When we are young we sometimes imagine what kind of life we expect to live, however, sometimes are imaginations never manifest into what we actually experience. This is also true with our job professions.
Since graduating college in 2010 I had hoped that my degree in International Affairs & Asian Studies would elevate me into an entry-level position with some type of organization (i.e. nonprofit, business corp, etc.) located in my college town of Boston.
Unfortunately, my co-op experience, which I completed during my last year in school was not inside my area of studies or interest. I was working for a Chinese geared community organization based in Boston that had special educational programs for children attending public schools in the Chinatown area. These educational programs were primarily mentor-type focus with many staff working on psychology or early childhood education degrees. Being an IR(international relations) related major I didn’t see how the experience would fit exactly. However, possessing working experience with children in the past, I certainly enjoyed my time there as a mentor.
Six months later after doing some part-time work at my local mall I was hired as a contract worker in at the Canon USA, Inc. main office located on Long Island.
Working as a general admin assistant in one of the main department offices I learned more about the corporate world. From the executive director, IT workers, and customer care employees I was surrounded by a wide variety of professionals.
My tasks as per my title were primarily assistance based. Working directly under my manager and supervisor I assisted my superiors with projects, excel spread sheets, filing, documents, errand runs, receiving and making phone calls, and handling invoices as well as the sorting the mail. These tasks became my routine from 9am-5pm with occasional overtime.
(Picture below: My desk space at the company)
During my first 6 months at Canon I came to a firm realization that I would not be able to utilize my degree or pursue my interests in IR. Though an international company with many foreign employees there was no IR office or work centered on building foreign relations and partnerships. Already Americanized, the main office in NY, focused on expanding relations with sub-offices in new areas across the U.S.
After 6+ months at Canon I felt that I was not learning anymore than I could in my position. Additionally being the youngest in my office I received the least respect from my co-workers who held onto a higher degree of entitlement due to age and years working. But, this did not bother me because while working part-time at my local mall prior to Canon I was preparing for the GRE and my graduate school applications.
For many individuals who pursue a degree in IR continuing onto graduates school is necessary. While a BA can land you an entry-level position somewhere, it can not help you get earn the research skills and tools you’ll need to use in an actual work environment. Like many other fields of study gaining further knowledge, research, and practice while in school can help you succeed when you begin your career. As an IR degree holder I knew that gaining a master’s degree would help me along my career path and broaden my job prospects in the future.
After receiving an acceptance letter to attend the School of International Service at American University (AU) in Washington D.C., I knew that I would have to leave the company soon. The decision was not difficult to make because I knew that my career interest and current job role did not match. So, after completing a year at Canon I resigned and moved to Washington, D.C. to attend school.
My first semester in the nation’s capital was exciting. Not only was I back in school, but I was living in one of the most diverse and IR-centered cities in the world. I was surrounded by people from all around the world who were students, professors, professionals, politicians, global travelers, etc.
(Picture above: Downtown streets of Washington, D.C.)
Washington, D.C. was as riveting as it was competitive. In all of my classes I felt a strong tug of competition to look smart, dress smart, and act like you are smart (if you’re not in terms of IR knowledge). Many students were either straight out of college, in-between and out of college for a short time like me, or professionals returning to school for a new degree or skill. These people were my classmates and my future colleagues. After completing my first semester I quickly learned that I needed to network, attend conferences related to my studies, meet professionals in different work areas, and build up my resume. That summer leading into my second semester I applied to internship positions all of the D.C. area.
After some months I was accepted as an intern with the International Research and Exchanges Board, also known as IREX. Being my first time working for a non-profit organization I was keen to learn more about how non-profits funded by the U.S. govt functioned and how much collaboration and focus was placed in the program areas that they worked in.
My first couple of months at IREX was like a roller-coaster. It was not too demanding or too fast paced, however, it was an ever-changing environment. Many of my co-workers and supervisor managed two,three, or more projects relating to educational programs in other parts of the world, researching new partners, or writing project implementation reports for approved programs. Everyday was a new day with all the work going on.
After 5 months at IREX, I learned more about US-aided programs run by nonprofits like IREX who work in many different parts of the world. I learned how to propose new projects via grant proposal writing. I learned how to organize trip itineraries and travel logistics for co-workers. I learned how to create closing reports for large-scale international projects. I learned so many things during my internship period there, and wished that I could have learned more. However, by the start of 2013 I was preparing for my final graduate year abroad in Korea. Taking the advice of my adviser and professionals whom I had met I decided to explore dual-degree programs offered by AU. Learning more about my school’s programs in Asia I applied to a 1-year program in Seoul, Korea. My reasoning for applying for the program was simple: to improve my competitiveness and career prospects.
After residing in D.C. for a year I learned that I lacked my own international experience. Having only completed short-term summer study abroad programs back in college I never once lived or worked abroad as had some classmates, professors, and advisers I met at AU. By making the decision to move to Seoul I left my internship position at IREX. But, taking my new earned skills and experience with me I looked forward to my next career paths.
However, during my time in Korea, unfortunately I did not find a global office to work for. Instead, while studying as a student, I was able to gain experience working part-time as an English teacher. After one year of teaching, I graduated from my dual-degree program and received my master’s degree in International Communication and International Studies with a focus on Cultural Relations and Global Partnering. Feeling thrilled and inspired I returned home briefly from Korea and decided to assess my current and future career goals.
Having already settled into a routine lifestyle abroad I decided that I would continue to teach English in Korea, and continue gaining more experience residing overseas. This decision was one that I had made for multiple reasons other than simply my career. Looking back now I do not regret making the decision. By returning to teach in Korea I had gained a new interest. Education. Having moved to Korea to continue my own education I soon became interested in assisting in the education of youth, but also in educating young Koreans on diversity and culture. Being an English teacher not only made me an educator, but allowed me to become a cultural ambassador with the opportunity to share my own culture with my students. To me this was the greatest reward in teaching.
Last summer, however, I left my English teaching position due to poor managing and a level of disrespect received from my place of employment. While I felt bad to leave my position abruptly I knew that my students appreciated all of the lessons that I had taught them and all of the American culture that I had shared with them.
(Pictured left: My (temporary) desk before I received a classroom with a personal desk).
Since last Fall, I resumed looking for positions in IR. However, possessing a new interest area in education I hope to work for an organization that promotes cultural & educational programs for youth. Personally, I think the greatest educational experience for the next generation in the 21st century is a global education. Knowing that not many students have the opportunity to travel abroad is more reason to provide cultural learning opportunities for students young and old. Working in a position educating and sharing cultures is a career goal I am currently striving to work towards.