Go Global, Take Your Skills Abroad

By Gabrielle Webster

It is hard to pinpoint the origins of my wanderlust, yet from a young age, I have dreamed of traveling the world. I was born in Houston in the early 90's - a first generation American. My parents met years before in Kingston, Jamaica, the capital of the underdeveloped island nation. I distinctly recall flipping through old photos capturing palm trees and pavement, and yearning to visit what my father called the "concrete jungle". As I began reading books describing far off lands, my urge to travel grew. The introduction of the internet, putting the world at the end of my fingertips, sealed my fate - I wanted to be a global citizen. As an undergraduate, I came to learn that thinking globally was a large asset in the business world. So no matter what stage of your career you are in, it is never too late to get abroad.

I excelled in classes geared towards managing in a global environment and international relations and learned that global citizenship was as much a skill as it was an identifier. Though even the greatest courses cannot compete with real world experience working and learning abroad. One of the few regrets I had as an undergraduate was not taking advantage of study abroad programs offered at my university. Fortunately for me, after graduating I was accepted into a Master's program with a global residency component. This vigorous course took me and my classmates to site visits to almost a dozen companies in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in the months before the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. We spent seven days in South America soaking in the sun and culture in the rapidly developing nation. In a short period of time, I was able to gain invaluable knowledge about developing economies. That peek into Brazil was my experience studying abroad. It is important for all of us to reflect on how we can incorporate some global experience into our career path.

This week I sat down with a recent graduate who also delayed studying abroad in her undergraduate career. Molly Keeter, age 23, spent two months in Central America supporting Belize Ministry of Health projects on the island of Ambergris Caye. After obtaining her BS in Community and Global Health and minor in Spanish, Molly wanted to grow her skills with an internship abroad. Molly spent time asking friends and searching the internet before finding the perfect program for her. [Molly holding book on left of photo.]

When asked how she found the program, among the hundreds of credible results online? She explained how she first narrowed her search to nonprofit programs in Spanish speaking countries. Molly was looking to maximize her skills learned in higher education with real world experience. English is the official language of Belize, however, Spanish is widely spoken as it is situated to the east of Mexico and Guatemala. What really sealed the deal for Molly was the Public Health program offered by a UK based organization called NPO Projects Abroad. NPO Projects Abroad had a relatively standard vetting process for both selecting candidates and finding the programs abroad.

The project coordinator who interviewed Molly had also personally gone to Central America, meet with program leaders, and crafted internship positions for young people around the world. Before her interview, Molly applied online submitting references and transcripts. During the process, Molly also submitted information to undergo a background check. These steps are for the safety of anyone traveling in groups abroad. Once selected, Molly has given her assignment and began preparing for her stay with guidance from her project coordinator.

Last winter, Molly left Springfield, VA and landed in Ambergris Caye. She roomed with a European Master's student with a wonderful host family. These accommodations were provided with her internship - it is good to ask about living arrangements when interviewing for positions abroad. Interns from Germany, Australia, and the United Kingdom also lived nearby in the remote island village. They all worked on various aspects of the public health program.

Molly and the others acted as liaisons for the Ministry of Health, on the mainland, to the isolated villagers. As she explained it to me, their duties were broad, but they could be found anywhere that healthcare and education intersected. The interns created public safety commercials promoting helmet usage on bikes and motorcycles. They conducted check-ups in mobile clinics testing for HIV and measuring BMI. She got to get front facing experience working with clients in need and also administrative skills behind the scene working on policy reform. The two months of experience confirmed Molly's passion for public health, and her decision to go to grad school. She highly recommends working abroad and knows this will improve her resume when applying for schools and jobs.

Universities and employers know the value of teaching global citizenship. This is reflected in the plethora of study abroad programs and global residency courses available around the world. There is no excuse if you cannot take an entire semester off, look into alternative spring or winter break options. Many non-university organizations even offer similar programs for young adults under age 28. I recommend following Molly's example and gaining work experience abroad with an internship!

Read more advice from Gabrielle and going global on her blog at The Whole Fund.

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