After my semester studying in India, I wanted to find a career where I could get paid to travel, work with people from different countries and cultures, and make a difference. The International Affairs career field is the career to do these things.
I’ve been so blessed, and I’m looking forward to a career in the Foreign Service.
Looking back, I can see how every job, internship, volunteer experience, and my travels have led me to where I am now. But, when I was in my early to mid-20s that path didn’t look so clear. If you’re interested in my trajectory, be sure to check out How I Landed A Job In International Affairs.
And please keep in mind that there’s no perfect formula. Your path will most likely not look like mine, and mine will not look like yours. But there are some things you can take into consideration in order to get to the career of your dreams.
Volunteering is a great way to help others. It’s also a good way to gain experience if you have little to no experience in international affairs. If you have no experience, I would suggest starting local and volunteering in something travel or international related. Look for internationally-focused organizations in your community.
When I was starting out, I spent time at an immigration center. I edited resumes, translated documents, and tutored English. I found this opportunity through Catholic Charities.
Did I get paid? No. But helping others who were new to this country was invaluable. That’s what matters. The added bonus was I developed skills future employers needed and it was a “global” experience.
Also, I tutored for four years at a church. When my students finished their assignments, I incorporated “international activities” during their downtime. During one activity, the students make their own “passports.” Another time, I taught them how to say hello in different languages.
Looking back, my motive wasn’t to find a profitable international career. I did it because I returned from India and was obsessed with all things international. I wanted to share my love with anyone who would listen (kind of like this site) while serving with others.
When it comes to getting a job in the international career field, experience matters. I wholeheartedly advocate for paid internships. If you have the option of doing a paid internship over unpaid one, definitely do it. I also know that not everyone can afford to take an unpaid internship. However, I understand that those unpaid positions, as cringe as they are, can get your foot in the door and lead to paid opportunities.
I remember when I took my first unpaid internship during the summer after my sophomore year of college. There were people around me who discouraged me from taking it because it was unpaid. I get that. I took it…and still worked a second job to help cover my books and school fees for the upcoming school year.
The experience that I received from that internship was invaluable. During that summer, I worked at the World Trade Center Institute in Baltimore. I was the International Visitor’s Leadership Program Intern. I helped build cultural programming and escorted foreign delegations around Baltimore. The work I was doing then as a college student helped me understand the world I’m in today. I learned about public diplomacy (PD) even before I knew what it was.
During future interviews for paid opportunities, I was able to let my employers know I had experience. And because I had the experience, they hired me to work for them.
Don’t just think of networking as a dreadful process to find a job. Think of networking as an opportunity to build relationships within the industry you want to enter. When you network, you meet people in your field. Meeting people not only builds your circle, but you gain insider career knowledge which can be invaluable while looking and applying for jobs. You never know what will come out of networking.
Study abroad was the spark that led me to pursue a career in international affairs. Without a doubt, I know if I didn’t study in India, I would not be where I am today. If you are in college or even grad school, consider studying overseas.
For me, it provided clarity to my life’s purpose. It opened my eyes to opportunities I did not know existed.
Studying abroad gives you the international experience employers are looking for. When you are studying overseas you learn skills future employers look for such as adaptability, problem-solving, time management, and communication. You might even have the opportunity to hone in on foreign language skills, depending on the country you go to.
If you study abroad, see how you can take full advantage of the opportunity. Look for programs that may allow you to do an internship or volunteer within the local community. When I studied in India, I interned at a women’s rights organization. One of my duties was writing case reports for women who experienced domestic violence. This internship gave me a nuanced look at Indian life and culture. The experiences I had were priceless and it was something I could talk about during future interviews.
When you think of children, maybe you break out in hives. Maybe you’ve never seen yourself as a teacher. Or maybe, just maybe, you majored in business with minors in international affairs and Arabic. So for the life of you, you’ve never considered teaching English after college as part of your career plan.
That’s cool. Neither did I.
I was a sociology major and I minored in history. Teaching was definitely not on my radar. In fact, the thought of being in a classroom with little kids all day was kind of scary.
But, I used the experience of teaching in Spain for a year as a way for me to learn Spanish and to gain international experience. The job in Spain indirectly led to a gig in China.
Teaching internationally can be an amazing career. Many people do it. But, I also consider it to be the first step into getting the international job of your dreams. I talk about my reasons in Why Teaching English Could Be The Beginning Of An International Career.
Say you found a teaching gig, internship, or volunteer experience abroad.
While you’re in that country teaching English, for example, you could use your time after work to network and join professional organizations. By doing this, you begin to find out if there are jobs or educational opportunities that you’re qualified for in your host country.
I say this because, while it depends on the country, jobs may come through networking. Some companies prefer to hire someone based on a referral, or someone within their network. That’s how I got my job in China. It was through a referral.
Just be sure to obey all the rules regarding the terms of your visa. Additionally, follow the requirements of your employer, internship, or volunteer organization to be compliant, and legally stay in the host country.
If you want to work in a global career, it may be wise to know more than just English. When you’re competing for jobs…heck when you get the job, many of your colleagues will have a working knowledge of several languages. It’s just how the cookie crumbles.
If you only know English, start learning other languages as soon as you can. There are tons of resources online if you are a self-learner. If you already graduated from school, enroll yourself in a language institution or take courses from a community college.
If you want to study something besides a romance language, consider a critical language (read: What Is A Critical Language? Why Study A Critical Language).
I believe master’s degrees in this field are important. However, I would tell people to wait and get experience before enrolling in a graduate program because experience is key. A lot of people in my master’s degree program were in their late 20’s (myself included) when they applied. To get experience, you could do a number of things like volunteer, intern, study abroad, or teach overseas. Also, there are jobs that don’t require a master’s degree.
However, having experience before pursuing your master’s degree is not always required. Some people like Naria did not wait to get her master’s degree. She started her master’s program after completing her undergrad degree.
Entering this career field is going to take patience and persistence. But it’s so worth it. Just keep going, and don’t give up. If you’re interested in how other people began working in international affairs (or traveling), click here.