International Experience: What’s in it for you?

Since I’ve begun sharing the ideas behind this program with people I have gotten several types of reaction. One thing that’s not clear to some people is what mid- to long-term benefit young (not only African-American) people gain from tapping into and better qualifying themselves for the global market place.

Because my own experience as a school leaver is several decades past, I looked for a more current take on how being internationally oriented can increase your professional marketability. This is how one blogger summed up her experience coupled with my take on the issue:

  1. It can turbo-boost your career. At a time when the US economy still hasn’t recovered, being able to expand your job search into regions that are still emerging economically can mean the difference between writing endless applications or being forced to take a dead-end job you’re over-qualified for and successfully segueing into a challenging position where your background is seen as a valuable asset.
  2. It changes your perception and perspective. Having to find your footing in a new environment allows you to be aware of things that you’ve come to take for granted. You’ll be challenged to see the world through new eyes and make decisions based on a partially new set of values, a different historical development and unfamiliar attitudes. Life will suddenly be full of surprises! Instead of simply exchanging one viewpoint for another, you’ll find yourself discovering what you really believe versus what you’ve been taught to believe.
  3. It allows you to expand your personal horizons. You won’t get a chance to re-invent yourself, you’ll finally be able to fully invent yourself! What does it mean to be “black”? What does it mean to be “American”? Although I’m sure you already have an answer for both of those questions, I can assure you that your answers will evolve in a way you never imagined possible once you step outside the comfort zone of your familiar American context. Yes, people you encounter will still have stereotypes and (maybe) prejudices that pertain to you, but you’ll quickly come to realize that certain “truths” about race and nationality you’ve always believed are more fluid when viewed through someone else’s eyes.
  4. It lets you better reap the benefits of being a member of the global community. Make no mistake: Globalization is here to stay! Whether we experience it as an empowering challenge or a frightening threat depends on how proactively we participate and co-create. Learning to interact with people from different backgrounds on equal footing – on their turf –  and understanding how to navigate gracefully and purposely within their cultures gives us added control over our own lives. It also increases our chances for both personal and professional success.

Is international study/work for everyone? In a nutshell: NO!

In addition to everything else, you’ll need to be able to pack an ample portion of the following in your backpack:

  • Sensitivity to other cultures and other ways of doing things
  • Curiosity about people, their history, their values and their attitudes
  • Willingness to cooperate
  • A sense of adventure
  • Good interpersonal communication skill
  • Ability – or willingness – to gain proficiency in another language
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