#WorkAbroadBecause every day feels like an accomplishment!

by Stasia Lopez / Mar 08, 2015 /
Stasia Lopez's picture

Megan Lee is an Overseas Educator with Carpe Diem Education. She's originally from Merrillville, Indiana. She graduated from Valparaiso University with a degree in International Economics and Chinese. While in college, she was fortunate to study abroad in China as well as South Africa and Namibia. Read her interview below about working abroad and connecting to Megan through Twitter!

"I love chatting all things study abroad; don't hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions / want someone to geek out with about travel. Just hit me up on Twitter @peglegmeg. :-)"

 

Megan Lee

 

What motivated your decision to work abroad? How/why did you choose where to go?

I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship to study in China from 2010-2011. I was terrified to hop on the plane for a full year, which may or may not have lead to a mini-breakdown in O'Hare. However, despair for being away from home for too long quickly turned into despair for not being in Beijing long enough. There were more dumplings to be eaten, more characters to memorize, more Chinese friends and memories to make! With that in mind, I decided to seek work in Beijing that would allow me to continue living my life there.

I began searching for an internship, and inquired among different education abroad companies operating in the Chinese capitol. I got a bite from China Study Abroad, an American-owned company right in the heart of Wudaokou (the student district!). It was a great fit and I started working full time once my university program completed.

 

Megan Lee.

 

How did you find your job? What resources did you use?

My good buddy Google (and my trusty VPN, of course!). I did a quick search and sent a few emails to listed info@ accounts. It took a few weeks to hear back from anyone, which was discouraging at the time. But I started my search early just in case this would happen!

Once I landed the interview, I donned my most professional dress, printed a copy of my resume, and walked into the most casual, laidback office I've ever experienced to this day. Needless to say, my professional get-up is a good laugh in hindsight. (Better safe than sorry though, right?!)

 

What was your experience like? Can you share some favorite memories - and challenges?

Working with international students in China was an incredible experience! I was able to befriend students from the world over; in the same week, I'd pick up students from South Africa, the Czech Republic, and Colombia. And I got to do it all with some of the best friends I've ever had - I'll always love my CSA family.

It's hard to pick a favorite memory. I always thoroughly enjoyed picking up students from the airport, and being with them during their first few moments in the country. They were always tired and overwhelmed and excited in the best possible ways. Some students, after our email correspondence, were surprised to learn that the "Megan Lee" meeting them at the airport was in fact a white girl and not a sweet Chinese girl. Ha! Gotcha!

The joy of greeting students at the airport was only matched by the fun of escorting the students back to the airport at the end of their program. They didn't really need my help anymore. It was a beautiful thing to hear them speak in (semi-clear) Mandarin to the taxi drivers, directing them where to go.

The toughest challenges were the endless roadblocks from the bureaucracy of the Chinese government. Time and again we were forced to turn away students from specific countries because the university would simply not admit them, making it extremely difficult (if not impossible) for them to receive visas to study in China. It was difficult to tell a student "Sorry" without a better explanation than "China doesn't approve of having visitors from your country." Woof! Tough convos.

 

What skills did you develop from your experience? Do you feel changed from your experience abroad?

Great question. I learned to be more culturally sensitive, as I was interacting with a number of different nationalities at any given time - not only within our student group but also within our office. My patience was tried time and again, and since I didn't want to rip all of my hair out, I had to adapt. I learned to be more comfortable with confusion (that one took awhile though).

The most important skill I obtained throughout my experience working abroad was self reliance. Each day was mine to write. There were a number of barriers to surmount every single day, and most times I had to rely solely on myself to make it through (laughter of course helped - it'll keep you sane!...ish).

This may go without saying, but just in case - my Chinese language skills also vastly improved. Working, living, functioning, playing in China'll do that to you.

I would be disappointed if my time living and working abroad for nearly 2 years didn't change me at all. It was a critical time in my life; I was fresh out of college, keen to mold my 'young professional' expat lifestyle, insatiably curious about Asian cultures. I was removed from the familiar and forced to adjust; I am most certainly a changed person.

 

Has your experience helped you get where you are today?

Undoubtedly so; I believe each and every experience shapes your next steps in life. The woman I am today would not be here had I not lived for a few years abroad. It was the start of a career I am crazy-passionate about.

Had I not been in China working with study abroad students, GoOverseas.com may not have taken my interest in freelance writing for their website seriously back in 2012. This remote editorial role eventually became a full time job in Berkeley, CA in 2013. And from there, my career in international education has continued progressing. I feel very blessed to have found meaning in the work I do.

It is all a chain reaction, and I refuse to believe in 'right' and 'wrong' decisions in life - everything is a learning opportunity. But of this I am sure: working in China gave me perspective, space, and an empowering feeling I have yet to find in other phases of my life.

 

Megan Lee

 

Any advice for students thinking about working overseas? What are some highlights or things that you gained or changed your perspective?

You mean advice besides "JUST DO IT?" :)

My advice for would-be-expats is to consider thoughtfully the amount of time you are willing to commit (a year sounds scary now, but it does go by in a whirlwind). Get your ducks in a row, AKA figure out your visa situation so that you are working legally and get your taxes/health care sorted (for those under 26, this is slightly easier - thanks Mom & Dad!).

As I said earlier: any and all experience has value and learning potential. Even if your job abroad doesn't align perfectly with your end-goal-career-objectives, you will still have a wealth of experience to draw from that other career moves simply won't be able to provide.

In China, I felt fully capable of accomplishing any idea or goal that popped into my head. When I wanted more experience with young children, I got a part-time job at a children's museum. When I was bummed that yoga was so expensive, I started a free weekend yoga club. When I wanted to try on the bartender-lifestyle, I got an evening job pouring drinks at a new hutong microbrewery.

This feeling of EMPOWERMENT is unmatched from my experiences in the US, where there are barriers to just about everything (degrees, certificates, licenses, etc.) or the competition is exceedingly fierce. It was fun to explore different interests just for the heck of it. I've since carried this sense of DOING rather than BEING with me into my other life experiences; I always try to carpe the S*** outta the diem. :)

 

How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?

There are times where I feel more at home in the company of other expats than other folks from the United States. It's a weird feeling to realize you have little in common with people who technically share your cultural identity. However, I do feel a sense of pride when I can chat up just about any American I meet about how awesome Back to the Future is or their preferred Chipotle burrito fillings.

Working abroad far removed me from pop culture in the US - what a blessing in hindsight. Realizing that I didn't need to know the names of celebrity babies or watch the latest episode of (insert newly popular TV sitcom) was refreshing and liberating in a way I'd never anticipated. I totally bypassed the Angry Birds hullaballoo and have to this day never bought a maxi dress. Is my life better for it? Not necessarily, but witnessing these fads go in and out of style made me realize how much useless energy I spend on them.

I find myself identifying less with American consumerism. Though this may be a by-product of my semi-nomadic lifestyle, I've actually put into practice the idea of "less is more." My lower back certainly thanks me, and I like to think that planet earth and future generations thank me too.

Lastly, rather than finding joy and pride in identifying culturally as an American, I've found myself increasingly proud of coming from my home state, Indiana, specifically! Turns out, not too many Hoosiers get out and about across international borders. I want to make a good name for us corn-fed Midwest girls. :)

 

Megan Lee

 

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

For me, the hardest part of working abroad is being away from my friends, and more importantly my family. We Lee's are a close knit bunch; while I know they are supportive of me, my physical absence still puts a strain on our relationship.

Even so, I must trust my gut and know that what I gain from my experience in other countries far outweighs the short-term sacrifice of resorting to Skype calls and text messages to maintain da love.

If you are nervous about leaving home for a year or more, you are not alone. It's really stinkin' hard (and scary!)! Some days will be easier than others. I hope you find peace in knowing that once you look back at your experience working abroad, all of the homesickness will feel worth it. The benefits far outweigh the costs - just trust me. :)

 

#workabroadbecause every day feels like an accomplishment!!

 

 

Stasia Lopez is the Global Education Editor for Wandering Educators and is also a Career Consultant at the University of Pittsburgh. She graduated with her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership in Higher Education and Student Affairs from Western Michigan University and earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management from Robert Morris University. Stasia is passionate about international education, travel,  and loves working on a college campus. She’s lived in four different U.S. states (Florida, Michigan, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania) and also studied and lived abroad in Rome, Italy. Stasia lives in the Pittsburgh area with her husband, Fernando.

 

 

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Megan Lee

 

 

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