Syracuse Abroad recently held a small workshop on how to market a study abroad experience. The workshop mainly focused on how to market experiences that did not involve an internship, which may not be completely obvious to students. Detailed below are some of the main lessons from the workshop.
To begin with, most students do not put their study abroad experience on their resume when they should. For students who have studied abroad, the experience may seem commonplace, but it is still something under 10% of all US undergrads participate in. A study abroad experience is unique, and can set someone apart from other job-seekers. On a resume, it should be placed in the education section, either as a bullet under the main undergraduate institution, or as a standalone academic experience.
Even if a student’s study abroad program involves no internship, experiences on the trip can be relevant in a job interview or in a cover letter. Many job interview questions are personality-based in nature, asking the applicant to talk about how they think, how they work with others and how they operate under stressful conditions. Study abroad experiences can present challenges in all these situations and more. For example, the typical study abroad experience often includes “thinking on one’s feet,” “learning something new,” or “taking a risk” – all frequent question topics in interviews. Because students and recent graduates do not have an expansive professional career from which to draw anecdotes, in interviews they can mine their study abroad experiences. This is also true of cover letters, where it can be equally difficult for a recent graduate to link their experiences with the job’s qualifications. Here is a sample list of job skills that job-seekers who have studied abroad may possess:
At the same time, if a student includes a study abroad experience on their resume or cover letter, they should be prepared for the interviewer to ask them about it. For example, the interviewer may ask the student why they chose to study abroad at all, or why they chose the country they studied in. Students should be ready to answer in way that reflects positively on their decision-making skills, and not be caught flat-footed.
Leveraging a study abroad trip can also begin during the trip itself. In order to make the trip a mindful experience that one can talk fluently on afterwards, students are encouraged to keep a journal during the trip. Not only will this help students recall their experiences later, it will make them more observant during the trip and more articulate about their experiences later. Students should also be active in networking while abroad – and maintain that network when they return. This can prove to be an invaluable resource when looking for work in that country after graduation.
Lastly, some aspects of a study abroad trip are directly relevant to jobs. Students should not overlook the academic component of the trip, and how it intersects with the experiential dimension. If a student or recent graduate is finding work within their area of study, it can be useful to talk about how experiences outside the classroom enhanced their understanding of their area of study. Additionally, if the job is an international organization or diverse work environment, the intercultural skills gained in a study abroad experience will add value to the job applicant – regardless of what they studied or what type of job it is.
I feel lucky that I had the opportunity to intern at The Tahrir Institute for ME Policy (TIMEP) last Summer while being enrolled in the MAIR program at the Maxwell School. My off-campus experience working with TIMEP in Washington, D.C. was so fulfilling and it gave me the opportunity to broaden my work experience and work closely with a leading think tank on analyzing the MENA region policies and monitoring its improvements. It related to my activism background in Egypt during and after the January 25, 2011 revolution, which shifted my interest from my previous career involving economic journalism and media to becoming a practitioner in the Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding field. My experience with TIMEP offered me a smooth transition experience.
At TIMEP, I worked as a member of a five-person team to research, analyze, and draft published reports for a project assessing prospects for transitional justice in Egypt. I also contributed to research direction and conducted data collection for a project documenting Egypt’s economic indicators. In addition, I managed a portfolio of research on rights and freedoms in Egypt, including delivering daily oral and written briefings to staff, identifying areas needing further research, and proposing initiatives to cover important topics.
I was honored to receive the Cramer award from the Maxwell School that helped me to afford my off-campus experience last Fall. It gave me the opportunity to support myself with all the requirements that guaranteed an efficient networking process with people that work in the Conflict Resolution field, attend relevant conferences, and get the opportunity of visiting and observing organizations that work in the field.
My experience this summer was both difficult and rewarding. I used the summer global program award to help finance my second year of Hindi language studies in Jaipur, India and to help offset the costs of my short internship experience in Kathmandu, Nepal. The language program was incredibly difficult because it packed the entire second year of Hindi into just eight weeks. We spent half of the summer reviewing what we had (or had not) learned during our first year of Hindi and then the second half learning entirely new material. The experience was so difficult purely because of the speed at which we were learning new material. We would be learning something new one day and then everything would change the next day. Ultimately, I was able to improve my understanding of the grammar rules and my speaking skills rapidly improved much more than they would have if I took the second year of Hindi at Syracuse because I had to use it every single day. We also stayed with host families so it made the experience feel as though we really got to understand the daily life and routine of your average Indian family. Overall, it was an extremely difficult learning experience, but deeply rewarding as well.
The last part of my summer was spent working with a local NGO in Kathmandu. While I was in India, I was doing some research for the organization on the Indian supply chain of kiwi because it is often imported into Nepal, undercutting the local market because the kiwi is better developed. After the language program ended, I was able to join the team on the ground in Kathmandu. I helped develop some surveys with the organization to better understand the Nepalese side of the kiwi supply chain because the organization works with one hundred apple and kiwi farmers. We needed to better understand the supply chain so we could connect the farmers to the appropriate supply chain based on their needs and their output. My greatest memory of the experience was getting to head out into the field and actually speak with the farmers to hear about their experiences and what they needed from the organization in order to be successful. The rural areas of Nepal are absolutely stunning. I also got to continue practicing my Hindi because so many people in Nepal know Hindi as well. My experiences this summer were challenging, but incredibly rewarding because they helped me grow personally, academically, and professionally.
Jeff Marshall is a recent graduate of the Public Diplomacy Program, where he earned a Master of Arts in International Relations and a Master of Science in Public Relations. He also received a prestigious Boren Fellowship, which he used to study Urdu in Lucknow, India.
This spring, I had the opportunity to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) at its Washington Public Affairs and Communications Center. The OECD is an international economic and social policy forum comprising thirty-five of the world’s leading market democracies, and the Washington Center serves as a support and outreach center for the organization’s headquarters, which are located in Paris.
Joining an international organization at the beginning of a new presidency was a fascinating experience. While communicators generally focus their efforts on external engagement, listening, monitoring, and evaluating are equally important aspects of a communicator’s role. As such, much of my initial work at the Washington Center was focused on keeping up with developments in the White House, noting potential sensitivities, and reporting to the Secretary-General’s office in Paris. Given the wide range of policy areas (from chemical testing guidelines to taxation) the OECD produces data and research on, these tasks served as crash courses on a variety of issues and debates.
In addition to monitoring and reporting, I was also tasked with identifying potential areas of cooperation between the public affairs and sales and marketing staff at the center. This entailed examining content released leading up to a major OECD publication, developing processes for sharing content, identifying shared audiences, and, ultimately, producing a series of recommendations for the center. The project provided me with unique insights into how international organizations market their research, conduct outreach, and generate interest in policy issues. The project also afforded me the opportunity to reflect and share my observations and suggestions for improvement.
The exciting conclusion to my internship was a visit from the OECD’s Secretary-General, Ángel Gurría, for the World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings. In preparation, the entire office went into overdrive. We were in a constant process of confirming meetings, arranging (and re-arranging) schedules, and tirelessly reviewing the run of show, or as we referred to it, the “tick tock” to ensure that the Secretary-General’s visit would run smoothly. The entire process was an excellent exercise in team-building, and while I wouldn’t want to be planning such visits every day, it was a phenomenal learning experience.
My time at the OECD Washington Center was undoubtedly time well-spent. Given that it is a small office, I was truly able to immerse myself in most of the Center’s activities, which provided for a highly stimulating and enriching professional experience.
Two years ago–just before I started my studies at Syracuse–I had the incredible opportunity to intern in the personal office of Senator Chuck Schumer. When I decided to attend the joint Maxwell/Newhouse Public Diplomacy Program, I knew that I would be spending the last semester of the program in DC, and I knew that I wanted to return to The Hill. My goal was to experience another side of Congress in hopes of gaining a deeper understanding of the legislative process.
Last semester, I interned with the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the U.S. House of Representatives. I quickly learned that the House and Senate share the Capitol, but they are worlds apart. I also learned that while many of the skills from my Senate internship were transferable, personal offices and committees operate differently.
Every aspect of my internship provided insight into the critical role of committees in our legislative process. From standard administrative tasks—drafting responses to constituent mail, compiling press clips, greeting visitors, and answering phones—to assisting staffers on more substantive projects and preparing for official committee business, I truly came away from my internship feeling like I’d learned a lifetime’s worth of knowledge about the complex U.S. political machine.
One of my most memorable experiences was collecting more than 160 signatures on an Anti-Semitism letter addressed to President Trump. Luckily, this was a team effort and I did not have to collect the signatures alone. The entire experience—from formatting the letter, to running to member offices, and addressing the letter to the White House—was surreal. Watching major media outlets cover the letter for the next couple of days was also quite the experience.
It probably goes without saying, but being in Washington for the “First 100 Days” of the Trump Administration was interesting to say the least. When the new administration proposed significant budget cuts to the foreign affairs and aid budget, the members of the Foreign Affairs Committee voiced bipartisan support for the diplomatic community and its important work; I was heartened by this seemingly rare demonstration of unity in the current political climate. As someone who will soon join the Foreign Service, I truly value the time I spent with the Foreign Affairs Committee. I am thankful for the Maxwell-in-Washington Program for allowing me to incorporate this enriching opportunity into my academic experience.
Tim Stoutzenberger is a recent graduate of the ATLANTIS Transatlantic Degree Program, where he earned a MAIR from the Maxwell School in Syracuse, New York and a MPP from the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin.
Last Summer, I was fortunate to receive a field research grant from the Moynihan Institute. I spent thirty-five days working in the Balkan region, conducting site visits, interviews, and performing general research for the Global Black Spots Project. That experience helped me further formulate my thesis, which focuses on security and development trends in the Balkans during European Union accession.
With that in mind, in June I began a three month consulting contract with Caritas Switzerland at their Western Balkans Regional Coordination Office in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H). A bit of background…I got in touch with Caritas Switzerland by reaching out to Raymond Bach, director of the SU Strasbourg Center in Strasbourg, France. I knew Professor Bach had friends in the Balkan region, and sure enough the wonderful Maxwell network came through.
For the month of June I teleworked from The Hague, Netherlands while finishing classes at the International Institute of Social Studies. During the first few weeks of my contract, I collaborated via Skype wtih the Balkan Regional Delegate, gained a better understanding of current programs, and began developing the frameworks for upcoming projects.
I arrived in Sarajevo on July 1st during an interesting time for the B&H office and for Caritas Switerland’s regional activities in general (the organization is present in Kosovo, B&H, and Romania). 2011-16 projects were ending, the corporate strategy in Luzern was shifting away from unfettered humanitarian aid, and the local offices were beginning to draft their country programs for 2017-20 with the new strategy in mind.
At the B&H office I work with projects focused on regional food security, youth education and vocational training, income generation, market expansion, migration/refugees/human trafficking, and socio-economic rights for marginalized communities. Larger programs dealing with everything from resource sustainability to public health to conflict resolution are in play as well. I get to travel a good bit, meeting with partners in Tirana, Gorazde, and at our Kosovo office in Przren.
The Global Programs Award I received proved essential during these last few months, especially while I was getting set up in Sarajevo and working locally on my thesis. Additionally, Caritas Switzerland recently agreed to extend my contract which came as welcome news.
Syracuse is a refugee resettlement city, offering students the possibility of getting involved with this community, and interning at organizations assisting refugees. Ann Van is currently completing course work in Syracuse towards her MAIR degree.
My identity, ever since childhood, has centered around being Vietnamese‑American. These are words with a lot of meaning packed into them.
Vietnamese: I get this from my parents, and their parents, and their parents—but these folks are long gone.
The hyphen: war. A war turns me from Vietnamese to American. It pushes my parents up mountains, across oceans and out of the country.
American: I am the first born in the new world. I have opportunity ahead of me. But even at a young age, I was trapped in being the provider—the parent to my parents. I deeply resented that hyphen for creating me and making me provide out of necessity.
It was only this past year that I tapped back into the world of migrants and new Americans by volunteering through the Syracuse University Program for Refugee Assistance (SUPRA). For a handful of reasons, I felt very lonely in Syracuse while studying at the Maxwell School. But on the first day with SUPRA, I felt like I was reliving the good parts of home.
This inspired me to reconnect with my refugee background, which led me to a summer internship with the Carolina Refugee Resettlement Agency (CRRA). CRRA is a small agency serving the Charlotte, North Carolina area. Over one hundred individuals from across the world were resettled over the summer. I met folks from countries I barely recognized on maps. (Can you find Eritrea?)
A couple things helped make this internship very fulfilling: 1) SUPRA prepared me for interacting and connecting with clients despite language, age or educational differences. I also taught classes to refugee clients, empowered by the experience I gained with SUPRA. 2) The global programs award* allowed me to intern full time, while many of my co-interns left midday to work part time jobs. The award also gave me freedom to take clients on special field trips—to landmarks, parks and local cafes—because my fuel bill was not covered by the agency.
This was a very meaningful internship for me, because I reconnected with moments of my past. I also found company in some resilient and impressive refugees who I continue to stay in touch with. I recommend that everyone use this time in their professional lives to pursue a meaningful experience. The global programs award and other resources at the Maxwell School serve to enhance these moments.
*Global Programs Awards are available to students pursuing off-campus opportunities.
Suhyeon Lee (MAIR candidate) interviewed Director of the Transnational NGO Initiative in the Moynihan Institute, Tosca Bruno-van Vijfeijken. Tosca continually brings a wealth of international resources to the PAIA Department and has assisted innumerable students.
Nice to meet you, Ms. Tosca Bruno-van Vijfeijken. Could you introduce yourself?
I am the director of the Transnational NGO (TNGO) Initiative. I engage both in academic work and do a lot of works with NGO practitioners. I have worked on international development and civil society issues for over 25 years. Some people call people like me a ‘pracademic’ and I call myself sometimes jokingly an ‘accidental pracademic’, which means a practitioner who accidently ended up in academia. I didn’t plan to end up in academia, but it happened by chance, and I started enjoying playing a bridge building role between the theory and research around transnational NGOs and the practice of the NGO practitioners who lead and manage these organizations.
Could you explain what you teach at Maxwell School?
I teach Global Governance and Civil Society and in addition to that, I advise a couple of MPA Workshop projects each year. Sometimes, I am an advisor for independent study projects. We also offer opportunities for students to volunteer in our research and practitioner work through the TNGO Initiative.
Can you tell me more about the Global Governance and Civil Society course?
Global Governance and Civil Society is a survey course on the role of civil society in how the world is governed. It is neither a theoretical course nor a management course; it is somewhere in between. We focus on what civil society organizations do and what civil society as a concept stands for. And then we unpack a couple of different sectors: human rights, environment, and conflict resolution, and look at the functions NGOs play. We also look at a number of challenges facing organizations (governance, effectiveness, leadership, coordination, accountability, evaluation and assessment, capacity building issues, etc.).
How did you start your career?
These things, as I sometimes say to students here, are often a mixture of planning, pure coincidence, luck, and unplanned events. I started out working for a year in a small management consulting company in the Netherlands. It was internationally-oriented and focused on small business promotion in developing countries. I was not happy with it, so I moved to a think-tank called the European Center for Development Policies Management (ECDPM). I worked there for four years as a program officer. We focused on governance issues in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean. And then I wanted to get more field experience which is typically what most young international development practitioners need. I found an opportunity as a UN Volunteer for the UN peacekeeping operations under United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). I was in charge of the preparation for and holding of free and fair elections in one remote district. I also worked for the headquarters of the World Bank for two and a half years, and for four years I was at the World Bank in Hanoi, Vietnam. Those were my sixteen years of international development experience.
As you said, field experience is what most international development young practitioners really need. I also want to have field experience before graduating from Maxwell. Did you have memorable experiences while working in the field in Cambodia?
I think the most memorable experience was that during the year of preparing for the elections, both the Khmer Rouge and bandits engaged in attacks on some foreigners who were in Cambodia as part of the peace keeping operation. Within our large contingent of district electoral supervisors, one person was murdered and four were kidnapped in the last couple of months before elections when political tensions were high. A significant number of Cambodians also died during this tense period. During the elections, when I changed my role from preparation for elections in my district to independent monitoring of polling stations, I found myself for the first time needing a bodyguard because of these political tensions and violence. This was a very new experience for me and it will stay with me since I came from a country (The Netherlands) where governance is not a matter of the power of the gun.
What is the role of NGOs in the development sector in the 21st century?
There will likely always remain a role for TNGOs in humanitarian relief, although government, the private sector and national NGOs are stepping up their roles. And there will continue to be a contingent of small TNGOs that have a classical charity model. Generally speaking, most mid to large size TNGOs still play some roles in direct delivery of services, though this is generally declining, and nowadays often complemented by advocacy and capacity building. Some are evolving their role to that of being a broker and convener between government, the private sector and national NGOs; sometimes, their role evolves to that of knowledge provider. Western TNGOs increasingly work on strengthening their domestic legitimacy as well as playing a stronger role in domestic policy advocacy as well as service delivery work in the countries where they were founded. Because many NGOs by now have been set up by citizens in the countries where formerly primarily western NGOs used to work, these NGOs in the ‘Global South are now able to play the roles that Western or ‘Northern NGOs’ used to, with considerably lower cost models. There is thus more and more pressure on the northern NGOs to get out of the business of delivering services except for humanitarian relief which as I said will always be needed. Therefore, most analysts are foreseeing a big role change in the 21st century.
I’ve seen that you are on the board of InterAction. What is this organization?
InterAction is a membership organization of US international development and relief NGOs and thus plays the role of national platform here in the US. We, as the TNGO initiative, are an associate member, and I am on the board of InterAction as an independent ‘person of stature’. The board position gives me a bird’s eye view of the sector, which is interesting from a research as well as a networking perspective.
What advice you want to give Maxwell students?
I think it is increasingly difficult to find a job in the international NGO sector. In terms of ‘Northern’ NGOs, it’s increasingly hard for American and other western students to find a job because there are more people with a high level of education in the international development sector than there are NGO jobs. In addition, donor levels in certain countries in the ‘North’ are decreasing while there is an increasing supply of students from ‘Global South and East’ countries who also come from good universities. To some extent it is therefore an increasingly crowded and very competitive market for finding a job. You should therefore definitely not put all your eggs in one or two baskets in terms of finding a job. Also, some students tend to come to Maxwell thinking that they want a job at the World Bank, where I used to work, or the UN, and I actually try to make them less single minded about that. Big organizations are not only extremely competitive to get into but also very bureaucratic. If you enter as a junior person, you may find the organization to be very internally oriented – a lot of navel gazing. You also may experience a lot of ‘paper pushing’. It’s not necessarily that interesting to work in such a large, bureaucratic organization at a junior level. If you can work in a small or medium sized organization like an NGO, think rank, social enterprise or impact investor company, I would argue that this will offer you a better job experience with more hands-on work. Later on, you can then be considered for a mid-level job at one of these large organizations. Also, having field experience at the country level continues to be indispensable –without it you will not compete very well in the job market — but at the same time it is increasingly hard to come by.
Overall, something that I want to encourage you to do is to intern in development organizations or complete field work or volunteer experience. And then, do research about a sector you want to work in, look at what organizations and why you want to work for them, and then reach out to them for informational interviews. This will show that you really understand that organization well.
One more thing, keep your eyes on job opportunities in other cities other than Washington, DC and New York because the competition is harsh in these cities and not as many people would apply to jobs in other cities. Power is so distributed in the world that NYC and DC should not be the only choice. Also, don’t just look at NGOs, government, and think tanks. Look at social enterprises, which are corporations that are set up to make profits but invest that profit into social goods, impact investments, and digitally operating campaigns. There are various types of agencies in international development. Look at them in terms of looking for internships and looking for a job.
A previous version of this article stated that Tosca was a “Professor of Practice”, which is inaccurate. This was an oversight on the part of the Editor.
Kimberly Hatcher is a graduate of the Public Diplomacy (PD) program, where students earn a joint Master of Arts in International Relations and a Master of Science in Public relations from Syracuse Universities two most prestigious schools, the Newhouse School and the Maxwell School. All PD students are required to spend their final Spring Semester in Washington, DC.
My Global Programs Award funded three D.C.-centric endeavors: a research consultancy with the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), a fellowship in the State Department, and an unintentional internship at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). At the conclusion of the Public Diplomacy degree program (M.A. International Relations, Maxwell School/M.S. Public Relations, Newhouse School of Public Communications), being able to study and work in D.C. for the final semester was not only a key factor in my SU enrollment decision, but additionally a vital maneuver in my career development.
Security clearances take (too much!) time, therefore much of my semester was spent attending South Asia events and networking with like-minded individuals at various think tanks and government institutions. Through these interactions, I began my research consultancy with the South Asia department of CIPE, for which I am (still) slowly building an entrepreneurial ecosystem for the youth of Pakistan, currently comprising over 60% of their 200 million populace. However, as the conclusion of the semester loomed, and my internship requirement was yet to be fulfilled, I utilized the Maxwell-CSIS partnership to procure a part-time research position with the Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies.
Just prior to the conclusion of my masters course of study, my clearance was approved and I began my fellowship at the Department of State. Originally a member of the India Desk, because of staffing shortages and my years of communications experience, I was transferred to the Press Office for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs. Currently I am the point for Central Asian press guidance, in addition to contributing to the Bureau’s social media, Indo-Pak, and Indian economic directions. I am also press lead for this year’s U.S.-Pakistan Business Opportunities Conference, and am very fortunate to be able to say that I am doing exactly what I had hoped for upon entering Maxwell two years ago. Without the support of Maxwell’s Global Program Award, it would have been very difficult for me to pursue my career aspirations, and I am very grateful for every afforded opportunity.
The best place to end this series is on the most important method for job hunting. Networking will typically yield far more results than endlessly filling out online applications. Of course, you need to actually apply for a job to have a chance of getting it, but keep in mind that around 50% of job openings are never advertised. This can be especially true for internships where the hassle of sorting through hundreds of applications is often deemed unnecessary when a person can simply find a candidate through their alumni or other professional networks.
This is way too obvious. But, join internationally themed groups to find the right people. Then, actually contact those people and try to get them on the phone or face‑to‑face. I found Endless Job Offers to be a pretty helpful site to learn about cold calling people.
The premier community for current and former expats. This is a generally professional and mature network focused on activities and increasingly services for people working abroad. My wife and I have used it to do some great networking. While there is not yet a chapter in Syracuse, it’s still helpful to have access to the contacts within this network.
Great way to connect with people through events in Washington, DC.
Networking site for all graduates of SU. A great place to connect with alum from nearly any profession.
Great for face‑to‑face networking. Look for international or industry focused groups or just start one yourself and watch people flock your way.
No, really. Evidence shows that more people get jobs through Facebook than LinkedIn. This is probably because your FB friends and family actually know you and are the people most willing to help you. Your mother’s friend from high school might actually be doing something that interests you or this person can give you the name of another more relevant connection. One never knows where networking might begin, but your friends, family, and social acquaintances will be willing to lend you a hand. Despite this, given how FB tends to distract you from job searching and all kinds of other important things in life, it might not always be the best use of your time.
If you’re nervous about networking, this video might help.