How Study Abroad Changed my Career Path
Studying abroad is one of the most enriching experiences of my life. It really challenged me and taught me so many skills (like budgeting, event planning, foreign language and currency knowledge, and building friendships/relationships with people of all cultural backgrounds). Studying abroad really helped me to become a global citizen and after my wonderful five months in Rome, Italy and traveling to over 11 countries, I continued traveling more both in Canada and USA and learning about higher education systems, economies, and cultures.
My undergraduate experience was really wonderful at Robert Morris University. I was involved (Vice President of the Hospitality and Tourism Management Association, a National Society of College Scholars Honor Society member, an Eisenhower Scholar from JWU, a Patriot Scholar, Multicultural Club member, maintained Dean’s list for six semesters, travel writer of the Sentry newspaper, volunteered with two non-profits: Paws with a Cause and my church, studied abroad in Rome, Italy for five months, and held two internships: one at a travel agency (definitely NOT what I wanted to do with my life) and the other at RMU’s study abroad office as their premier intern (which was the beginning of my career path) all while working full time at night as a Guest Service Representative at a hotel for almost three years. I graduated Cum Laude in December 2008 and a year after I graduated, I was honored with RMU’s Academic Excellence Award. I feel very blessed to have been able to get a quality education while working hard and pursuing what I cared about. Not long after, I created The International Cultures Group on Facebook and starting posting about global events and holidays, cuisines and desserts, customs and traditions, pictures and articles. I see now that this initiative of mine helped me land my next two internships after I graduated.
I quickly tried to pursue a Masters degree right out of college and did a semester in international education in a south Florida institution and did really well but family/medical circumstances surfaced and I had to move back to Pennsylvania. Not long after, my husband and I were engaged the following summer and moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan where we pursued a fresh start. I started working for my husband’s company as an Office Manager and maintained two more internships. One for Abroad Scout, a website for study abroad and the other for Colleagues International, which is an international visitors and exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.
I always knew I wanted to go back to school and continue my Masters degree but the timing was not right yet. I looked into online schools like Keller graduate school courses, but nothing seem to fit.
So, I kept busy with my Office Manager duties and my two internships, which both directly involved me in study and international education, writing articles, maintaining social media pages and posts, and learning a lot!
I also started reading a fantastic book called, “Getting from College to Career 90 Things to do Before you Join the Real World” by Lindsay Pollak. I always set goals to improve myself and wanted a great career so I decided that reading this book would be a step in the right direction to help me decide what to do for the future. This book, to this day, is still a resource I utilize. I was encouraged by my Abroad Scout supervisor to attend a National Association of Foreign Student Advisors (NAFSA) regional conference in Detroit of 2010. I applied and received a grant to attend the conference and that was my first door open. Following the guidelines of the book, I networked like crazy, learned all I could and got even more excited and passionate about a career in international education. My same supervisor with Abroad Scout also was an alumna from Western Michigan University and encouraged me to apply for their Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA) Master degree program.
I met with the director of the program and participated in the HESA interview days held that February. I took a tour of the school and talked one-on-one with current HESA grad students. I interviewed for a couple positions, and got an offer in April to work as a graduate assistant Career Educator and Advisor for the College of Arts and Sciences for WMU. There are a lot of wonderful benefits to being a graduate assistant: free tuition up to six credits (this varies by institution), free parking, 10% off the bookstore and other discounts, health insurance, plus a stipend (a paycheck to live on). Before moving to Michigan, I applied to a few fantastic schools (Lehigh University and Lesley University) and got in but graduate assistantships weren’t offered. The unique thing about WMU was that they had “interview days” that were scheduled for HESA students to interview for student affairs positions to gain professional development experience while in school.
I suppose it was all meant to be because I’m currently doing just that! I’m learning SO much too!! I attended another NAFSA conference in November in Champaign, IL, a Michigan College Personnel Association (MCPA) conference, and I’m gearing up to attend the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) in March in Kentucky for a convention. I have several webinars lined up and other forms of professional development in Higher Education and Student Affairs, and International Education that I’m always looking to obtain. These can include the Academy for International Education, an 11-month training program for new people in the field of international education as well as a Management Development Program too. I joined NAFSA and get to utilize the benefits offered through the Association of International Educators. To learn more about NAFSA, go to www.nafsa.org.
For me, studying abroad and getting international experience was my step one, having three internships in study abroad/international education were my step two, and joining and attending NAFSA conferences and networking are also helpful in my process to a full-time career in study abroad (my step three). Getting my Masters degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs (and/or International Education or similar) combined with a graduate assistantship to give me hands-on experience are the icing on the cake. I grew up with the Greek language and culture and have been speaking Spanish now too (my husband is Mexican) for the past two years now. Language abilities are important but being able to communicate in diverse environments are what employers are looking for and utilizing transferable skills. Now, I’m looking to seek a practicum in a study abroad office, (maybe at Kalamazoo College), to gain even more skills and to gain at least 300 hours of work in study abroad at the graduate level. With graduate assistantships, you get at least 600 hours or more a year, so its really beneficial to gain an assistantship if you have the chance.
Network, network, network!! It is true, the more people you know, the better your chances of getting a job in study abroad/international education. NAFSA has a career center and everything. It’s very useful. I have met a lot of wonderful people, got a couple mentors, and really trying to get more international experience and practicums now. I look forward to working in study abroad and international education once I graduate in 2013 with my Masters!
Anastasia R.D. Lopez is a newlywed who is currently pursuing her Master of Arts in Educational Leadership in Higher Education and Student Affairs from Western Michigan University (WMU) in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She is a Career Educator and Advisor at WMU for the College of Arts and Sciences. Anastasia received her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in Hospitality and Tourism Management degree from Robert Morris University in Moon Township, PA.
She studied abroad in Rome, Italy and traveled to 14 countries so far. She’s passionate about study abroad and international education, loves bowling, and collects global ornaments for her international Christmas tree. Find her on twitter (@StasiaDiamantis) and linkedin or email her at stasia.diamantis [at] gmail.com. She's also the Global Education Editor here at Wandering Educators.