Tag Archives: Graduate School

Abroad Blog of the Week: Mary in Haifa

My mom called me this week and told me she had been reading a blog that she found through my site. “It’s really good,” she said. “You should highlight it one week.” When I found out she was talking about Mary in Haifa, I smiled because the interview was already in the works. It was good to know that my mom enjoyed Mary’s blog as much as I do. I’ll admit I’m a bit partial to Mary in Haifa for several reasons.  1. Mary and I met in 2005 at the University of South Carolina and since then have met up for dinner in all my subsequent cities when she comes through for work. 2. As Mary is a study abroad professional, I love that she is studying abroad herself in Haifa, Israel to pursue her master’s degree in Holocaust Studies. 3. Mary is always full of surprises, for instance, she was on the roller derby team in Reno, NV. 4. Her blog is wonderful, thought provoking, and really highlights the cultural experience of being a non-Jewish American grad student in Israel. Now that Mary has been in Haifa for 6 weeks, we’ve been able to exchange emails and thoughts on her new home. If you’ve thought about grad school abroad or living in Israel, Mary has some great advice.

What has surprised you so far about life in Haifa?

Truthfully, one of my biggest surprises has been the security situation. I’m an avid news reader so before I came the news was full of stories about Iran ramping up their nuclear program, missiles being launched from Gaza and growing tensions in next door neighbors Syria and Lebanon. Honestly, my first week here – I was pretty jumpy. Any loud noise and I was whipping around trying to figure out where it came from. I very quickly realized that despite being surrounded by chaos, an entire society of people was just simply living their lives. I know this sounds Captain Obvious but I guess in some small piece of my naive mind, I half expected people to be jumpy and scared all the time. That’s not the case in the slightest. The security issues are still there but they are more like the white noise in the background to a very full life. For the most part, I do feel safe here.

How is your experience living in Israel different from your previous times living abroad?

School is much more intense this time around. When I lived in Germany, I took German classes 4 days a week and an Intercultural Communications class once a week. I had a Eurail pass and we’d travel every single weekend. My time in New Zealand was after I graduated so I had no school responsibilities – my work schedule was the only thing I had to plan around. Grad school is time intensive so I have to make an effort to carve out time to explore but it’s important to me to do that. Yesterday, I read 3 chapters of a book, then went and explored the Druze bazaar just north of campus. One thing I love this time around is being around so many people from all over the world. The dorms are mostly full of international students so even a trip to the mini-market is multicultural. Two days ago, I was invited to join some Polish friends at their consulate to celebrate Polish Independence Day. Who ever would have thought that I’d be celebrating that in Israel?? We have some incredibly interesting students from all kinds of backgrounds here so even simple conversations have a depth to them that’s not typical at home. I even recently discovered that in our midst is a girl who’s father is the President of her country (sorry not naming countries for her privacy).

What did you do to minimize your culture shock?

I’m big on research. Before I came I read a boatload about Israel and Haifa. Everything from student blogs to watching YouTube videos. From TripAdvisor to Wikipedia. I even used Google Earth to check out the neighborhoods around the university. I found people who had been to Israel or Haifa before and picked their brain. In addition, I also researched groups that I might be interested in joining. One of my biggest worries when moving abroad is always how to find friends. By knowing in advance that there is an English community theater, a roller derby team and a Young English Speakers group in my new city – I felt more confident that I could create a place for myself in Haifa. I reached out to all three of these groups before I ever left home. I wanted to make sure that I had an outlet outside of school too.

What is on your “must do” list while living in Haifa?

Well, I have a whole Israel to do list on my blog but Haifa specifically – I’d like to walk through the Bahai Gardens (I’ve only seen it from the outside), visit Elijah’s cave and take the gondola from the beach and up Mt Carmel. Israel – floating in the Red Sea, visiting the Masada at sunrise and wandering the ancient streets in Old Jerusalem. Outside of the big touristy things though, I’d like to find “my cafe” in Haifa – you know a place where the waitress knows your order, you can get a cup of coffee and study for hours. I know that seems silly but to me that really illustrates that you’ve settled into a city. When you have a specific grocery store, a favorite cafe, a much loved bookstore. When you are finally able to build these relationships, you are no longer anonymous. You are a citizen and a member of a community.

What advice would you give someone who is interested in graduate school abroad?

Do your research! Many countries use different teaching methods so be sure to look into this too. Be aware that grad school abroad is just as intense as home so don’t come expecting a super easy, relaxing time. Be sure to plan time in your schedule to get to know the city and country you are living in. As grad students, it’s very easy to get buried in your work and not pull yourself out until your program finishes. You are abroad though! Soak up the culture! Make time to enjoy your new city.

Mary, thanks so much for interview and wishing you a very happy belated birthday!

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.”

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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.