation?” I guessed. “Yes,” he replied. I then learned a great deal more about this remarkable nonprofit organization founded in 1971. When I worked as a program officer at the Institute of International Education (IIE) early in my career, I often scheduled appointments with Close Up staff for participants in the (then USIA sponsored) International Visitor Program. It was the ideal meeting for foreign leaders interested in how young Americans learn to participate in a democracy. I even remember thinking at the time it would be rewarding to work for Close Up.

My seatmate was Jon Gerst who started at Close Up as a program instructor in 2010, advanced to program leader, and now serves as an Outreach Representative as of last August. Jon travels around the country—and sometimes to U.S. territories, such as Guam, as well as other countries—meeting with teachers and principals to help recruit the 16,000 students who participate in Close Up programs each year. Most programs (one teacher per ten students) begin on Sunday and end on the following Friday evening. Activities range from a day on Capitol Hill to Embassy visits.

“Inform, Inspire, Empower” is the Close Up mantra. Learn more at www.closeup.org.

When I asked Jon what he liked best about his job, Jon noted he totally embraced the mission. “I love that students from around the country learn to tackle weighty issues with in-person civil conversations.” He works with teachers who become community activists, not just for one week, but all year long. We agreed that it is vitally important for young people to get engaged in the political process.

“What characteristics do you need to work for Close Up?” I asked. Jon answered: “The ability to improvise and be quick on your feet, a willingness to work long and hard, and open-mindedness. You must not write anyone off too quickly. This is surely a set of traits any employer would appreciate.”

No responses yet | Categories: Uncategorized

Apr15201411:25 am

Second edition of Working World is out!

Sherry and I so pleased that we can now announce: the second edition of Working World: Careers in International Education, Exchange, and Development is out! We had a wonderful time working together again, and hope that you find this new edition — complete with many new resources, new concepts, and new profiles of compelling professionals — to be a valuable addition to our field.

We’re thankful to have again had the opportunity to work with our excellent colleagues at Georgetown University Press. The new edition is available for sale on their website, and they’ve been kind enough to pass along a 30% discount code for friends and readers of the Working World site (TX54).

Speaking of this site: while it’s been dormant for quite some time, Sherry and I are committed to re-activating it in a compelling way! (You can see from Sherry’s previous post she’s already getting started.) So be sure to check back to this space for lively discussions, interesting links, profiles of professionals in our fields, and much more!

1 response so far | Categories: Uncategorized

Apr1420145:23 pm

Knowledge of Protocol: Building Block for an International Career

Some international careers require an in-depth knowledge of protocol. My friend, Benedicte Valentiner, is a good example. She served four presidents as general manager of Blair House. Her book with the title Bedtime and Other Stories from the President’s Guest House is a great read for those interested in the care and feeding of world leaders.

Many international jobs require at least a rudimentary knowledge of protocol. There are scary examples of international incidents that could have been averted if those involved had received basic training in topics ranging from appropriate seating at formal dinners to flag placement in cultural traditions. My young colleague Kim Starfield, who serves as Assistant Protocol Officer for the Secretary of Homeland Security, told me about an upcoming Protocol 101 Workshop on May 16. It is sponsored by the PDI-POA: Protocol Officers Association. Mark and I often write about the building blocks of your career. Knowledge of protocol is certainly one.

1 response so far | Categories: Uncategorized

Jan3020137:25 am

A second edition is in the works!

Has it really been almost three years since I last posted in this space? It’s amazing how real life can get in the way of even the best intentions.

I’m resurfacing, though — at least for now — to share the happy news that Sherry and I are hard at work on a second edition of Working World: Careers in International Education, Exchange, and Development! This second edition will again be published by our wonderful colleagues at Georgetown University Press, with plans for a 2014 release.

This second edition will feature the same philosophy you came to love in the first Working World book — namely, pushing international job seekers to challenge their assumptions about what it means to pursue a career in international relations and to recognize that the path to career success is rarely straight. We’ll also be adding lots of exciting new content, including:

  • New and updated profiles of fascinating professionals in these fields — you can learn so much from their diverse career paths and excellent career insights;
  • New and updated international job hunting and career resources — much has changed since the last edition was published, and so many resources are out there — we’ll be bringing you the best of them; and
  • Expanded discussions on key topics important to both current professionals and job seekers in these fields (such as identifying your cause, the art of networking, the value of mentors, and viewing your career as a continuous journey).

We’re so pleased that much of our new content is being inspired and driven by reader input and feedback.

For now, Sherry and I are focusing our energy on completing the second edition. But we hope to re-energize this blog in the months ahead as a discussion space for any and all issues related to careers in international education, exchange, and development.

Thank you for your support, and see you soon in the new Working World!

1 response so far | Categories: Sherry and Mark

Apr520104:19 pm

NYTimes: “Unpaid internships may be illegal”

With the number of unpaid internships available to students continuing to rise, the Department of Labor and other state-level bodies are apparently beginning to “step up enforcement nationwide” of potential violations of minimum wage laws, the New York Times said last week. In particular, the Labor Department “says it is cracking down on firms that fail to pay interns properly and expanding efforts to educate companies, colleges and students on the law regarding internships.”

It’s no secret that internships are a way in, a way to make that first connection that will jump start your career. Ross Perlin notes that “internships have become the gateway into the white-collar work force…Employers increasingly want experience for entry-level jobs, and many students see the only way to get that is through unpaid internships.” (I recently met Ross, who is doing great work on two fronts: conducting research on endangered minority languages in southern China, around Kunming, and writing a book about the phenomenon of internships in the U.S.) My “in” into the field of international exchange and education came with an internship with Sherry and NCIV.

We touch on this subject in Working World the book,  asking whether internships are perhaps exploitation, but concluding that, while certain internships may be, the overall institution of being an intern is important to career development. But we also note, I now read with interest, that the vast majority of interns will receive “no remuneration or (if you are lucky) a modest stipend.” But is that how it should be?

The Times article is hinting that it doesn’t matter what should or shouldn’t be: the law may dictate that paying interns is a necessity. But even beyond the legality of it, unpaid work is always a tough pill to swallow, especially for young professionals on thin budgets. I feel lucky that I interned with NCIV, which does provide at least a modest stipend for its interns, and got my managerial legs under Sherry, who believes that interns should always be paid for their work, even if it isn’t all that much. The same holds true here at the Alliance—we can’t pay much, but we at least give something.

I guess ultimately, when you’re looking for an internship, pay can’t be the driving factor. If you’re able to find an internship that gives you maximum professional benefit (and I would describe that as an internship that allows you to work with good people, that allows you to work on substantive projects [not just menial stuff] and own your work, and that allows you access to more people in the field with whom you can network), then pay will probably seem rather secondary, especially if that internship leads you to something good down the road.

But even so, I agree with a movement away from unpaid internships. This system (especially here in DC, where things are expensive and there is no shortage of people willing to make you pay your dues) unfairly favors those who have connections and resources to survive on when not getting paid.

5 responses so far | Categories: Uncategorized

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