The Changing Global Context for International Careers

The world has changed in fundamental ways since the first edition of Working World was published in 2008. The evolution of social media continually pushes us toward new and different ways of connecting, networking, and searching for employment. The profound economic downturn has caused job searches to be longer and more difficult and, in some cases, has prompted us to recalibrate the kinds of positions (and salaries) we are willing to accept. Geopolitical events (such as the Arab Spring uprising, greater emphasis on US-Asia relationships, and shifting immigration patterns across the globe) illustrate the growing need for expertise in the fields of international education, exchange, and development.

Indeed, the precise definition of an "international career" is elusive. The distinction between "domestic" and "international" has become increasingly anachronistic, and the complexity of many organizations in these fields defies easy categorization. The fields are amorphous— constantly changing, resettling, then shifting again.

Our basic assumption in this book is that international education, exchange, and development involve moving people, information, and sometimes supplies across national borders for educational or humanitarian purposes in order to build more effective communications, to tackle global problems, and to create the web of human connections so critical to existence in the twenty-first century. Each of these fields operates in a unique space and focuses on distinct goals. Yet international education, exchange, and development naturally fit together not only because of the professional interactions that regularly occur across the fields, but also because the work done by many organizations encompasses all three. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, the fields are all dedicated to improving the quality of life on our fragile planet.

Illustrative positions and organizations in these fields include

• A Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay

• A program manager for Save the Children in Bangladesh

• The president of the International Visitors Center of Philadelphia

• A work and travel program manager at Inter Exchange in New York City

• A development consultant to a USAID contractor working in West Africa

• The manager of an Institute of International Education-administered project for teachers in Japan

• A cultural attaché at the US Embassy in Bulgaria

• A program coordinator in the American College Program at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland

• The exchange program director at CENET: Cultural Exchanges Network in Cape Girardeau, Missouri

• A program administrator of Palestine/Israel exchange programs for the Mennonite Central Committee in Jerusalem

• A program coordinator based in East and Southern Africa for the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES)

• An expatriate professor at the Yamaguchi Prefectural University in Japan

• The vice president for business development at Creative Associates International, a for-profit development firm headquartered in Washington, DC

• The director of the Hong Kong-America Center based in Hong Kong

• The president of the Stanley Foundation in Muscatine, Iowa

Jobs in these fields are found in every sector. An increasing number are with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), nonprofit organizations, private voluntary organizations (PVOs), educational institutions, and other agencies (Lester Salamon at Johns Hopkins University has defined this expansion as the "global associational revolution"). The overriding reality pertaining to most of these jobs is that the financial rewards are modest compared with those in the corporate sector and for some governmental positions. Most individuals aspiring to work in the fields of international education, exchange, and development are motivated more by a desire for psychological satisfaction than for financial gain. They are genuinely idealistic, wanting to make a positive difference in the world and a contribution to a constructive result.

For example, we know a program officer at the Meridian International Center who is absolutely committed to helping the foreign leaders from the Middle East participating in the US Department of State's International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) understand the United States and its democratic institutions. He is also determined to help US citizens comprehend the complexity and historic circumstances that drive so many of the events in the Middle East. It is unlikely that his efforts will make him rich in monetary terms, but he is blessed with many psychological rewards as the impact of his work becomes apparent at home and abroad.

One example from Sherry's own career may help further illustrate what we mean by psychological satisfaction. Sherry described this experience in her first book on careers:

Some years ago, before apartheid ended in South Africa, I was watching Ted Koppel's show Nightline on television. The format was a town meeting concerning South Africa. As I watched, I realized I knew one of the men being interviewed. He was the current minister of education of South Africa and was arguing for the end of apartheid. I had served as his program officer at the Institute of International Education twelve years earlier when he was a participant in the US Information Agency's International Visitor Program.[1] I remembered sending him to communities in Alabama and Oklahoma to study successful integration efforts in the United States. The realization that in some small way my work may have helped nudge a South African leader toward ending apartheid was powerful indeed. This experience was just one of many times I have known without a doubt that I chose the right career.

The title of this introduction, "Idealists Preferred," reflects the basic assumption underlying this book: people drawn to careers in international education, exchange, and development want to have a positive impact. They envision their careers making a tangible difference in our turbulent world. There is an oft-quoted adage: "You are either part of the problem or part of the solution." People drawn to these fields want to be part of the solution.

"Idealists Preferred" was inspired by the original advertisement used to recruit Pony Express riders in 1860:

"Wanted: Young wiry, skinny fellows under the age of 18. Must be expert riders willing to risk death daily. Wages $25 per week. Orphans preferred."

Over the years, Sherry has often quoted the original advertisement in speeches she makes on citizen diplomacy, the concept that each individual has the responsibility to help shape foreign relations. Then she recounts a revised version of the advertisement that she suggests her audience has already answered:

"Wanted: Young at heart of all ages. Must be well-organized, eager to learn, and willing to risk breaking stereotypes daily. Wages—won't be discussed. Idealists preferred."

In fact, this revised ad is one that most people drawn to careers in international education, exchange, and development have answered, at least on a subconscious level. They are idealists. They desire to make a positive difference—to be a force for good. They are motivated by the notion of service. It is no surprise that one of the most popular job search websites for the fields is Idealist.org.

  • [1] The US Information Agency (USIA) administered US public diplomacy programs from 1953 to 1999, including international exchange programs after 1977. USIA was abolished in 1999 under the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act. Since then, US government-sponsored international exchange programs have been administered by the Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. In 2004, the International Visitor Program (IVP) was renamed the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP).
 
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