About 15 years ago, the Foreign Language Department was charged with providing advising for International Studies majors. We did a competent job at helping students understand the program and get the courses they needed to graduate, but I fear that our ability to provide sound advice on the topic of international jobs was sadly lacking. I am happy to report that over the years we have not only dropped the “foreign” from the name of our department (since there are roughly 50 million speakers of languages other than English in the United States, most of whom are not foreigners), but we have become increasingly adept at advising students on much more than just coursework.
We have learned that job seekers have a myriad of opportunities of an international nature. Possibilities range from working in the U.S. State Department to the United Nations to Development institutions and agencies (do an internet search on “Bilateral Development Agencies” and I bet you’ll be surprised how many hits you get) to non-governmental organizations (NGO’s — another internet search on this will surely impress you) to banking and business to international education to teaching English as a second language. This listing barely scratches the surface of international career paths.
As we have talked with numerous people working in international jobs, we have asked what it takes for people to break into their field. Answers have varied somewhat, but their replies have included several constants. First and foremost, international employers want to hire people who have international experience. The expense of relocating someone to another country is so great that employers want to minimize their risk by hiring people with a proven track record. Second, they are looking for people with language skills beyond English. Even when business is conducted in English, they want people with sensitivity to language and culture that can only come with learning a language. At a recent conference I attended, I learned that some universities require that students who major in International Studies minor in a language. Third, employers want employees who can write clearly. Fourth, employers want employees with basic computer skills. Depending on the field, other skills may be necessary, but those four things are the constants which international employment requires.
Please note that employers do not focus on hiring people from any particular major. Those four constants can be achieved by people majoring in just about anything, so International Studies is just one very good path. Although International Studies is the only major on campus which requires a study abroad, students of any major can work one into their studies. Another note: those four constants are highly attractive to domestic employers as well. All employers want flexible and adaptive employees.
If you think you want to pursue an international career, get started. Attend a Study Abroad General Session hosted by the Office of International Programs — they’ll have two more sessions this semester. Rather than tell you when they will be, I’ll encourage you to visit their Web site (www.nmu.edu/ipo), and while you do so, check out the incredible opportunities available to NMU students all over the world. Worried about money? Get paid during your international experience. To see an opportunity which pays for your travel, your room and board, your health insurance, and over a $1000 a month to teach English, click the “Let’s Talk” button in the Korean section of this page: http://webb.nmu.edu/InternationalPrograms/SiteSections/StudyAbroad/ChoosingProgram/Asia.shtml. Another great opportunity: on April 1 at 6 p.m. in 3301 Hedgcock a Peace Corps representative will give an information session. International Employers love people who have been in the Peace Corps. And don’t forget us in Modern Languages and Literatures — we’re here to help.