Archive for January, 2009

“Cody and his trilingual immersion program”

Friday, January 30th, 2009

I caught this commercial last night while watching (I’m not ashamed to admit) American Idol, and it cracked me up. I’m also not ashamed to admit that I think the more American kids (or Americans of all ages, for that matter) that we have in trilingual immersion programs, the better off we’ll be.

I’m also going to take a second to commiserate with the Cheeto-eating lady’s scorn of those who haughtily use the term “Mandarin” to refer to the Chinese language (this has been a little pet peeve of mine for awhile). My venting after the break.


Importance of foreign language skills for an international career

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

As with my last post, I’ll again put up some of Sherry’s thoughts for her, since her time these days is not her own as she and her staff finish preparations for NCIV’s biggest event, the annual National Meeting. She recently had a short email interview with International Educator magazine about the importance of foreign language skills in international careers. I think Sherry’s answer is an affirmation of how essential foreign language skills are for those of us in these fields, even if we are not using the language(s) on a daily basis.

Q: Is language proficiency an increasingly desired skill in today’s global workforce, and if so, why is that the case? Are more and more employers looking for candidates who are fluent in more than one language?

Sherry: I believe employers are looking for people who are fluent in several languages not so much because they need those languages on a daily basis (though in some cases, of course, they do) but because mastery of another language often reflects the cultural competence and political sensitivities many international jobs require. The willingness to study another language, in most cases, is an indication that a person has the genuine desire to learn about another country and culture that is the primary prerequisite for success— that capacity for authentic curiosity is vital for people whose jobs necessitate interaction with international colleagues.

My head might explode

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Sherry emailed me the other day, apologizing that she hasn’t been able to contribute as much as she would like to the blog. “We are literally swamped here with National Meeting planning,” she wrote. (NCIV’s annual National Meeting takes place from February 11-14 in Washington.) But she also mentioned that she is attempting to further her ongoing blog education (blogucation?) by diving deeper into the blogosphere and consuming more of its content. She has been enjoying her forays into this world, but admitted she was daunted by how much is out there:

I remain amazed by the volume and think where do people get this kind if time? Then I realize that it is a commitment, like preparing an op ed piece. It is the price of a type of communication that is growing increasingly effective, but I am still staggered by the volume of it all….

Always the optimist, Sherry ended the email with a chipper: “On a bright note, I love my iPhone.”

Sherry actually asked me to turn her thoughts from this email into a blog post—largely, I think, because she viewed it as an intergenerational issue: it’s easy for me, as the young, technologically adept one, to consume this vast tundra of content without breaking a sweat, whereas she as the older professional struggles to keep up. Perhaps there is truth to this on some level, but to feel daunted by the sheer breadth of news and blogs and other information on the Internet…I’m pretty sure it happens to everyone, and it certainly happens to me.

For example, one evening while following a few leads on potential blog topics, I stumbled upon the site, a self-described “online magazine rack”—basically a giant, never-ending list of blogs by topic. While at first I thought this was a pretty fantastic discovery (everything in one place!), it quickly turned ugly as I became absolutely overwhelmed by the volume and my head threatened to explode, kind of like in Scanners. How do you sift through them all?

Then it got me wondering—Working World is a relatively new blog: are we actually doing a service by putting yet another blog out there, or are we just adding to the “clogosphere” (the cheesy yet for some reason still endearing term used by some blogger out there, which one I couldn’t even begin to tell you)?

My searches on Alltop for more blogs related to jobs and careers in international affairs didn’t yield much, actually, and helped reassure me that Working World is relevant after all (as there are very few, if any, sites or blogs out there devoted to careers in international affairs, at least that I could find). After the break, the results of some very unscientific research on Alltop.


Global Volunteering Fair

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

My colleague Mark Rebstock at NCIV passed along information about an upcoming Global Volunteer Fair hosted by Google. What to expect:

Individuals considering volunteering in another country can learn more about programs and global opportunities offered by over 30 volunteer-sending organizations.

Workshops on topics like “International Volunteerism 101” and “The Cost of Doing Good: Affordable Options for Volunteering Abroad.”

The fair takes place next Tuesday February 3 at Google’s office in Washington, DC, 1101 New York Avenue, NW.  See for more details.

Obama on Al-Aribaya

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

Maybe I’m just a dreamer, but I can’t help but think that this is a good thing:

It’s not only that our new president is giving his first televised interview on a network based in Dubai, but also that he’s saying things like this, directly to the Muslim world:

Now, my job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world, that the language we use has to be a language of respect. I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries … the largest one, Indonesia. And so what I want to communicate is the fact that in all my travels throughout the Muslim world, what I’ve come to understand is that regardless of your faith – and America is a country of Muslims, Jews, Christians, non-believers – regardless of your faith, people all have certain common hopes and common dreams.

And my job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives. My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy.

One of the key goals of the work we do in international education, exchange, and development is building and promoting a sense of respect between the United States and other countries (especially, it goes without saying but often still needs to be said, the Muslim world). Obama understands this and is projecting that respect with an interview like this. The Daily Show understands it too:

If not like a business, then how?

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

Last week I threw up a lengthy post with a number of discussions, chief among them the issue of salaries and professional development in the nonprofit world. Another issue briefly touched on was the oft-heard assertion that nonprofits should be run “more like businesses” in order to improve their performance. Phil Buchanan, writing on the Independent Sector website, argues that trying to run nonprofits more like businesses is the wrong strategy:

These characterizations of the nonprofit sector as ineffectual — and the assertion that the sole path to improving performance lies in ‘business’ thinking — aren’t remotely accurate or helpful.

Buchanan concedes that which is certainly true: nonprofits, as a whole, still do need to strengthen themselves. “There needs to be more focus on the articulation of clear goals, the development and implementation of coherent strategies, and rigorous and relevant performance assessment — all in service of greater positive impact.” But, assuming that “running things like a business” is synonymous with “improved performance and outcomes” is flawed thinking in Buchanan’s mind.

It’s hard to argue with that. Just because businesses are for-profit and typically strive more pointedly towards a bottom line, and thus toward “productivity” and “results” (at least in the traditional capitalist sense of those terms), doesn’t automatically make them paragons of effective management, strategy, organizational acumen, etc. So, if not like businesses, then how should the nonprofit sector be run in order to improve? Instead of trying to adopt business models, Buchanan says, nonprofits would be better off “staking our own claim to a commitment to performance — and to the distinctive role we play in building a better, more just and livable world.”

But what does that really mean, “our own claim to performance?” What is that claim? If not a traditional business model, then what? Determining that the business world and its managerial practices are not applicable to the nonprofit sector (or at least not what the nonprofit world needs to be at the top of its game) is step one. But then articulating what the nonprofit world does need to be at the top of its game seems to be a very important step two.

“As the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself”

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

A deliriously exhausting and exhilarating inauguration weekend has come to a close, and the whole of Washington, DC seems hungover. The Metro was still full this morning of slow-moving inauguration visitors, spinning in circles and trying to figure out how to get out of the city, and bleary local commuters too exhausted (and in most cases, too happy) to make a fuss and admonish them to stand to the right.

Much has been and will be said about President Obama’s inaugural address. A first reaction by many seems to be that it was good, but only good, lacking the power and greatness of, say, the JFK inaugural speech. I think James Fallows is often right on in his analysis of speeches and debates, and agree with him when he says that the speech was the right timbre for this moment and will, like many of Obama’s performances throughout the campaign, be viewed much more positively after a bit of time.

For those of us in the fields of international education, exchange, and development, I think the most important and inspiring section of the President’s speech were the following lines, acknowledging both the importance of our work and the breadth of the task that we still have ahead of us:

We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist. To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

A Word of Thanks

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

I recently saw an article by Richard Nelson Bolles, author of a particularly popular book entitled What Color is Your Parachute?  This book on careers was one of those books, much like Dick Irish’s Go Hire Yourself an Employer, that helped shape the career paths of many.  Mark and I hope Working World will have that far reaching impact.  The authors of these books did not only provide useful resources and advice, they offered a philosophical approach for making your mark on the world. 

So it was a delight to see Mr. Bolles’ article “The Informational Interview: How It Can Help You Get a Job In Tough Times” that appeared in the January 1, 2009 issue of Bottom Line Personal. 

One point he underscored was to send thank-you notes the same day as the interview.  Here is his advice:

Ask the person you interviewed for his/her business card.  Then send an e-mail so that the person you talked to has a prompt response from you.  Also send a hand-written note to arrive a day or two later.  Do this for any interview you have.  Many job seekers ignore this very simple advice.  Following it will help you stand out from the crowd.

His advice is well-taken.  A carefully crafted thank-you note is another opportunity to showcase your communications skills.  It shows you paid attention.  I received the following handwritten card after an information interview with several people.  You can be sure I will remember the young woman who wrote it.

Dear Sherry,

Thank you for setting aside time to meet with me — and others — this afternoon.  It was so very useful to know where to look for some of that data.  I’ve had great fun with this thesis topic, and am still clarifying.  My hope is that I can produce something that is truly useful for promoting understanding of public diplomacy — we shall see!  After I contact Michelle and Sherri, I will probably drop you a line via email.  This time I wanted to send a real card — something a bit more concrete to show my appreciation for the work that you do so well: encouraging individuals to make a difference through direct interaction.

Best Regards

We don’t have to pretend we’re Canadian anymore

Friday, January 16th, 2009

For the record, I never once did this when abroad. But it’s nice to know I (hopefully) won’t ever have to. Heading into the long inauguration weekend, I know that I (along with a whole lot of other Americans, especially those working in our fields) are grateful to once again be feeling the love.

The fleecing of idealism? Salaries in the nonprofit world

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

I’ve been thinking for awhile about how I want to comment on this Nicholas Kristof blog post, as well as his preceding column, regarding money, salaries, and the international nonprofit world. There are a few different issues at work here: whether nonprofits should be run more like businesses; whether charity and profit can can happily (and morally) co-exist; and whether nonprofit and humanitarian organizations are too far removed from, or not concerned enough about, providing their staff competitive, liveable salaries and professional training and opportunities for career advancement.

As for the issue of “nonprofits being run like businesses,” like Kristoff and Charlie MacCormack, head of Save the Children and profiled in our book, I am ambivalent, probably because I don’t know enough about running a nonprofit to offer a solid opinion. If running a nonprofit like a business means the organization will be run more effectively and have more resources to accomplish its mission and spread the word about its work and pay its hard working employees better, well then, that seems like a good (if unrealistic) thing. If running a nonprofit like a business leads to lavishly paid executives and poor management, as Kristof points out has happened in many a business like Citigroup, well then, that seems like a bad thing. I know that Sherry has very specific opinions about this idea and I look forward to hearing them.

What I have very specific opinions about, as a young professional trying to build not only his career but financial house as well, is the third issue: nonprofit compensation and professional training. Kristof’s post dredged up in me a recurring frustration (that I know is shared by many young people) of how we can balance the desire for a career in international education, exchange, and development nonprofits (or any nonprofits, for that matter) and the desire for a respectable, living wage. This struggle is not new and has been chronicled, codified, and ultimately vented about. MacCormack cuts straight to the issue in his comments featured on Kristof’s blog post:

I am convinced that humanitarian organizations such as Save the Children are too far over in the opposite direction — our uncompetitive salaries make it almost impossible for people to develop real careers; our under-investment in staff development hampers performance.

It really can’t be reasonably argued that nonprofits are not severely lacking in the salaries (and often professional development) they provide their employees. Okay. So how can this be fixed? Kristof (and MacCormack) argue that a shift in the nonprofit mindset, especially when it comes to donors, is necessary. Currently there is too much scrutiny from donors on overhead—any funds not spent directly on the mission, but rather on results-oriented monitoring and evaluation or staff salary and development, is viewed negatively and tantamount to the cardinal sin of nonprofits, “mission-drift.” A realignment of the mindset held by donors (and management), and consequently the use of more resources on things like advertising and assessment and staff compensation, will lead to a more accountable and transparent (and self-aware) organization with a happier, well-taken care of staff, all of which undoubtedly will lead to better performance in pursuit of the mission.

All of this seems to be right on. However, I would argue that at least two other deeply embedded aspects of the nonprofit culture need to shift, in conjunction with what Kristof proposes, for things to really start getting better, especially us young people, the “successor generation.”


Tips on finding an internship or entry-level job abroad

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

I just ran across a step-by-step guide from Heather Huhman at the on finding work abroad. She offers some useful and practical stuff, not the least of which is a nice list of websites at the end to help you search for actual jobs and internships. Huhman’s first step in the process is an important one:

Ask yourself why you want to go abroad.

This is a subject Sherry and I tackle in Working World. In our view, pursuing an international career is not always synonymous with working abroad. Just because a job sends you abroad doesn’t necessarily mean it is the best for building your international career. In the same way, even though a job doesn’t have an international travel component, it might still be a beneficial position for building your international career.

Let me clarify that, by making this point, I’m certainly not trying to deny these realities:

1) that most internationally-oriented positions (whether in the U.S. or abroad) require (or at least greatly value) international experience;

2) that going abroad without a set strategic plan can still be extremely valuable for your career (I went to China with zero strategery, and the experience has been infinitely useful in my career, in many ways); and

3) that being young and fresh out of college is an ideal time to gain that international experience and maybe go ahead and do that program in a random country even though it doesn’t make any sense to your parents.

All of these things are definitely true. I just agree with Huhman that it’s never a bad thing to reflect on why you want to go abroad. If you’re able to pin down exactly how the experience will help you in your future career, that’s great. If all you’re able to say is that it sounds challenging and you don’t have anything else to do anyway…well, that works too.

January Sale on New Book

Monday, January 12th, 2009

I have just come across a new book written by a respected colleague that I would like to share with our readers.  Here is the author’s description:

You may be familiar with my book Search: Winning Strategies to Get Your Next Job in the Nonprofit World, which I wrote to help people find a great job at a nonprofit organization. It draws on my experience as a search consultant who helps nonprofits recruit talented people for key leadership positions.

Given the current economic climate, where the competition for good jobs will be more intense, I am lowering the price of the book by about 50 percent. From now to January 31, the book can be purchased at my website for $9.95, which includes shipping. That’s about 50% below the regular price plus normal shipping fees.

So if you – or somebody you know – needs tips to:

  • Put together a quick, step-by-step action plan to guide an effective search
  • Create a network of people who will help you find openings that don’t get widely advertised
  • Produce a resume that’s not the standard, dull list of job duties
  • Write a cover letter that makes the reader say “I want to interview you — pronto!”
  • Make a great impression at the interview.

I hope you’ll consider buying Search at this special price.

Reviewers have said the book is “marvelously practical and informative,” “mercifully short – a small gem that will tell you quickly what you need to know,” and “a pleasure to read.” I hope you will agree.

This special $9.95 price is available only until January 31, so please purchase a copy now for yourself or for a friend who’s ready for a new opportunity.

The only way to get Search: Winning Strategies to Get Your Next Job in the Nonprofit World at this special price is to purchase it at my website.

To order now and save 50%, please click here.

Best wishes for a great 2009.

Larry Slesinger, Founder and CEO

Slesinger Management Services

Basketball diplomacy

Monday, January 12th, 2009

I went to the Georgetown-Providence basketball game this past Saturday and, at halftime, they decided to do something a little different. Instead of the usual—cheerleaders flouncing to an Akon remix or some kid from the stands awkwardly missing shots in a contest—they showed a video on the Jumbotron of a trip taken by several former Georgetown basketball players to Herceg Novi, Montenegro to conduct a basketball camp for boys and girls between 13 and 16. The trip was led by Sead Dezdarevic, a former Georgetown player originally from Montenegro, and was co-sponsored by the Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in Montenegro. A preview of the trip in the Washington Post here and a recap on the Georgetown athletic site here. The purpose of the trip was of course to teach the participants in the camp basketball skills, but certainly extended beyond that. Said a public affairs officer in the Embassy:

Basketball is a passion for most Balkan countries. Bringing basketball players here enables the embassy to be in contact with younger people and people who could, quite frankly, care less about foreign policy. It’s a way where you don’t actually hear a lecture about a culture, you see it in action. It’s a cross-cultural experience.

The video that was shown at the game on Saturday isn’t yet available, but I’ll track it down as soon as it is and post it here.

Public diplomacy begins with you

Friday, January 9th, 2009

International exchange programs such as the IVLP, and the dedicated citizen diplomats around the United States who administer them, are indispensable components of U.S. public diplomacy. Indeed, participating in public diplomacy is the responsibility of all Americans, a point I make in my op-ed published in the Christian Science Monitor on January 5.

In the piece, I reflect on, and try to dispel, five myths about American public diplomacy. One of those myths is that “Public diplomacy is the government’s job.” It is certainly the government’s job; but it is not only government’s job. Rather it is every American’s job as well. I use a favorite example to illustrate this point: a film on the life of Elvis Presley showing him in his Army uniform, having just arrived in Germany. In the clip, Elvis says: “What we do here will reflect on America and our way of life.” Elvis wasn’t just the King; he was also a citizen diplomat.

[I tried to find-- or rather had some younger, more Youtube-savvy colleagues try to find-- the clip I reference above, but to no avail. Instead, here is a short clip about Elvis' little known days serving in the Army in Germany:]

Boomer, the Ickey Shuffle, and careers in international affairs

Friday, January 9th, 2009

I’ve mentioned before my status as a Cincinnati Bengals fan and the stress of rooting for a perennially crappy team. But the Bengals haven’t always been crappy, and remembering the better days dulls the sting of yet another not-so-awesome season (4-11-1: only the Bengals can figure out a way to not lose but not win either). Which was why it was particularly gratifying to get this post from my high school friend Ryan about the “apex of Bengaldom,” the ‘88-89 season, when an amazing team led by quarterback Boomer Esiason and the Ickey Shuffle barely lost the Super Bowl to Montana’s 49ers.

But Ryan pointed in particular to one line in the post that he thought had particular relevance to the Working World blog:

Esiason is now a football pundit with a son mulling the Georgetown University foreign service program.

Ryan’s comment: “even the esiasons are in the foreign service business… it’s all the rage.” Indeed. I encourage Boomer’s son not just to mull, but to go. We need all the talented people we can get involved in international education, exchange, and development- and a few famous football players as spokesmen for the cause wouldn’t hurt either.

Ickey Woods and the Ickey Shuffle, circa 1989

Ickey Woods and the Ickey Shuffle, circa 1989