18 Creative Ways to Gain Practical Experience in International Education

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So, you wanna break into the field of international education but are having trouble getting noticed? Need some help polishing that resume so it catches the eye of potential employers?

Never fear, we’ve got you covered.

With so many people studying abroad these days, that experience alone isn’t going to cut it when launching a career in international education. You have to show you have the knowledge, skills, and experience to go from participant to professional.

Below we’ve compiled 18 creative suggestions for helping you stand out in the sea of serious international education and youth travel aspiring professionals.. Pursuing one (or all!) of them will surely help you make an impression and prove your dedication to the field.

1. Join (or Create!) a Meetup group and plan monthly cultural excursions in your local area

Meetup: a way to get to know people in your area with similar interests. Anyone can start a group, and the groups can be about anything. Seriously. Arm wrestlers, airport lovers, RPGs, and Deadheads. Salsa dancers, museum goers, language lovers, and adventurous foodies. Everything.

Why This Strategy Rocks: This tactic will demonstrate your initiative, showcase your organization skills, help you grow your network, and give you practical experience identifying and organizing meaningful cultural experience. This will serve you well when you’re asked to do just that as a faculty-led program coordinator or working onsite with participants around the world (among other positions).

No excuses if you can’t find a group already in existence that appeals to you-just create your own!

2. Work or Volunteer Abroad

So. many. options.

Not only will working or volunteering abroad satisfy your wanderlust, but these opportunities also give you great real world experience that further show you’re a cultural exchange boss. And never fear, there are plenty of long-term and short-term options so you can get your feet wet just the right amount.

Teach English abroad. Become an au pair. Do some WWOOFing. The possibilities are endless. Help narrow down your search by figuring out what it is you want to do, where you want to go, and for how long you want to be there.

Why This Strategy Rocks: When you work or volunteer abroad you have more opportunities to develop professional skills that will translate into a professional career in international education. Coordinating logistics for a water purification process in the Gambia or working with a demanding supervisor on an organic farm in New Zealand will help you understand that managing international experiences is much more complicated than participating in them.  You’ll walk away with some real skills and experiences that will showcase your kick ass nature when you start applying for IE jobs.

3. Volunteer with an Exchange Organization

Though we may all be itching to get out of the US, others are looking to head our way for work, study, and travel opportunities.  There are multitudes of organizations that work with international audiences facilitating their experience in the US (or wherever you are in the world), and there’s room for you to play a part.

Organizations like YFUInternational Experience, and the Aspect Foundation offer opportunities to become a local program coordinator working on recruitment and screening, organizing excursions, and advocating on behalf of exchange students.

This will give you an eye-opening look at the way the pieces all come together behind the scenes to create quality exchange experiences. (It’s not all fun and jet setting around the world, people. There’s paperwork to be done!)

4. Be a short term program leader for high school programs

While you’re still in school (woohoo summer vacations!) take advantage of those big long breaks to become a trip leader for high school students embarking on their own international adventures. Introducing high school students to the study abroad spirit, gaining valuable leadership and facilitator experience, and free airfare to a cool place-what’s not to love?!

The Experiment in International Living, The Road Less Traveled, and Lifeworks International are all good places to start.

Be warned: you will quite possibly be working around the clock, so make sure but you’ve got the energy for this kind of position!

5. Teach English locally

Everywhere you look there are organizations desperate to have people teach English or volunteer to help others practice their English. This is a great way to feed your desire for cultural exchange while doing good in the community.

Governmental and nonprofit organizations like USCRI and World Relief work with refugee resettlement and your assistance can help a family to become more culturally and linguistically competent in their new world.

In addition, a lot of cities have literacy programs set up that include services for non-native English speakers. A quick Google search for adult literacy programs will tell you what’s in your area.

Lastly, check out local churches! Many of them offer ESL classes that would be more than happy to have your help :)

6. Pitch your own project ideas

Universities and local organizations would love to have you on board-really they would! But they just don’t have the time to train you or supervise you. You can take that burden off their shoulders by designing your own project and seeing it through from start to finish.

Schedule a time to meet with the appropriate person and lay it all out for them-tell them what you’d like to do, how you’d like to do it, and what benefit it has. Be clear, be specific, and be confident. Show them that you’re an independent, self-motivated worker who will strengthen the organization’s services.

Organize a study abroad photo competition. Make a travel guide for future study abroaders. Design a bulletin board for the office. It doesn’t have to be complex or fancy. It just has to have value for the office and organization you’re pitching.

Hint hint: study abroad offices really struggle when it comes to supporting returning students. There’s so much to unpack (literally and figuratively) from these experiences, and advisors are already busy with current students that reentry often falls by the wayside. Work to bolster that aspect of their programs, and they will be eternally grateful.

7. Submit your writing to travel zines and online study abroad publications

So you studied abroad and now you have this incredible story inside of you bursting to get out? Instead of name dropping with your friends and sharing yet another story with your family, a more constructive use of your enthusiasm might be to find some way to publish it.

There are lots of websites that gladly welcome guest article submissions (and some of them actually pay!), and being published on one of them will make all that diligent journaling well worth it.

To help you get started, take a peek at GoNOMAD TravelGlobal Grasshopper, and TheExpeditioner. And if you want to get serious about it, check out and for paid writing gigs around travel.

And of course, Inside Study Abroad would love to hear what you have to say as well! Drop us a line and share your submission with us!

8. Launch your own website/blog

You just had this amazzzzing experience (or are still having??), so now it’s time to share it with the world! There are so many resources out there that make this a snap (“How to launch your own blog/website in less than 10 minutes”), but before you jump head first into the virtual world make sure you take the time to ponder a few of the important questions like audience, tone, style, and content.

This is YOUR website/blog, so take the opportunity to post about your experiences, teach others about your host country, give packing tips, or share those hilarious cultural snafus. And of course, once you make it, remember to share! Post it online, send it to your friends and family, forward it to your study abroad advisors and mentors. Trust us, more people will end up reading it than you expect!

And this is a great way to showcase your writing skills, your tech savviness, and your ability to take a project from idea to conception.

9. Volunteer with a university international student office to host students for the holidays

International students can be in quite the bind when it comes to holidays and dorm closures. Going home for a week or long-weekend isn’t always financially feasible, but luckily they have you to come to their rescue!

Connect with a college’s International Student Services Office and volunteer to participate in any hosting programs that they have (or offer to start one yourself). These international students will not only be grateful that you helped them save some money on housing for the break, but also grateful for your willingness to welcome them into a home with friendly people, good food, and likely a great cultural experience for them. You can teach them all about the gluttony of Thanksgiving, how to pace themselves when presented with so much delicious food (you gotta save room for the pie!), and the rules of American football.

10. Be a campus ambassador for your study abroad provider

Developing your own in-house study abroad programs is a lot of work especially for small study abroad offices, therefore, many schools partner with international program providers to open up study abroad options that likely wouldn’t be available otherwise.. These program providers specialize in international program management and development - they  know their stuff. For the most part, they provide quality experiences facilitated by well-trained staff, ensuring you the adventure of a lifetime.

However, because they’re external providers, they usually don’t have offices on campuses. Instead they rely on a cadre of alumni that can speak to interested students and attest firsthand to the experiences the organization offers.

Contact your provider and express your willingness to serve as an on-campus ambassador, inquire about representing them at study abroad fairs, and offer to put up their posters and advertisements on bulletin boards around campus.

11. Volunteer at regional or national conference

The international education field is just exploding with professional conferences, and each of them is in need of volunteers to help manage logistics. In order to ensure everything runs smoothly the day-of, extra hands on deck are needed to help with everything from set-up to tear-down (and everything else in between).

What’s more, this is a great way to start getting recognized and connect some important names and faces. Manning the registration table or information booth forces you to interact with the countless conference attendees, and it will make things that much easier come mingling time.

Conferences also often give volunteers a discount on their registration, which is a great way to defray some of the cost.

Check out NAFSACIEE, or AIEA for volunteer opportunities.

12. Do an informal research project and share your findings

We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: employers love to see you taking initiative. Show yourself to be research savvy by doing an informal poll of your Facebook friends and turning it into a fancy infographic. Find out how many of them studied abroad, where they went, how they were able to afford it, and/or why they didn’t study abroad. Get creative! This project can be focused on any number of issues related to international education.This kind of project resonates loud and clear with hiring managers. They can see you’re a self-motivated go-getter with the creativity and technical skills to make you a force to be reckoned with.

Bonus points if you can turn your findings into a website or report. ;)

13. Take a graduate level course

Show you’re serious about international education by deepening your knowledge of the field and related issues. This demonstrates to employers that you’re hungry to know more, and they’ll appreciate your efforts to stay up to date on what’s going on. You can also show you’re committed to your professional growth by signing up for courses that strengthen your skills. Maybe your local community college offers courses on grant writing, computer software, or introductory business principles. Talk to an admissions counselor at a nearby university to find out if you can enroll in a graduate level course.

And of course, there’s always MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)! With only just a quick look through the course listings on CourseraKhan Academy, and edX you’re bound to find a few classes that will pique your interest. Upon successful completion of the course, many of them even offer certificates of accomplishment that you can add to your resume.

14. Enroll in the Global Pro Institute

Inside Study Abroad has been hard at work developing this invaluable resource that will help you develop your professional skills, refine your study abroad know-how, and make a name for yourself in the ever-growing field of international education. We’ll be launching it very soon! Sign up today and become unstoppable!

15. Apply to be a peer advisor in your study abroad office

Study abroad offices are busy, no doubt about it. There’s always a slew of students going in and out with that dreamy-eyed look on their faces as they think about their upcoming adventure. Study abroad advisors can use all the help they can get handling the rush, and that’s where you come in!

By volunteering to be a peer advisor in your study abroad office, you can share your experience with other students, inspire them to find the right program for their needs and interests, and help them prepare for their own memorable experience.

Not only will students value your suggestions and insight, but they’ll also be another captive audience with which to regale with all your amazing study abroad stories :)

16. Become an online content curator

If you want to be taken seriously, you’ve got to get serious. Show the international education world you mean business by posting interesting articles about the field. Linkedin, Google+, Facebook, Twitter-take your pick! There are numerous social platforms out there, so choose one and start sharing.

Not sure where to find relevant and informative articles about the industry? Get started with Inside Higher EdNAFSA, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, some of the biggest organizations in the biz.

17. Present at or attend a Lessons from Abroad Conference

Your time abroad was life-changing, no doubt about it. But often study abroad returnees get stuck trying to figure out how to integrate their experience into their life back home. You have all this pent-up energy, and you don’t know where to channel it. That’s where Lessons from Abroad (LFA) comes into play!

Their website has a number of different resources that can help you figure out what to do next-everything from scholarship opportunities to lists of companies with a positive global footprint. They also organize returnee conferences all over the country which provide great opportunities for networking. Feeling even more ambitious? Contact them to see about the possibility of presenting or exhibiting your experience!

18. Apply for graduate school and pursue a master's degree.

Because there are so many people trying to break into the study abroad field, employers literally receive hundreds of applications for just  one entry level position. On most job descriptions you will notice it says “Master’s preferred”. Though not necessarily required, having a master’s degree will keep you competitive when applying to a position that 300+ other people are also applying to. There are a lot of great programs out there (check out our ebook!) that can help give you additional skills, experience, and connections to improve your marketability.

But there’s no way around it-grad school is expensive. Make sure you try out all your other options before dropping $50,000+ on a program.

There you have it. 18 bang-up suggestions for helping you get your foot in the door, build your network, gain some experience, and boost your resume.

No excuses! Get after it!

Action item: In the comments below, what creative ways have you found to get some experience in the field...or let us know which idea you're most excited to try and why!



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