If you had told me as a college freshmen that I would one day be working as the Director for Diversity and Alumni Initiatives at AIFS Study Abroad, I probably would have laughed at you. I was either going to work at Rolling Stone and become the next Annie Leibovitz or be on Saturday Night Live—but then I studied abroad, and everything changed.
Studying and living abroad allowed me to realize that there was a career in helping other college students, like myself, to leave the country, which seemed like a fun and exciting career. I went on a semester-long, faculty-led program in London, led by Dr. Judy Yordon, a distinguished Professor of Theatre and Shakespeare Studies at Ball State University. It was my first time out of the country and, unbeknownst to me at the time, the beginning of my career in international education.
Upon my return to Indiana, I had an incredibly difficult time getting back into my “old” life. I missed London. I felt I was a better version of myself abroad, and although I had changed significantly, life on-campus was the same as it ever was.
Although my school did not have any programming to unpack my experience, I did have a couple of outlets that provided me with opportunities to talk about my time abroad. I served as an Orientation Leader for several years and stayed at Ball State for my graduate work, returning to London as a Graduate Assistant for the same program I had gone on as an undergraduate. This provided me with a platform to share my time abroad and encourage others to do the same.
Fast forward more than 15 years, and I helped develop our Alumni Ambassador program, a professional development experience at AIFS Study Abroad for students to share their time abroad on their campuses and online in a meaningful way.
I learned a lot as an Orientation Leader and Graduate Assistant and used these experiences to guide and develop our Ambassador program.
Here are the top five lessons I learned that influenced my approach to working with our alumni leadership programs:
1. There is a tremendous learning curve from college to the working world.
Unlike college, your career does not have a syllabus to refer to when you’re unsure. Jobs require you to prioritize your time in a way you never knew possible. Our Ambassadors receive support, but are challenged as the program progresses to take ownership of their role on campus and their schedules, which better prepares them for professional positions.
2. Work (and life) are one giant group project.
No matter what field or industry you are going into, you will be working with other people. Our Ambassadors connect with students, parents, faculty, staff and AIFS Study Abroad professionals. Having the ability to work effectively with so many audiences makes for an incredibly adaptable employee in the workforce.
3. College rarely teaches you how to be a professional.
You will soon have your degree, but do you feel prepared to work? I certainly didn’t know what to expect in my first job and many students I work with still feel unsure. We’ve created monthly meetings with our Ambassadors where we discuss how to craft cover letters, how to network, ways to ace the interview and what to do once you land your first professional position.
4. You need to know how to market yourself.
Currently, less than 10% of the US college population studies abroad. Having this experience can set you apart in a wonderful way…assuming you can say more than “It was amazing!”
Every Alumni Ambassador receives opportunities to create and refine their elevator pitch for employers, and receives one-on-one resume and LinkedIn reviews so they can be ready to hit the ground running in their career search.
5. Have fun and be creative.
Not every job you do will be your favorite, but if you can find ways to make the mundane entertaining and approach problems with a creative eye, it will lead you far. We encourage our Ambassadors to try new activities on their campus and do something that has never been done before. We can’t always guarantee it will be a success, but learning what not to do can be just as valuable.
So, if you are looking for an opportunity to continue growing personally and professionally—and leverage your study abroad experience to further your career—we hope you will join us! Applications are now open for our Alumni Ambassador program and will be accepted until May 15.
Participants receive a $500 travel voucher, in addition to the professional development for their time in the program. If you have any questions or want to know additional ways you can be involved and unpack your time abroad, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to reviewing your application and seeing where your time abroad takes you in the future.
This post was contributed by Angela Manginelli, Director for Diversity and Alumni Initiatives at AIFS Study Abroad.
Learn more about opportunities to study abroad to improve your leadership potential!