Sherry and I participated in two Working World events last week, both of which I neglected to post on over the weekend as I had planned. I blame the sudden appearance in DC of my old friend Alex and his wife Di (on a last minute trip from London), which led to a much, much later Saturday night than originally planned. But I digress….
The first event took place last Monday and was hosted by our shared alma mater, American University, and more specifically by the master’s degree program from which I received my “piece of paper,” International Communication. The second was on Thursday and my current home turf, Georgetown’s campus, hosted by our benefactors at GU Press, as well as the Georgetown University Bookstore. These were similar events—round table type conversations with groups of 20-30 students, undergraduate and graduate alike—that began with a short spiel from Sherry and I on our book, then ended with the real meat: Q & A and discussion with the participants. A good crop of insightful, thoughtful, sometimes downright challenging questions were raised, buoying my hopes (not that they ever really fell, but I like the word “buoy”) that this book and blog are needed and wanted. A few of the highlights:
How can I convince my parents that my plan to work/volunteer abroad after college is not only a viable first step for my career, but also a move that follows my passions, not a way to put off the inevitable or delay the real world? (from GU event)
This was one of my favorite questions of the two events, as I had the exact same challenge about six years ago, made even more enjoyable when a “dad-like” gentleman in the back row of the audience quipped, “Don’t even try.” That dad-like gentleman happened to be, of all people, my dad, in town on a visit with my mom (who admirably took very few pictures at the event). You’d think that the presence of your parents at an event like this would somehow diminish your professional credibility, but this was oddly not the case. Their presence, in fact, not only made for some entertaining back and forth but also added an unexpected level of depth to the conversation, as both my parents were able to briefly say why they were hesitant of the idea of me going abroad and what factors helped them to come around to the idea, to see the value in it.
The best answer to this question actually came from my colleague Matt Maples in the MBNA Career Center: take a business-like approach. Research the kinds of careers former Peace Corps and other international volunteers have gone on to. Make a list of the skills you believe you will cultivate by doing international work and how they will help you get a job and benefit your career. Be specific, concrete, and tangible with the reasons behind your decision.
Do I need a Master’s degree to get a job in these fields? (from both events)
Sherry said that she always encourages young people to get as much education as possible and not to put it off for too long, since as you get older, going back to school gets harder and harder. I mentioned that I think it depends on what the rest of your resume is comprised of (as in, what kind of experience are you pairing with your master’s?) and that it is difficult for many young people to get the level of position that they want with only a master’s and very little experience. I also said I think, based on the sharp upward movement of enrollment in IR master’s programs, that having a master’s is increasingly becoming the norm in the fields. But do you have to have one? This is a topic Sherry and I will return to in more depth soon.
What is the mark of a good mentoring relationship? (from AU event)
Sherry and I agreed that it’s mutual respect. The relationship must be a two way street. It’s not just the mentor passing down to the young person, but rather the mentor must also be open to new ideas and learning and even criticism.
What kinds of skills will be most important in the fields in the future? (from GU event)
Sherry mentioned those that she thinks will always be important: cultural awareness and adaptability and writing/communication. She also emphasized the importance of management skills, learning, as the “successor generation,” the nitty gritty of running an organization (such as budgets and finances). I stressed that I think “web 2.0″ skills will be particularly essential for young people moving ahead. And by this I mean not only technical/software skills (web design, publication layout and design, video production, etc.) but also a deep understanding of social networking and web marketing and interaction. Those who have these diversity of skills and can utilize them for a small organization that is unable to pay for an expensive consultant will give themselves an advantage over the competition.
How can a foreign resident who has worked in numerous countries and just completed a Ph.D. in international relations get around the fact that few American (and even international based in the U.S.) companies and organizations will hire a foreigner over an American simply because they don’t want the extra cost and hassle associated with visa sponsorship? (from GU event)
This question was asked by a young woman from Germany who, quite frankly, seemed on the verge of tears for much of the conversation. It had obviously been a long and frustrating job search for her and unfortunately (about this I felt quite bad), Sherry and I had no good answers for her. While much good discussion was generated and the rest of audience was quite sympathetic and gamely tried to help with their best suggestions, I think the young woman left just as stuck as when she arrived. Her predicament illustrated for me the unpredictable nature of charting our careers in international affairs and how we must absorb the inevitable blows that come our way and have faith that they’ll knock us in an unexpectedly positive direction.