As graduate programs in student affairs are less common in Canada, I came to the United States to learn more about higher education. In particular, I was interested in international education and the experience of international students. It only made sense to enroll in graduate school as an international student myself. I also thought it would open more doors as I consider a long term career in America. Working abroad pushed me to step outside of my comfort zone, but provided me with outstanding growth opportunities.
I have since graduated and have returned home to resume my career. At first, I was worried that none of the lessons learned would be transferable and doubted my decision. While I do need to catch up a little bit and am required to take online classes to become a regulated immigration consultant, I still think my experience was worthwhile.
I challenge you to study or work abroad. These endeavors are high impact professional development for two reason I detail below.
Working Abroad is Transformative
Hamza (2010) studied international experience as a way to foster professional development in the field of higher education. She discovered that international experience had the potential to transform personal and professional attitudes. Further, this experience provided exposure to a new environment, different learning styles, and unfamiliar behaviors. Hamza also found that working abroad encouraged global perspectives. Only 11% of graduate programs in student affairs can be qualified as internationalized, meaning that they prepare graduates to engage on the global scene (Schulz, Lee, Cantwell, McClellan, & Woodard, 2007). It can then be argued then that working abroad can fill that void, transform, and help professionals make a difference in the United States by acquiring a different mindset and an ability to break geographical boundaries.
Development of Meaningful Professional Relationships
Even though I was working in the United States, I found new and exciting ways to connect with other Canadians and professionals involved in Canadian matters. When I attended the NAFTA Region IV conference, I was immediately introduced to the only other Canadian in attendance. Later, I used his doctoral thesis for a class project. I had the opportunity to meet with an officer at the Canadian Consulate in Chicago for an informational interview and met several other professionals including one of my now good friends that is responsible for recruiting Canadians for a prominent medical school.
I also was able to connect with potential employers at the Canadian Bureau for International Education conference when it was held right on the US/Canada border. They were intrigued by the fact that I was living in Missouri, heard my story, and provided advice. I had outstanding opportunities to connect with professionals linked with Canadian organizations, that sometimes had over 30 years of experience, given my unusual situation.
Studying, but especially working, abroad was the best decision I ever made in terms of professional development. I feel ready to resume my career in Canada. I am still connected to the local and regional organizations I was involved with in the United States. And, exchanging ideas with my old colleagues has been valuable in my new position.
October is Careers in Student Affairs Month (CSAM). While increased awareness of entry-points into the field are important to highlight, CSAM also serves as a way to discuss the larger culture of student affairs. Our pursuit of ensuring student affairs staff is representative of diversifying student demographics can’t come at the cost of health and well-being of staff. Add your voice to the conversation by using #CSAM17. Have ideas about a future series for the Student Affairs Collective? Contact Nathan Victoria at firstname.lastname@example.org.