Mixed race college student

 (photo by: soucyagency.com)

One of my favorite internet pastimes is reading study abroad blogs. Although the posts are often well written, I’m also often disappointed. What’s uncertain to me is if I’m disappointed in other students’ happy and picture perfect (literally) study abroads or if I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to have that when I was in Paris. A particular post on tumblr was especially emotionally rousing for me yesterday. It started out with a student admitting that she finds herself crying ever since she returned from her study abroad a few months ago. Intrigued, I read on. This student then explains that she is having great difficulty re-adapting to her American life and loved ones because she can’t stop thinking about her host country. After that post, I read at least 20 other similar posts for varying countries and stay lengths. The consensus among the study abroad blogs on tumblr is that students were happy in their study abroad; so happy that they were depressed to come home!
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I then started thinking (always a dangerous thing) that maybe it is just me. Maybe it is just Andrea who had a really bad first semester abroad; whose dreams weren’t able to be fulfilled like these other students’; who had an overall negative experience with my host family; who had trouble assimilating and being accepted into French culture; who didn’t understand a word that was being said in my French university classroom; whose French level was so below par she couldn’t adequately express herself; who had to re-learn everything; who had to change for this experience; who wished to be with the person I loved instead of spending 10 months at 6,000 miles away; who wished a different life in Paris than what I was living; who longed to make a friend but didn’t know how. Reading these happy go-getter blogs made me feel alone exactly how I felt when I was in Paris. I fail to understand why my dreams couldn’t come true but other students’ have. Maybe I wasn’t dreaming the right dreams or maybe I wasn’t the right type of person for studying abroad in Paris.

i am not ideal

(photo by: www.demotivation.us)

I recognize that I’m not the majority of study abroad students but I may be just like you- the introvert type who wants to challenge his/herself and experience life but who is also scared to do just that. For us, studying abroad is not just an opportunity; it is the Olympic games of mental and emotional strength, flexibility, adaptability. We may not be the ideal candidates for studying abroad but we will benefit most and take away more from this experience than anyone else. Why? Because we have to push ourselves more; have to challenge ourselves more; have to battle with ourselves everyday to immerse into this experience. We aren’t going to be the type of student who easily adapts into the host culture or who will embrace Paris so much that we’ll forget our roots. In that sense we are not ideal for studying abroad. You will not have the picture perfect study abroad experience. But just because we aren’t the ideal type of person to study abroad doesn’t mean that we’re not the right type of person. So what makes the right type of person? Any student who will gain career and life skills from this experience. As an introvert you will benefit from this experience personally far long after you’ve studied abroad. A study abroad for us is not just a time to live abroad; it’s a time to sow the seeds for our future selves. So go ahead and sign up for that Paris study abroad- you are the right type of person!

  

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(photo by: jeln.org)

College students have a lot of juggling to do. There are classes to attend, hundreds of pages to be read at any given moment in time, projects, research papers and exams, as well as figuring out what the heck you’re going to eat for your next meal, and figuring out a study abroad to name a few. But what if I were to tell you that there’s another important component of the collegiate juggling act, too? One that’s equally important, yet often gets overlooked. It’s called networking. (And no, just because you’re on Facebook doesn’t mean you’ve got that one covered.)

It unlikely future employers are going to come to you; you’ll have to go looking for them. According to a report from ABC News, 80% of today’s jobs are found through networking. (http://www.recruitingblogs.com/profiles/blogs/80-of-today-s-jobs-are-landed-through-networking) Two good reasons why it makes sense to start growing relationships now, so that they’re established once you graduate and transition to the working world.

Let’s take a look at the following tips for getting started.     

Network with other students in your major and/or areas of interest. It may seem obvious, but for many students this is challenging in and of itself. Maybe you find it difficult just to break out of the comfort of your routine with classes and studying, or maybe you have a small circle of friends you spend most of your free time with. Try to introduce yourself to others outside your circle. Strike up conversation with fellow classmates- both native speakers and those in your program. Chances are you’ll have a lot to talk about if you’re studying the same thing. Stay connected to one another after classes end. Share information and resources.

Visit the Career Services Center at your home and host university. The Career Services Center is a valuable resource for all students. Learn how to build a better resume, practice your interviewing skills, and research job opportunities both abroad and at home. It’s also a great place to find out about networking opportunities in which students and alumni connect, on campus recruiting events, and job fairs. Take advantage of all of the services available to make helpful contacts.    

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Participate in campus activities and organizations. Find out what activities and organizations your host university has before you decide which one(s) are right for you. Join the student chapter of the professional organization in your field if there is one. The more involved you are, the more people you’ll meet and connect with, and more you can grow your network. It’ll help you break of your bubble, improve your skills, and maybe even develop new ones- all of which are potential resume builders in the very least. To read more about getting involved on campus visit http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/twice-the-college-advice/2011/09/13/5-reasons-for-getting-involved-in-college-and-how-to-go-about-it.

­­Set up a LinkedIn Profile. LinkedIn is designed for professional networking, but it also allows students with limited professional experience to highlight their academic successes and achievements as well as strengthen their existing network. On LinkedIn, users can conduct research on companies they may be interested in working for, join groups related to their areas of study and participate in group discussions, keep up on relevant industry information, and connect with recruiters.

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Build upon the experience you have. Have you done any volunteer work? A work-study? Do you have a part-time job or have you had a summer job? A paid or unpaid internship?   Do you have a good relationship with your supervisor? Connect, stay in touch, and don’t be shy about asking for recommendations for your LinkedIn profile. Look at each of these experiences as an opportunity to build your network.

Reach out to established professionals in your field. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice, or to ask what the advantages and disadvantages to a particular career are. Networking while you’re still in college has a big advantage; there’s no pressure on the person you’re reaching out to since you aren’t looking for employment just yet. Not sure where to begin? Start with alumni. They’ll be glad to offer career assistance.

Don’t overlook your parents’ (and host parents’) friends, and your friends’ parents as potential connections. Like alumni, this is another subculture of people who genuinely want to see you succeed. They have decades’ worth of experience, which also means they’re probably well connected. And you never know who they might be able to put you in touch with.

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(photo by: www.huffingtonpost.com)

Talent, ambition and a solid education are all essential for career success, but it’s clear you also have to know people. There are a lot of great opportunities that you’ll hear about only because of who you know. So be proactive. Don’t let the fear of rejection hold you back. If you find someone doesn’t want to connect, don’t worry. Just move on. The added bonus is that in no time, you’ll be building your confidence, too.

  

Julie Kemeklis

Julie Kemeklis is a freelance writer and language teacher from West Windsor, NJ who writes on a range of topics including travel & culture, and family & parenting. She studied abroad in Costa Rica as an undergraduate student, and received her MA from the University of Georgia’s Department of Romance Languages with a concentration in Spanish literature.

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shhh

(Don’t tell. Image by: lionarea86.deviantart.com)

There is a secret out there that your study abroad program doesn’t want you to know. They don’t want you to know because their marketing department tells them that it’s bad for business, that students won’t study abroad anymore if they knew the truth. So your study abroad program puts it under the rug and pretends it never happens, even though it does. What is this secret that study abroad programs don’t want you to know? It’s that studying abroad is not easy and some students have a really difficult (and sometimes even dangerous) time abroad.

Walk into most study abroad offices and what do you see? Posters and promotional material of students smiling and having fun near major sites without any signs of what life is like as an expat or as a student abroad. I have yet to come across a student holding a book, wearing a back pack or sitting in a classroom for study abroad promotional material. When students look at these images, what they’re seeing is studying abroad is a vacation for students. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Immersion into another culture is not easy and for some students it is extremely difficult. A friend told me recently of her niece’s bestie who is studying abroad and has had issues with safety and cultural immersion. The study abroad program is helping this student but this issue is being kept hush-hush for fear of other students finding out and possibly being deterred from going abroad. When I heard that I got so frustrated. I understand from a business perspective why you wouldn’t want to publicize this story but from an educator perspective, I’m positively baffled.

It’s true that every student is different; handles stress differently; handles new situations differently; prepares for this experience differently. But what is universal is that students depend on their study abroad office/program to provide them EVERYTHING they need to know about this experience. It is a disservice to future students when study abroad programs don’t use negative experiences as learning tools. If you have never left your hometown or state before, how can you possibly know how to be safe in a large foreign city, or how to work out a disagreement with your host family when you have cultural and linguistic barriers or know how to develop the tools to handle a bad day alone if no one ever coaches you?!

 

In Andrea’s dream world, every study abroad program/office would provide coaching/training to students before they study abroad. This would include: hands on cultural immersion training for each specific country, linguistic boot camp, coaching on how to adjust and maintain emotional stability when everything around you is different, how to make friends abroad, coaching on the university system abroad, and encourage students to read study abroad books- not travel books- but ones specifically focused on study abroad. Knowing about things first hand doesn’t take away the experience of studying abroad– it just makes it easier by providing the proper tools and knowledge to make the most of this amazing opportunity.

 

  

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(The newsletter tells you all about this place. Photo by Andrea)

Twenty in Paris newsletter subscribers are in for a treat! Starting this month, every Twenty in Paris newsletter subscriber will receive a free PDF with detailed tips, advice and more on a particular aspect of the Paris study abroad experience. The goal of this PDF is to provide more coverage in a shorter read to answer your questions about your up-coming Paris study abroad. Who doesn’t love that!

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Not a newsletter subscriber? No worry! You’ll be able to find these PDFs on Amazon for $0.99 as a quick Kindle (or e-reader or Smartphone) read. I’ll announce when a new one is up. If you’re on the fence about subscribing to the Twenty in Paris newsletter, here are 10 reasons why you should join today!

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  • It’s free!!
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