Archive for March, 2009

How many friends does Mahmoud have, do you figure?

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Hat tip: Darren Krape.

Launch of Public Diplomacy, the magazine

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

I attended a reception last night for the launch of Public Diplomacy magazine, published by the USC Center on Public Diplomacy. It was quite a good networking event actually, which I can admit was at least partly because they served sushi and had something like seven microbrews to choose from at the bar.

I encourage you to check out PD the magazine, which features thought-provoking essays on the broad and important topic of public diplomacy, one that certainly encompasses the work we do in international education, exchange, and development. [Also, if you are looking at grad programs, you might be interested in the USC Master's in Public Diplomacy program, now in its third year of existence.]

Two resources for study/travel abroad

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

The Smart Study Abroad blog: An incisively written and broad look at issues pertaining to study (and sometimes more generally travel) abroad. The main goal of the blog is to encourage more students to incorporate study abroad into their college experiences, as well as to make less intimidating the idea of “getting a passport and getting on a plane” for those students with no direct experience and no family experience in studying abroad. But even more than this, Smart Study Abroad engages and covers a range of topics with regard to study abroad—from study abroad for “nontraditional” college students to student documentaries on study abroad to the fact that one of the astronauts currently in space is a study abroad alum. Definitely worthwhile reading for anyone interested in international education issues. Thanks to Brian Steffen at Simpson College in Iowa, editor of the blog, for engaging in a little back and forth. Co-founded by Wendy Williamson, author of Study Abroad 101, and run by Agapy LLC, this site compiles information on study abroad programs, airfare, scholarships, accommodations, partnerships, insurance, program development, marketing, and more. The tips offered range from how to begin thinking about what program to select to how to talk to your parents once you’ve decided to go to how and what to pack. A section on financial aid for study abroad has a number of useful links for further research. Thanks to Wendy for her comment on my recent post on new legislation aimed at helping Americans volunteer abroad:

I was in the Peace Corps for four years. I find that most people do the Peace Corps after college or after retirement. I think a program that would allow people to volunteer abroad between life’s turning points, for shorter periods of time, would be very helpful in getting more people involved.

[Apologies for the orgy of links above. I'm particularly caught up in the information-sharing capabilities of the internets this morning, I guess....]

Self-promotion alert: our first review deems us a “first-rate resource…highly recommended”

Monday, March 16th, 2009

It appears that the first known review of Working World the book—not counting my mom’s glowing recommendations to everyone she talks to—isn’t accessible anywhere at all on the internet machine. This due to the fact that CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, put out by the Association of College and Research Libraries, is blocked by an impenetrable subscription-only shield.  I was thus forced to take the photocopied fax that Georgetown Press mailed to me and type the whole review out myself. What a chore—is that what people did before Control-C, Control-V? Don’t feel too sorry for me though—it’s not a very long review. But it is, I’m happy to note, uniformly positive.

So, without further ado, a review of Working World, from the January 2009 issue of CHOICE:

Mueller, an experienced association executive, teams with Overmann, her former intern, to offer intergenerational perspectives on building careers in international education and humanitarian sectors. Chapters give their disparate perspectives on job seeking, networking, and mentoring, which will prove valuable to anyone wanting to shape a meaningful career. Readers will likely identify with the job attitudes of one author more than the other. Mueller, active in her profession for four decades, sees the book as a way of mentoring her younger colleague, whereas Overmann rejects the notion that he has ever had a mentor. Nevertheless, their brief essays reveal a strong bond.

Chapter 4, “The Continuous Journey,” is the most reflective. In it, both authors stress that one builds careers until the day one retires. Five of the 12 chapters provide annotated, current print and Web resources dealing with volunteer opportunities and with working for nonprofits, the federal government, and multinational associations. Many entries are broad enough to be useful to job seekers outside the book’s emphasis. A dozen interviews of people who have built successful careers illuminate points the authors make; one association executive states, “If you have a career choice to make, always take the one that’s going to give you a steeper learning curve.” This is a first-rate resource for anyone entering the working world. Excellent subject index.

Summing up: Highly recommended. Upper-level undergraduates, graduate students, professionals/practitioners, and general readers.

–C.B. Thurston, University of Texas at San Antonio

If forced to take issue with something in the review, it would be this line: “Overmann rejects the notion that he has ever had a mentor.” That’s an unfairly strong way of summing up what I actually write, which is more of an exploration of my ambivalence towards the term “mentor” and a questioning of who, in fact, the mentors are in my life. But seriously, why take issue with anything in a review that’s so positive, especially when it’s your first? I feel tingly all over.

Volunteering even when the chips (i.e., the economy) are down

Monday, March 16th, 2009

It’s heartening to see that even in the midst of financial crisis, more and more people are filling employment gaps by giving back. It’s also interesting to note that many small organizations, international or otherwise, often don’t have the resources to utilize a large number of volunteers. (I know from the Alliance’s perspective, our office of four wouldn’t know what to do if four volunteers showed up at our door.) Reports the NY Times:

Many who run nonprofits have marveled at the sudden flood of bankers, advertising copywriters, marketing managers, accountants and other professionals eager to lend their formidable but dormant skills.

But others grumbled that the current love affair with volunteerism, encouraged by President Obama’s nationwide call to public service, can be a mixed blessing. Smaller organizations, with staffs of fewer than 20 and no full-time volunteer coordinator, have struggled to absorb the influx, especially since many of them have simultaneously had to cut back on projects in the face of dwindling donations and government grants.

From a purely self-centered career persecptive, it’s worth pointing out again something Sherry has always trumpeted, and something I’ve then come to see as absolutely true: offering your pro bono services to an organization you’d ideally like to work for (or is in the same field in which you’d like to work) is a great way to network, to make a solid impression, and to become a “known quantity.” When positions do open then, the organization is much more likely to go with the known quantity—the person who has already proven his dedication to the field and his invaluable skills— than the unknown.

Of course there are so many other better, less selfish, more altruistic reasons to volunteer.  Once the economy picks back up and these volunteers are back in jobs, as they should be, let’s hope the volunteer spirit that seems to have come out in full force manages to remain in some form.

“Voluntourism,” volunteering abroad ctd.

Friday, March 13th, 2009

Several months back I posted about the idea of voluntourism, which is just what it sounds like: using your vacation to do volunteer service work abroad. Certainly a very worthwhile notion. This idea led to a discussion of the fact that many people interested in international careers (and many interested in other careers as well) would love to volunteer abroad, for both the service aspect as well as the international experience, but simply can’t afford it.

While there are ways one can try to scrape together the cash to volunteer abroad, it’s still not an easy prospect, which is one reason among many why it’s heartening to see a higher power getting involved—not that higher power but rather Senator Russ Feingold! Sen. Feingold (D-WI) introduced to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations yesterday a bill (S.589) to establish a Global Service Fellowship Program and to authorize a new office called Volunteers for Prosperity (VFP).  The goal of this legislation is to increase the number of Americans volunteering abroad and to facilitate international volunteering experiences for U.S. citizens by promoting both short and long-term opportunities. Specifically, the legislation, if enacted, will provide financial support for Americans looking to volunteer abroad:

[The] bill would reduce financial barriers by awarding fellowships designed to defray some of the costs associated with volunteering. The fellowship can be applied toward many of the costs associated with such travel including airfare, housing, or program costs. By providing financial assistance, the Global Service Fellowship program opens the door for more Americans to participate—not just those with the resources to pay for it.

This is good stuff. We’ll certainly be tracking this at the Alliance but if you’ve got a spare minute, contact your Congressional members and let them know you support it. The full text of Feingold’s statement on the bill is after the jump.


Is a year abroad better than just a semester? ctd.

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

I’ve been meaning for some time to write about an article by Karin Fischer I came across in the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscribers only, sorry) examining the idea that short term study abroad experiences can have just as much of an effect on participants as long term ones. I’ve written about this topic before (as well as the related topic of single country v. multicountry study abroad), and I’m still not sure how I feel. As someone who has had two long term (one year plus) experiences abroad, I’m definitely partial to long term programs and the immersive benefits they bring. On the other hand, I am a proponent of abroad experiences of all kinds, so I would much rather see a student do a four-week program than no program at all. I guess I pretty much agree with Dr. Fry, whom Karin quotes:

The length of time students study overseas has no significant impact on whether they become globally engaged later in life, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, a conclusion that is sure to add fuel to the already fiery debate over the efficacy of increasingly popular short-term study-abroad programs.

The findings of the Study Abroad for Global Engagement project…suggest that students who go overseas for a short period of time, four weeks or less, are just as likely as those who study abroad for several months or even a year to be globally engaged.

“It’s both exciting and disappointing,” said Gerald W. Fry, a professor of international-development education at Minnesota and one of the study’s principal investigators. “On one hand, you’d hope that studying in a country for a long period of time would be particularly meaningful.” On the other, he said, the study’s findings suggest that “if it’s done right, if it’s done with intensity of learning, a short-term program can have impact.”

Karin goes on to write:

More startling, and potentially more controversial, is the finding that program duration, in and of itself, seems to matter little in predicting long-term global engagement.

Short-term programs, which are typically led by faculty members, have been rising in popularity, but skeptics have criticized them as being little more than cultural tourism, saying that in many of them students spend most of their time with other Americans and have little opportunity to immerse themselves in the local culture.

Advocates for such trips counter that they help make overseas study possible for students who might not be able to commit the time or have the financial resources to study for a semester or more.

Mr. Fry, who leads a short-term program to Thailand, said the study suggests that a more complex combination of factors makes a program effective. He and his colleagues hope to further mine the data to examine the interrelationship of a number of variables, such as whether students studied with other Americans or with foreign students.

In the end, I think, it seems we should just be happy that 1) more and more short term study abroad programs are transcending the “cultural tourism” label and being designed as effective, immersive experiences, and 2) more and more students are indeed going abroad—and if a short term experience is all that they want/have time for/can afford, then certainly no one should deny them that.

A shout-out on the International Higher Ed Consulting blog

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

I actually wrote about David Comp and his indispensable International Higher Education Consulting blog two days ago, and yesterday David more than returned the favor with a fantastic post on Working World, both the book and the blog. What I like most about his post is that he really gets at what we’re trying to do:

Working World blog not only provides well written and insightful posts on career development and planning but it also offers excellent and timely pieces on the field itself which engages readers on a second level (meaning you don’t need to be on the market for a new job to benefit from the content on Working World blog).

That “second level” David mentions is a critical component of building a career (in our fields and in all fields), but one that is often forgotten in the world of career advice. I’ve ranted on this before: I don’t like that many career advice columns and blog posts often boil a subject down to trite lists— 12 strategies for overcoming shyness, 5 ways to beat the economic downturn, 37 steps to a new you. In such lists there is no focus on building a career or what it means to be engaged in the field in which you want to build that career. Rather it is only the author passing on his or her divinely-inspired wisdom to you, the humble reader, no further discussion needed. But things don’t boil down into numbered sets and whatever any one writer has to say about any one subject is never the last word. There are always other opinions and angles to be considered, other aspects to be learned. Sherry and I have always tried to stray away from giving this kind of tidy, no-further-argument-needed advice and to examine these fields as a whole—both issues in career development and issues that affect the fields at large. I appreciate David recognizing this and noting it.

And as he says about us, I’ll say about him: David’s posts are timely and insightful and required reading for those interested in building, or those already building, a career in international education, exchange, and development.  His sites are in our blogroll, so check them out, then check back regularly.

Consider the real Canadians

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

Amy Elizabeth Smart, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, takes Americans to task for the dodge we’ve been known to adopt abroad: we’re from Canada, we say. What brings about this lie in us? Smart reports:

When asked why, almost no [American students] cite fear of physical violence. They’re mostly worried about hostile comments, rejection, or heated political debates. Above all, many dread being associated with the Ugly American, the obnoxious know-it-all traveler who brays questions like “Why can’t you speak English?” and “You call this tiny thing a cup of coffee?”

A few months ago, the Washington Post and I hoped that Barack Obama’s election means, among many other things, that Americans won’t feel like they have to resort to the Maple Leaf anymore. Smart argues that it’s up to culturally sensitive young Americans abroad, who may deny they are American because they believe they are being culturally sensitive, to actually come forward as Americans because it’s the more culturally sensitive, and beneficial, thing to do:

It’s precisely because of the Ugly American stigma that culturally sensitive students from the United States need to stand up and be counted. Americans aren’t all ignorant, aggressive, and badly dressed, but the stereotypes will stand unchallenged if Canada gets the credit for our better-behaved students.

More important, the lie short-circuits the primary purpose of study abroad: intellectual and personal growth. Many people who criticize America don’t assume they’ve stated an unassailable position; they’re opening what they hope will be a lively conversation. While engaging with people who simply want to vent against the United States is unwise, too often American students confuse “arguing” with “fighting” and miss the chance for precisely the sort of intellectual stimulation we want them to experience. And assuming that “foreigners don’t like Americans” or “foreigners will think I’m a warmonger” is patronizing.

So is that what’s been happening all these years? Canada has the good reputation and the U.S. doesn’t because the well-behaved Americans are shuffling all the credit to Canada? Smart also points out an interesting psychological aspect of why American students abroad may choose to lie:

Many students who deny being American have caught what used to be called the Peace Corps Syndrome and is now described, according to the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity, as “reversal.” A bit of travel and education reveals to students that their home countries aren’t perfect. Thus, once-patriotic American students simply reshuffle the hierarchy, moving from “We’re number one!” to “America sucks!” — and then, sometimes, to “Yup, it’s cold in Edmonton!” Without denying some very ugly American history, training that eliminates hierarchical thinking and clarifies how all cultures are multifaceted and complex can help prevent this short-sighted response.

The whole point of travel and international experience is to expose yourself to the realities of the greater world, not to shield yourself from them—and an American saying he is Canadian does just that: shields him from the reality of what it means to be an American, in the context of the larger world as well as in relation to that particular country he is in and to that particular person he is talking to.

The whole article is available here, though available only to Chronicle subscribers.

International Higher Education Consulting blog

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

David Comp left an insightful comment on my previous post on the International Blogger job, which reminded me that I wanted to write on David and his two blogs:

International Higher Education Consulting blog: David writes here, providing “timely news and informational pieces that are of interest to both the international education and public diplomacy communities. From time to time, International Higher Education Consulting Blog will post thought provoking pieces to challenge readers and to encourage comments and professional dialogue.”

International Education Blogs and News: This is a new project for David, just launched on February 23—it’s essentially a compilation of feeds from a variety of blogs covering international education (including Working World). An interesting and efficient way to see what’s being said out there on the topic of international education.

Many thanks to David for his work on both of these projects (which I discovered through my work at the Alliance and now check regularly for news and updates—I recommend you check them out), as well as for his support of Working World.

Now, after the jump, David’s comment on social networking as a skill—he’s with me, that Facebook by itself isn’t a skill, but deep experience with “strategizing and then implementing an effective communication plan/objective” within a social networking framework certainly can be a skill:



Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Internship + mentor = mentornship:

Internship for the bright or advanced individual under guidance of a more senior practitioner. No making copies or coffee.

In Working World the book, Sherry and I say that researching your internships should be taken seriously. You’re trading a precious commodity—your time—for little or no financial renumeration, so you want to make sure you choose to work in an environment where your supervisors truly care about your growth and professional development, and Starbucks runs are kept to a minimum. I’m a fan of “mentornship” to describe this idea.

There exists such a job as “international blogger”

Monday, March 9th, 2009

Via MountainRunner, I came across several open international positions with Orbitus (a company I know nothing about but that looks like a government consulting firm), the most intriguing of which is “International Blogger.”  Responsibilities include:

Engag[ing] global audiences online in discussions pertaining to American culture, society and foreign policy via social networking forums, blogs and chat rooms in an effort to further dialogue and promote common understanding and cultural exchange.

The first qualification is: “Experience with blogging and social networking applications.” This, of course, brings me back to the question debated last week of whether social networking is a skill. While I tended to think that, in relation to the right job and presented in the proper way, experience with social networking could be a marketable skill, I was duly shot down by two commenters who noted that accumulating 1,000 friends on Facebook is not a skill. Which I totally agree with, though my point was that, if you’re going to market social networking as a skill, you’ll need to show that you have far more experience with the tools than the common Facebook user.  Certainly the Orbitus job expects that a qualified applicant can do much more with social networking tools than simply set up a Facebook account and get friends. I’m not entirely sure what that ‘much more’ is, but my point still stands, I think.

Anyway, in addition to International Blogger, Orbitus is also advertising for International Media Analyst, International Producer, and International Speaker. All of these sound intriguing. The first requirement for International Speaker is “charisma.”

Another interesting point that Matt Armstrong at MountainRunner points out: all of these job descriptions (the whole Orbitus site, in fact) are posted as images instead of text. I’ve never seen anyone do this before—Matt points out it’s presumably so Google can’t pick them up. Perhaps Orbitus is a secret government agency? Or maybe they just don’t want tons of crap resumes from any old schmo who thinks he’s good just because he knows how to Facebook. Either way, apply if you’re interested.

Event: A New Direction for USAID—At Home and Abroad

Monday, March 9th, 2009

The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) is hosting an event tomorrow morning titled, “A New Direction for USAID—At Home and Abroad:”

This 2nd forum in a series on Defense, Development, and Diplomacy will look at the proposed Cabinet-level development agency, and the new pathways the Obama administration might pursue to increase collaboration and cooperation between the Development community and the various arms of the U.S. foreign policy establishment. What are the right solutions to the bureaucratic roadblocks? How could these changes ultimately lead to better structures and better-implemented foreign policy? What are the challenges in appropriating more money in Congress for USAID?

The forum has a number of sponsors, including the Alliance for Peacebuilding, headed by a good friend of Sherry’s and NCIV’s, Chic Dambach.

The event is from 9:00 to 10:30 tomorrow morning in the Nitze Building at SAIS, 1740 Massachusetts Avenue in DC. RSVP is required by close of business today (

The inescapable draw

Monday, March 9th, 2009

Joanne Tay wonders if the fact that President Obama is a “diplomat at heart” is having a “trickle down effect” on Americans, spurring us to “realize the importance of reaching out through dialogue.” I hope she’s right.

Also, having recently graduated from the University of Melbourne, Joanne posted eloquently on the depression, uncertainty, and fear that comes with post-college life and the shitty feeling that she’s now expected to figure out what to do with the rest of her life. Joanne’s passion is in theater, and she faces a dilemma that many who want to pursue an international career often encounter: following what we know we love versus following what is deemed for us (often by our families) as a more “practical” career:

At my age (no longer that young, that is), I wonder if I should pursue what I want to do, or start from scratch here – through volunteer work. The problem of money gnaws me everyday, but I don’t want to be bound by the same fear that has fettered me the last three years. That typical ultra-pragmatic Singaporean mindset still keeps me imprisoned in fear – I dared not study theatre for want of something more secure (by doing an arts degree, yeah, how smart and practical huh) – and i still have that massive debt on my shoulders. But no matter how far i run from theatre, I come back to it, my first love. The stage is an inescapable draw. What should I do?

I say, if you can’t escape the draw, then why try? Just let it draw you.

Two international orgs for Monday morning

Monday, March 9th, 2009

It’s going to take me some time to get warmed up this Monday morning, so let’s start easy with two international organizations:

One: Study Abroad Alumni International

The purpose of this group is to “build a community of global citizens” among U.S. citizens who have studied abroad. SAAI is an “international membership organization consisting of alumni of some type of study abroad experience and others who actively support the study abroad experience.” This is a relatively new group, but Sherry is a member of the Advisory Board, so I would expect that many good things are imminent. (SAAI also has a group that might be worth getting on board with.)

Two: International Institute of Peace Through Tourism

Courtesy of Joanne Tay, IIPT is “a not for profit organization dedicated to fostering and facilitating tourism initiatives which contribute to international understanding and cooperation, an improved quality of environment, the preservation of heritage, and through these initiatives, helping to bring about a peaceful and sustainable world.” Internship and volunteer opportunities are available at the IIPT headquarters in Stowe, Vermont.