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.”

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Apr520101:21 pm

Hi kids, I’m back

I can’t say what’s prompted me to make a return to Working World today, on a beautiful spring day in DC, especially after many months of inactivity. I also can’t really explain what led to my recent hiatus. The simplest answer seems to be that I just wasn’t feeling it—I didn’t want to force it. So I let things rest for awhile (rest, at least, on the Working World front—I’ve been as busy as ever with my “real” life).

But I’m feeling now that a little bit of rest did me good and like I want to try to get back into the swing a bit, so hope some of you are still around! And because my title is a quote from the masterpiece of modern cinema, “Kindergarten Cop,” and because this is awesome:

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Dec820099:59 am

Attention students going abroad with parents giving you crap about it, ctd.

The British Council agrees with IES Study Abroad (whose recent study shows study abroad experiences give U.S. college students a decided “edge” in the global job market):

Venturing overseas to get a degree makes you attractive to employers – and it’s fun.

Thanks to David Comp for the tip on this article. David also points to the oddly cheery “and it’s fun” in the subtitle, as well as the fact that this fun factor (which we can’t help agree with) is never discussed in the actual article. David asks: “Why then did the author feel the need to include this in the sub-title of the article?” A good question, especially when you consider the last line of the article:

“If you don’t like it, you can always go home.”

Fair enough and certainly true. But related to both David’s take on the balance between an academically rigorous study abroad program and one in which students are able to travel, drink “underage,” and generally cut loose, as well as this idea of whether study/living abroad is always “fun,” I’ll throw out there that: 1) life abroad is not always fun and 2) even the un-fun parts can still be beneficial.

A quick example: my girlfriend studied abroad in Paris for a semester, though it was supposed to be a year: she cut it short because the experience was a difficult one for her (she didn’t like it, so she went home, I suppose). That doesn’t mean she didn’t like everything about the experience. There were many parts of France and the French and life with her host family that she loved. But there were also an overwhelming number of difficulties (expenses and difficulties with overaggressive and culturally-insensitive French men, to name but two) that made her experience a truly “un-fun” one, so much so that she cut her time there short. She didn’t have “fun” on her study abroad experience in the same way many people do—traveling every weekend and drinking into the wee hours every night. Yet her experience in Paris was still very formative. She gained important skills that she continues to use to this day—not just language and cultural skills, but also perseverance, adaptation, and self-reliance. Despite some negative experiences, she still holds a great affection for France and the French people. And despite the fact that she wasn’t able to travel all over Europe like many of her classmates, she came away from the experience with a desire to see more and go further, a desire which she has been trying to satisfy through further international experience and travel as she gets older.

As David says, everyone has a different definition of fun. In the same way, the “success” of a study abroad experience can come in different ways for different people. It’s important to both be open to what comes your way while you’re actually studying abroad, and to allow yourself the opportunity to discover how that study abroad experience continues to affect you (perhaps in unexpected ways) as you move further away from it.

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Dec420094:52 pm

Give it a ponder

When sending out any email or other type of communication during your job search, it never hurts to take your time and do it right, to, as the wonderfully strange James Lipton says, give it a ponder:

Lots more Lipton here. Of course, any Lipton reference inevitably brings us back to Will Ferrell and a scrumtralescent Alec Baldwin:

1 response so far | Categories: The World at Work

Dec320095:01 pm

Attention students going abroad with parents giving you crap about it

Something for you to counter that crap with: an IES Abroad study that shows study abroad experiences give U.S. college students a decided “edge” in the global job market:

Parents of returning study abroad college students found the experience initiated a sea-change in their willingness to be more responsible, act independently, and take on the world by themselves.

I place this and other arguments like it in the category of “things I wished I’d known 7-10 years ago when debating my dad about the merits of going abroad.” That I would be gaining “maturity, self-confidence, appreciation for other cultures, and independence,” marketable skills in any profession, would probably have sounded a lot better than, “Well, uh, why not? I know you don’t want me living in the basement anymore anyway…”

In other news, was my study abroad really 10 years ago? Almost. Guh.

1 response so far | Categories: Career Resources, The World at Work

Dec320094:34 pm

Cross-cultural communication, cultural anthropology, and the Human Terrain System

I’m only now getting around to reading the November Atlantic (frequent WW readers already know of my obsession with the mag and its blogs), and one of its 27 brave new thinkers caught my attention: Montgomery McFate. Not only because her fantastic name reads like that of a Bond girl, but also because of the work she’s done as a cultural anthropologist recruited by the Pentagon to develop the Human Terrain System. HTS describes its goals as such:

The near-term focus of the HTS program is to improve the military’s ability to understand the highly complex local socio-cultural environment in the areas where they are deployed; however, in the long-term, HTS hopes to assist the US government in understanding foreign countries and regions prior to an engagement within that region.

The areas of cross-cultural communication, intercultural understanding, and cultural anthropology strike me as particularly ripe for talented, linguistically-skilled and culturally-nuanced people looking for an internationally-focused career —and as areas, as the HTS makes clear, where there is a lot of work to be done:

Iraqi drivers would unaccountably fail to stop when ordered to at checkpoints, and American soldiers, fearing a suicide bombing, would open fire—sometimes killing innocents. One possible reason was a devastatingly simple cultural confusion: the American gesture for “stop”—arm straight, palm out—means “welcome” in Iraq. “This and similar misunderstandings have deadly consequences,” McFate wrote in Joint Force Quarterly in 2005.

Luby Ismail, profiled in Working World the book, runs Connecting Cultures, which facilitates diversity training and cross-cultural awareness for a variety of clients (including the military). A good resource for those interested in cross-cultural work is the Intercultural Management Quarterly and its corresponding institute at American University run by Dr. Gary Weaver, a former professor of mine at AU and something of a legend in the cross-cultural communication field.

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Dec220093:08 pm

The racial gap in the job hunt

I read with interest this piece in the NYTimes yesterday about the racial gap in the job hunt and felt it was worthy of attention, and perhaps comment, in this space—though I really didn’t know how to thoughtfully add to the discussion, as racism in my career has never reared its nasty head (either directly, as I’ve always been a white job applicant, or indirectly, as I’ve never personally witnessed outright workplace racial discrimination).

Luckily Ta-Nehesi Coates steps in and does the heavy lifting for us. His take on all matters black and white is as thoughtful, thought-provoking, and balanced as it gets. If you don’t read him regularly, I would recommend it.

UPDATE: It also occurs to me to acknowledge, in the context of the international affairs arena (though this could apply in any industry), the discrimination a job applicant with a “non-American” sounding name could face. The Times article points out that Barry Jabbar Sykes, ”who has a degree in mathematics from Morehouse College, a historically black college in Atlanta, now uses Barry J. Sykes in his continuing search for an information technology position, even though he has gone by Jabbar his whole life. ‘Barry sounds like I could be from Ireland,’ he said.”

Did the name Jabbar imply to potential employers that he’s black (which he is)? Non-American (which he isn’t)? Perhaps Muslim (no discussion of his religious affiliation, which is how it should remain)? Some combination of the three? Do applicants for a U.S.-based job, no matter their race or country of origin, face discrimination if they have a “foreign” name, one that isn’t boilerplate Anglo-Saxon? It’s certainly possible. Perhaps a “foreign-sounding” name indicates the applicant is a non-native English speaker, and thus doesn’t possess language skills that are up to par for the job? Or the requisite cultural skills? Every new job has a learning curve, but perhaps the “non-American” applicant’s learning curve will be too long to make it worthwhile to hire him or her? It’s actually quite easy to see how someone (even myself) could judge an applicant in these ways solely based on their “foreign” name or the “foreign” manner in which their resume or cover letter is put together, etc. (Does my recent rant about “odd” cover letter salutations fall into this category? Seems like it easily could, and this may be something I need to check myself on.) Of course it’s up to every job applicant, no matter their name, race, or country of origin, to put together their application in a professional way–clear, cohesive, concise, well-written, no grammatical or copy-editing errors, suitable for the cultural/national context in which they’re applying. But it’s also up to the hiring manager to view each application and its inherent parts with no prejudgment or bias.

As to those “foreign-sounding” names…if a person’s name says very little about what they look like, it says far, far less about who they actually are and what they can do. Even so, the human temptation to assume based on surface indicators stubbornly remains.

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Nov3020092:33 pm

Reality check: are the jobs out there?

An Andrew Sullivan reader is having a rough time finding that first job out of college:

I’ve only had five cumulative months of employment since, this in spite of a “practical” degree (economics) from a “good” school (East Coast whatever – if my situation is any indication, an Ivy degree doesn’t mean jackshit). Friends of mine with relatively less worldly degrees in many cases have not been able to find a job at all in over a year. And it is not that we’re just sitting on our asses, playing video games because we think we’re above a certain kind of work – this high-handed claptrap is perhaps the most irritating snobbery of so-called “experts”, of a piece with their stellar market analysis over the last decade. No, when we say we can’t get a job, we mean we can’t get any job.

Certainly white-collar jobs, those that we thought we were being prepared for, are so few and far between that they’ve become the stuff of lore, a mythical entity. When someone manages to snag one of those these days it’s treated like a fucking miracle, complete with celebration and deepest envy both. This just for a job! Not two years ago a job was practically a birthright, plentiful and in season; now it’s something to forage and kill for. But we’re having to compete now for jobs that anyone can do – which makes it that much harder to get them as well. Temp agencies mostly turn us away. Shit, even the damned Safeway near me isn’t hiring. I’m perfectly content to bag groceries or wash cars or do construction, but there isn’t a scrap of work to be had.

If all that sounds unbelievable, then you just don’t know what it’s like right now for young, inexperienced people whose first taste of the labor market has been one of closed doors and pounded pavement and steadily increasing panic. At the moment I do have a part-time temp job and I’m grateful for it, but I don’t know how long it’ll last. Every time a superior passes my desk I quake because he or she could be coming to give me the axe – this is how we fortunate employed spend our days, adrenaline-riddled and constantly on tenterhooks. I don’t have health insurance. I’m engulfed in student loans.

How does this compare with your experiences? Are recent college graduates looking for work in international education, exchange, and development having this much trouble? Is the white-collar job in international affairs out there to be had, or rather a “mythical entity”?

1 response so far | Categories: The World at Work

Nov2420092:38 pm

A few links I’d neglected to post

And then I’m off for the holiday:

IIE’s Open Doors 2009 report was released last week. We paid close attention to this at the Alliance, but I forgot to mention it here. So, here you go. Open Doors is the standard for international educational mobility data—and the 2009 report happily illustrates that the number of foreign students studying at U.S. universities and Americans studying abroad are both up more than 8 per cent. Still, only slightly more than 260,000 Americans are studying abroad, which is not enough…

…and apparently President Obama agrees, as he announced that he wants 100,000 Americans studying in China (which is a pretty hefty increase from the current number of just over 13,000). How and when this will happen remains to be seen, but we are, as always, optimistic.

Have Work, Will Travel — An Australian world traveler makes the case for an expanded working holiday program in the United States.

Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Mad Men fans:

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone:

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Nov24200912:55 pm

“The wanderlust of a new generation”

In so many ways, such a beautiful thing. If my own generation (I’m pushing 30—guh) is one in which the world knows no boundaries and international interaction is an accepted, common, and well-loved part of personal and professional life, then those younger than me—the “next” generation—is pushing this concept to Jean Luc Picard-like heights. And this, it’s worth repeating, is a beautiful thing. It’s one of the reasons I got into the international exchange field. The more and the earlier young people are exposed to the wondrous variety yet common humanity that makes up our world, the better—the better for them, for their families, their countries, their chosen professions, and all of us.

From a purely practical perspective, though, this wanderlust can throw up professional development hurdles. That is, us young folk inflicted with wanderlust, because we are fixated on traveling to exotic locations as part of our careers, tend to view potential job opportunities solely by the travel opportunities inherent within them. I’ve said this before, like yesterday, and I’m drawn to it again because of this BusinessWeek article focusing on the top employers for those who want “international work that will take them abroad.”

I already made my argument yesterday as to why one will be well-served to examine the entirety of a potential job or career track rather than focusing only on the travel aspect, so I won’t rehash things again. But I will make a point I don’t think I’ve made as extensively in this space as I should: that an internationally-oriented job can be deeply fulfilling and help to satisfy wanderlust even if travel isn’t a regular component. In my case, my days are spent deep in issues of international exchange, which I find to be cool and terribly fulfilling. Because I’m immersed in a professional world that is completely international, I always feel international, regardless of where I physically am.

I may be sitting at a desk in DC, but I’m emailing with the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. I’m contemplating the potential implications of the lifting of the travel ban to Cuba or of Obama’s promise to send 100,000 American to study in China. I’m meeting with an education ministry representative from Ireland who is helping in our efforts to convince Congress that exchange programs need to be properly, but not overly, regulated. I’m talking to the Fulbright Commission in Mexico. I’m talking to an EducationUSA advisor in Budapest. I’m talking to an exchange agency in Bangkok who is helping to recruit our next international intern.

True, I get very excited about the actual international trips I get to take and for me, like for so many of us, the ability to travel (for work and for pleasure) is a big part of my existence. But the fact that I am immersed in an international world and international issues with international people on a daily basis and in my daily work is not something I take for granted—and all of this does, I find, help to satisfy my wanderlust during those times when I’m not able to jet off for some place new.

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Nov24200911:03 am

Mentoring update

A month and a half ago or so, I noted that I am now, despite my reservations about the concept of a formal and prescribed mentor-protege relations, an official American University mentor. I also mentioned that my AU senior and I seemed to be on the same page about things—we don’t really know how this is supposed to work, but we’ll just keep an open mind and see how things progress.

And I’m happy to report that they’re moving along well, and naturally. We haven’t felt the need to force things—say, by going to a professional event together simply because we felt like that’s what we’re supposed to do. Rather, we’ve kept it low key and that’s worked well for us. We’ve met for a beer and just chatted—a bit about school and career stuff, but mostly about ourselves, getting to know each other. She came to an Alliance event, heard a Congressman speak, and got to meet several people in our field and find out more about what kind of work they’re doing. And we’ve kept in good touch via email. I’ve forwarded her articles or event listings I’ve come across, and she’s asked me questions that happen to pop into her mind. For example, the other day she emailed me:

Do you keep in contact with your former employers? And how much contact with people is enough to claim that you are in contact with them? Is this like you exchanged business cards with them at an event once upon a time or you drop them an e-mail to say hi every few weeks?

I realize the obvious answer is that it is entirely circumstantial and depends but I thought I’d ask. The reason is that I will probably have to start applying for jobs in the near future (scary!) and will probably need references. Because I was gone all last year I don’t have references from my junior year (unless I apply somewhere in [country where she studied]) and will probably have to depend on my supervisor from sophmore year internship (and wherever I intern next semester). Is it unfair for her to be called by a prospective employer if I haven’t talked to her in a couple of months (I contacted her over the summer)?

A good question, one I was happy to weigh in on. I like that she’s thinking about things like this and that she feels she can ask me about them—not because I know the right answer but rather because it’s good to discuss and talk stuff like this out. Even if we don’t arrive at an answer, at least we’re moving the discussion along.

So I’m pleased with the way the official mentoring duties have gone so far and hope to have more positive updates soon. After the jump, my answer to her email question.

Read the rest of this entry »

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