Becoming a Study Abroad Advisor

When I tell people what I do for a living, I usually get one of two responses:

  1. What is a Study Abroad Advisor?
  2. That is the coolest job in the world.

I tend to prefer the second response as I 100% agree. I am living my dream job. How many people at the age of 30 can really say that?

I didn’t always know that I wanted to be a Study Abroad Advisor; in fact I doubt many people grow up with that goal. My path was round about. I started pre-med, switched to pre-law, then contemplated getting an MBA and finally decided to get a Master’s degree in Higher Education Administration. But even then, I still didn’t think about being a Study Abroad Advisor.  Nope…I wanted to be Greek Life Director. I had just graduated from college, had accepted a job with my international sorority as a leadership consultant and planned to go to graduate school so I could advise fraternity men and sorority women for the rest of my days.  At least that’s what I thought, until one day when I was in Italy.

After studying abroad twice with my Italian professor, she asked me to be her program assistant for the summer after I graduated. My job consisted of counting to 40 a lot (40 students on the program), buying tickets, enforcing quiet hours, etc., and in return I got to be in Italy for 8 weeks for free. Best job ever. At the end of every program, my Italian professor took our group to the Aeolian Islands to get some rest and relaxation before final exams. It is one of my favorite places in the world; I love the black volcanic sand and swimming in underwater craters. It is a true paradise. It is also the location of one of the most significant moments in my life. I was standing on the docks with my Italian professor one evening after dinner and I remember her saying, “Elise, I just don’t think you’ll be happy working with fraternities and sororities for the rest of your life. I really think you should consider international education.”


Vulcano, Italy – one of my favorite places in the world and where I first contemplated a career in international education

While I didn’t think much of it at the moment, her words resound in my head still today. As I started my job with the sorority, I quickly realized she was right. It wasn’t fulfilling. I wasn’t inspired.  Six months into my job, I was headed to Argentina to visit my best friend and I felt troubled and lacking direction. While on the plane I began reading The Eighth Habit by Stephen Covey, a book that had been given to me by one of my mentors. The book said that in order to be effective, we have to be great. In order to be great, we have to be passionate. I let this swirl around in my mind. What was I truly passionate about? I loved the college experience. I loved traveling and exploring. I loved studying abroad in Italy. It was at that moment that my Italian professor’s words came back to me and everything clicked. I realized I could combine all my passions if became a study abroad advisor.

Grad school, eight years and three universities later, here I am, in the best of positions I could ever imagine. My students awe and amaze me every day. I am energized by their experiences abroad and find so much joy when I can convince a student to do a semester overseas; I know it will be the best semester of her life.  While my time as an advisor in San Diego is drawing to a close, I am more confident than ever that this is the perfect career path for me. And until I find the right position in Oklahoma, I plan on being a virtual advisor via the blogosphere and Facebook.  So any study abroad students out there, if you need some help, don’t hesitate to ask!

Interested in exploring a career in International Education?

1. Register for the study abroad listserv – SECUSS-L I recommend the digest version…otherwise expect 5 to 20 emails a day. This listserv is specifically geared towards education abroad and is very active. On the listserv you’ll see emails from professionals asking questions about different programs, marketing their own programs, and posts for positions. Many entry-level positions get posted here by both study abroad providers and universities. It’s a great place to know where you can apply but also to get a feel for what is going on in the field.

2. Check out NAFSA (the biggest organization for international ed) for job postings and conferences. It is our national organization for international education and their website has great resources. NAFSA is divided into into regions and usually the regional conferences are held in the fall. They are a bit pricey but having gone to a regional conference does show initiative and is great for a resume. It’s also a great way to meet people in the region and start building your network. There often are scholarships too that you can apply for to go and most regions offer a mentoring program for young professionals.

3. Explore graduate programs in Higher Education Administration or other relatable field (MBA, foreign language, etc). If you are interested in a job at a university, a masters degree is usually required. Sometimes exceptions are made if you have a lot of life experience, but if you are straight out of college, an advisor position will be hard to get. Once in grad school, engage with the study abroad office on your campus any way possible. I got started by volunteering for 5 hours a week on a project in the Study Abroad Office at the University of South Carolina while in my first year of grad school. When a job opening came available, it was pretty much mine.

4. If you aren’t ready for grad school, research different study abroad program providers. For recent grads, this is probably the easiest way into the field. Many program providers have university relations staff that typically are younger staffers (under 27) and travel around the US to market the study abroad programs. We call them road warriors because they are out of the office a lot and most people only do this kind of role for 2 or 3 years before they move into a more stationary position. The great thing about these positions is that there are lots of them, you get to do a lot of travel (some international travel may happen in the summer), and you get exposed to a ton of different schools. The down side is living out of a suitcase and the pay is usually pretty low. Then again, pay in study abroad is typically not so great so don’t expect to get rich in this field.

My final advice no matter what route you take is to really hone in on why you want to pursue a career in study abroad. Loving to travel is not a good enough reason. You have to really want to help others have the experience you had. I also believe that you can’t expect a career in study abroad means you’ll get to do a lot of travel yourself. Some positions do send you abroad a lot but often if you work at a university this is not the case. Finally, I would really research the issues currently in study abroad and find something that resonates with you that you can focus on in your cover letter and interviews. Some of the hot topics right now are curriculum integration, social media and study abroad, enhancing cultural integration, long vs. short term study abroad programs, returnee programming, and assessment of cultural learning. Melibee Global is great site to do some initial research.


16 thoughts on “Becoming a Study Abroad Advisor

  1. Mary in Haifa

    Before I started working in International Education, I was a Special Events planner. I planned large scale events and I did well at it, if I say so myself. Though it was nice to walk through an event and see people enjoying the fruit of my labor…I just wasn’t passionate about it. I loved my time studying in Germany and the time I spent working in New Zealand but I had no idea it could be a job until I literally stumbled into a new position at my current organization. Once I started working in International Education – I realized I had found my people. THIS is what I was supposed to do. Even after doing this for six years – I still get ridiculously excited for students. If I ever lose that excitement, then I know it’s time to find a new profession. Until then, I will continue to be that silly person that loves what I do.

    1. eliseblalock Post author

      Prague…I would love to visit. I just had a student get back and from his blog, it looks like such an amazing experience. Let me know if you have any questions about international ed. I’m happy to email with you!

  2. Pingback: How to be Global from Home « Global From Home

  3. Elaine

    Hi Elise, great article, very inspiring! Are you still accepting emails regarding this Post? I am considering a move in to Study Abroad and have an interview in a couple of weeks! I have a number of ideas about what I want to get across, but I would love to get your opinion on a couple of things.

    With thanks! Elaine

  4. Angela B

    Thank you for this post Elise! I’m living in Sicily right now, my internship is coming to a close (in 2 weeks, eek!), and I’m wondering what to do with my life when I return to the U.S. This career path has recently come to my attention. I will be emailing you. Thanks again!

  5. The Thread Affect

    Hi Elise! Thank you so much for this post! I am looking into switching career paths into a Study Abroad Advisor and would love to chat with you about everything related to this new job path! The email link above wasn’t working for me is there a way I can connect with you? Thanks so much!

  6. bedofstars

    Hi Elise,

    Thank you for posting this many moons ago! I’m 6 years out of college yet somehow am still searching for what my dream job even is, let alone how to get there. The past few days it’s like a lightbulb finally went off and I realized the ONE thing I’ve always been so passionate about is Study Abroad! Literally I tell people my semester abroad (also in Italy!) was the greatest of college and I wish all 4 years had been there, that everyone should experience living abroad, I’ve always been friends with all of the exchange students in my life and love hearing about their lives back home while helping them adapt, oh, and I was an Anthropology major since I loved study other cultures. How I didn’t think of this before is beyond me. I’ll send you an email as well since I know this is old, but I just wanted to thank you and see if you had any other advice/tips/etc… 🙂

    Thanks so much again!!

  7. Amy Cacho-Negrete

    Great post, Elise! Literally captures what I am going through right now… I have been working in a field that I am not passionate about for about 5 years now and I know my heart lies with international education. I would love to ask you some more specific questions about your career path. I tried the email link in your post but unfortunately it didn’t seem to work…. Can you give me your email please?

  8. Stephanie

    I love this article! I’m finishing up my graduate degree in student affairs right now and working as a graduate assistant with our study abroad office. It’s the field I want to break into after graduation and a field I can see myself staying in for many years. There are so many different ways to work in international education, and it truly is so inspiring! Thanks for this great article!


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