Find Your Value: What Future Global Leaders Need to Know about Starting Their Career

Top Articles on Studying Abroad from Students and Experts

story by Trixie Cordova

So, it looks like you’ve made it. After all those years of reports, papers, and exams, you’ve earned your undergraduate degree and are ready for the next step. Quick question, though: what is the next step, exactly?

Some of your fellow graduates are probably thinking about taking a high-paying job that has nothing to do with what they majored in.. Though it’s understandable, more graduates should realize that getting a position that pays well is not always the best first step. In fact, options that people consider as less lucrative, such as being an intern overseas, can actually be more beneficial. In other words, participating in internships abroad may not be the most glamorous first step on your professional journey, but it’s the foundation of something greater.

Adopt a "harvest" mentality

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You can tell yourself that you’ll go for the high-paying choice now and go pursue the actual career you want later. But every second you spend not planting the seeds for your dream career is a second wasted. There’s a time to sow, and there’s a time to reap. If you spend the early years of your professional life reaping financial rewards without acquiring any real work experience, chances are you’ll have trouble finding employment later on in your career, as employers expect older employees to have more specialized skills. Start your dream career now, or you’ll have to start over to pursue it a few years from now.

Learn a lot before you earn a lot

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Choosing to start an internship abroad can be intimidating. After all, you’re uprooting yourself from everything and everyone you know. But that’s the entire point: you can’t expect to learn something new and valuable if you stick to what you know. Being an intern abroad can give you access to resources, networks and experiences that you wouldn’t be exposed to at home. If the field you’re passionate about is technical, like science or engineering, going overseas can let you have hands-on experience with newer and more sophisticated technology. If your interest is geared more towards the humanities, an overseas internship can let you study literature and visit cultural destinations that you just can’t access at home. Whatever career you choose, you can never underestimate the importance of work experience, and the value of that experience is compounded when you work with the best the world has to offer.

Study with the Masters

If you’re asking yourself “should I accept a job offer even if it’s not in the field I want”, you should start by realizing that your choice entails a tradeoff. Many companies that offer high-paying entry-level jobs are not particularly interested in fostering individual development. Sure, they may offer training and management courses, but those are mostly geared towards increasing the employee's’ contribution to the company. If you want a more personal mentor-mentee relationship, one where you are developed in a way that you actually care about, internships are the better option. Certain intern programs abroad can provide opportunities to learn from experts in your field of interest. They can teach you by showing you the ropes or by asking you valuable leading questions. Eventually, you’ll learn enough to become an expert yourself, but don’t expect it to happen quickly. It can take ten years to become a master in any given field. That may seem like a long time, but if it’s your passion, it’s worth the investment.

Weak ties have great power

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Some people say that success depends on who you know, and that’s true to a big extent.  An aspect of career development that too many people take for granted is networking. You can definitely try to make it on your own, by becoming more competent and advancing your career purely through your own grit and passion. However, keeping in touch with others in your field of interest will do wonders for you later on. You can exchange information on best practices and hot trends in your industry; you can engage in shop talk, giving each other news on game-changing or cutting-edge institutions; and you can help each other in case you need endorsements or recommendations when you’re in between jobs. In a world that’s becoming increasingly globalized, being an intern overseas is a great networking opportunity, and taking on an internship abroad can help you build an extensive portfolio of contacts.

The Value of Autonomy

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One more thing about taking on a global internship is that it teaches you how to be independent. Sure, you may be working under mentors who will teach and advise you, but they’re not going to be holding your hand the whole time. You’ll learn to be self-directed, to take the initiative, and to be proactive in doing your tasks. An internship is a much more autonomous type of work than the usual corporate job. It’s not routine work, and that makes it both more challenging and more fulfilling. Remember that the value of building your career isn’t just about getting new skills and new contacts, but also about getting a new attitude that can propel you forward.

Get the Multilingual Edge

Another consideration when thinking about ideal jobs after graduation is the fact that being at the start of your career gives you plenty of license to learn. You want to take a position where you can absorb as much knowledge as you can because you never know what will come in handy. That includes learning a new language. The way the world is changing now, it’s become increasingly important for companies to communicate with foreign partners or investors. Given this, the ability to speak or write in a foreign language may be valuable for you later on. You might want to learn Chinese since China is a global economic superpower, or French since it’s a choice language in business and the arts.

Cultivate a Multicultural Perspective

Cultivate a Multicultural Perspective

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International internships give you the chance to work in a different cultural context, which gives you a global perspective. This advantage isn’t lost on many employers: according to statistics, global internships give jobseekers an advantage, with employers giving more consideration to applicants that have overseas internship experience. Not only is such experience uncommon, but it also provides valuable education in collaboration. Being a global intern often means that you get to deal with diversity abroad, which will make you more comfortable with people from a wide range of cultural backgrounds. Spending time in a different cultural context will also give you great insight into foreign economies and cultures. If the economy and culture of your host country are especially relevant to your career of interest, that’s even better for your employment prospects.

Money isn't the prize: It's a bonus

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It’s true that having money gives you access to a lot of things: property, pleasure, and prominence, to name a few. But don’t think for a second that money equals value. A big reason why people intern abroad is to explore their academic or personal interests. For them, money isn’t the reward, though it can be a nice bonus. The payoff comes from the opportunity to expand their horizons, to find how their passion fits in the bigger scheme of things, and to have an occupation they can be proud of. So don’t be too focused on getting a high salary right after graduating. The money will come later as a by-product of the increasing value of your career.

For many people, getting their bachelor’s degree is the conclusion of their academic career and the start of their professional career. Understandably, having a big salary is typically seen as the best way to begin. However, you naturally have to start your professional life from the lowest rung, and being an intern will give you a bottom-up perspective that will definitely help you later on. You may not enjoy starting over, feeling like you’re at the foot of another ladder. But look on the bright side: from here, there’s nowhere to go but up.

Trixie Cordova

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Trixie is the Student Outreach Coordinator at Diversity Abroad. She studied abroad in Italy as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, then went on to be an Assistant Language Teacher on the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program for 2 years. She has her MA in International Education from Teachers College, Columbia University.

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