Dec1520089:14 am

How a communications job became international

The weather in Shanghai so far has cooperated quite nicely: moderate temperature, sunny, and mostly clear. Below, a pretty decent view of the sunset from Sheshan, a 328 foot hill about 30 km outside of Shanghai and the site of both an observatory and the “Far East’s first cathedral,” the Sheshan Basilica:

We’ll see what it’s like in Beijing, where I’m headed tomorrow.

A brief word on what the heck I’m doing in China anyway. On a macro level, I’m here traveling with the Dean of Georgetown College (Georgetown University’s undergraduate arts and sciences school), expanding our linkages and partnerships with various Chinese universities, including Fudan University here in Shanghai, and Renmin and Beijing Universities and the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing. On a more specific level, we’re using our expertise at Georgetown as a practitioner of the liberal arts to help Chinese universities establish and grow their own liberal arts programs. Chinese universities have a tradition of pre-professional education, but not of general education in the liberal arts tradition. There is a new interest at top universities, however, in developing this liberal arts tradition. We, as representatives of Georgetown College, are here to act in something of an advisory role.

Yang Xinyu, Secretary General of the China Scholarship Council, said it well when discussing (in this IIE publication) U.S.-China exchange in higher education:

China’s development has unique characteristics, and it can be difficult to adapt the experiences of others to this context. By opening their doors to the outside world, Chinese higher education institutions could discuss these problems with partners from other countries, see their own problems from a broader standpoint, and make changes based on what they have learned through this exchange.

I think this gets to the core of what Georgetown College is trying to do with its Chinese partners in their development of liberal arts programs within their universities: present our model of the liberal arts not as the solution, but rather as just one model, as well as a gateway to dialogue about the “Chinese model” in the hopes of making progress based on what is learned through the exchange.

So, now that the question of what I’m doing in China has been answered, the next question could reasonably be: why am I, as a communication director at Georgetown, involved in this China work? The answer after the jump.

My position description doesn’t contain any mention of China or international programs or international travel. Instead it does contain many mentions of, as you might expect, communication-related responsibilities: websites, publications, writing, branding, etc. So why is my boss bringing me to China?

Because, quite frankly, I have experience and interest in the country. When I was interviewing for my job nearly two years ago, the Dean was particularly interested in my experience living in China for a year. I hadn’t expected this. If there was one major hesitation I had about the position, it was that it didn’t seem to have an international focus or component. It certainly had the communications component I was looking for, but it seemed to be lacking that international part—which was more than a small problem for me. I knew going into the interviews that this could be a deal breaker for me. I needed the internationalness.

So you can imagine my satisfaction when China became a main topic in my interviews. Georgetown was (and still is) making a huge push into China, signing strategic agreements, setting up strategic partnerships, encouraging more students to study there and more faculty to do research there. We’re doing lots of outreach into China from our office, the Dean said during our interview, and your experience would seem to make you ideally suited to be involved in that. So would my position take on a China component? I asked. I can’t promise that, she responded. But I will tell you that I make sure to utilize the skills and engage the interests of my employees, she followed up.

And she kept true to her word. She immediately engaged me in the College’s China activities, a year of work which culminated in a trip to Shanghai and Beijing last June, as well as this second one I’m on right now. It has been very satisfying for me not only to be professionally engaged with China, but also to discover that internationalness could be found in a job that wasn’t seemingly international. It was gratifying to see that simply by making my interests known and illustrating that my skill set and experience could make an impact in that area, I was given responsibility that fell outside the range of my job description.

I guess the takeaway from this long post is that jobs with international flavor and international travel are not always confined to multinational corporations, international NGOs, and the Foreign Service. Internationalness can be found elsewhere, in jobs that you might not think have it—sometimes all you have to is look, or even ask.


Categories: Career Resources | Follow responses via RSS | Pinging not allowed.

Leave a Reply