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The (global) road to success

Filed in News and announcements by on November 14, 2014

Study abroad paves the way for post-graduation opportunities

By Dianna Borsi O’Brien

You’re back. Now what?

Studying abroad can be so intense, so amazing, you may want to talk about it 24/7. Your friends and family, well, not so much. And then there’s the question of what’s next.

MU’s International Center can help. Here are a few tips on how to keep your study abroad experience alive.

  • Prepare ahead: It’s likely you’ll experience culture shock when you return. Planning helps. Consider participating in activities at the International Center such as the annual Study Abroad Photo Contest, the reflective workshops or the annual Lessons from Abroad conference.
  • Get involved: Work, volunteer or intern at the International Center or with various programs. For example, each year the International Center hires five study abroad returnees to work as peer advisers. This gives you an opportunity to talk about your trip and help others in their journey toward study abroad. Other opportunities involve volunteering to welcome exchange students via the Cultural Ambassador program, helping with the Study Abroad Fair and more.
  • The next step: Talk to other students and International Center staff about how to highlight your experience on your résumé and during interviews. Look into opportunities to work or intern, or to study abroad again. The staff knows how to help you leverage your experience into much more than telling your friends — again — how great it was there.

Rachel Hartley: Surprising shortcuts

A tall blonde, Rachel Hartley couldn’t stand out more in photos of her and her colleagues in Pune, India, where she trained for her dream job. And once she landed in her new spot, she still looked out of place, but she’s where she’s been heading for years — via China, Spain and Peru.

Taking the Spanish path to Dubai

In May 2014, Hartley headed to Dubai to work as a business development manager for a technology firm with 6,500 employees and 20 locations worldwide.

Rachel Hartley visiting the breathtaking Taj Mahal.Not bad for someone who studied abroad in Spain, and until her recent training didn’t know anything about the IT industry.

Hartley came from Kansas City to study at the University of Missouri with a love of Spanish, politics, world history and travel, even though she’d never left the United States. It started with her studies as an international business/international studies student and joining international clubs and meeting people from all over the world. Before she knew it, she’d fallen in love with the Middle East.

To test the travel waters, Hartley headed off on a short-term study abroad to China. “It was a pivotal moment in my life,” said Hartley via email, “and affirmed my desire to go abroad again.”

But what to do with all that Spanish she’d studied? Not to mention her love of the Middle East. She also faced the challenges of finances and finishing her degree on time.

Making everything fit

With help from the MU International Center and plenty of research on her own, she settled on spending a semester studying abroad in Granada, Spain, an area with an Arab flavor and heavily influenced by nearby Morocco. While there, Hartley was able to start studying Arabic, visit Morocco and get to know people, including a family, there. “We also met with Moroccan university students who I still remain in very close contact today. It was unforgettable,” said Hartley.

And those economic worries? Despite the fact that the study abroad program she chose was one of the more expensive options, via an IES Abroad program, Hartley said, between her efforts and that of the center, she found plenty of help. “In the end my entire semester in Spain was almost 100 percent covered with scholarships!”

The Middle East via Peru

Back at MU, Hartley pushed graduation back just one semester to take more Arabic. A tip from another MU student led her to set her sights on gaining an International Trade Administration internship at an American Embassy in the Middle East — except the unrest at the time put many of those positions on hold. So she turned to Spanish-speaking countries. “Before I knew it, I received an internship offer in Lima, Peru,” said Hartley.

After her May 2013 graduation, Hartley spent five months working at a local advertising firm before she found a spot in Lima with a boutique travel agency, a position she found via her internship connections. One day, she was showing Lima’s sights to executives from Zensar, her present employer. “They asked a lot about my background and career goals, etc. I told them about my love for Arabic language and culture, and by the end of the day, one of the members asked for my CV,” said Hartley.

“A couple of months and a few phone interviews later, I received an offer to work for their Dubai branch! I was beyond ecstatic.”

Brooke Baslee: Finding her own path

Brooke Baslee started at MU with two goals: to study journalism and to head abroad.

She ended up living in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a working-class city in Britain filled with people from all over the world, from Africa to Asia, a city she describes as nothing like people imagine England. And that plan for a degree in journalism? Tossed aside after her first study abroad experience, replaced with a new focus and direction for her life.

Instead, she would soon have a master’s degree in cross-cultural communications and linguistics, and Baslee couldn’t be happier.
In London during a recent visit from her sister Heather, left, she and Brooke Baslee pose in front of Big Ben and the Parliament.

Getting a different view

Her path started with a semester of study abroad at the University of Manchester, U.K., where she learned that sharing a language or even knowing the words in another tongue doesn’t always translate to understanding someone or a culture.

Her exchange was one of the more traditional study abroad program models, a reciprocal exchange. Baslee paid her fees to MU, but attended in the U.K. and had to cover any extra expenses herself, such as airfare. Yet, as with most study abroad programs, all scholarships and financial aid packages can be applied to the costs.

It was during her semester abroad, that Baslee gained the confidence and sense of independence she relied on later to apply for and attend graduate school in the U.K.

But we’re getting ahead of our story. Baslee always knew she wanted to travel to Britain; she’d always been wild about the English culture, from pop bands to movies. Her first semester at MU she headed to the International Center and signed up for Study Abroad 101, a 30-minute course taught by peer advisers who have studied abroad. The next week, she had an appointment with an International Center adviser. With the center’s help, Baslee found the right financial and academic fit — and the support to go overseas.

“I looked at affordable programs and it wasn’t too much more than studying at MU,” said Baslee, not counting the airfare.

Maintaining study abroad mojo

Once Baslee returned to MU from her time abroad, she couldn’t wait to go back. She got involved in everything the International Center offers to help returnees get through re-entry culture shock — and to keep her study abroad mojo going. For Baslee, this meant becoming a peer adviser to help others go overseas, volunteering for programs to help incoming international students, competing in the photo contest, attending the center’s re-entry conference and networking with other study abroad students, contacts she still maintains.

“My study abroad opened my eyes and gave me a sense of direction,” said Baslee. But it was her connection to the International Center that kept her going when she worried whether she’d be able to go abroad for graduate school. “They were so supportive,” said Baslee, from writing letters of recommendation to mentoring her.

So what does she plan to do now? First, finish her dissertation on whether people overseas maintain their cultural ties — and then apply to work at international study abroad centers.

Lauren Richardson: A literary shortcut

Living in Rwanda wasn’t part of Lauren Richardson’s career plan. She just thought fulfilling her French literature requirements via a faculty-led study abroad program in Rwanda sounded more interesting than studying on campus.

Turns out it was, and it changed her life.

Lauren Richardson, on her way to take part in the traditional part of a wedding ceremony for her Kinyarwanda anchor at the television station where she works.“Not to hate on studying literature too much,” said Richardson via Skype text messages, but the lure of getting six credits in one month appealed to her. In 2012, she took part in a faculty-led, short-term study abroad program led by Rangira (Béa) Gallimore an associate professor of French at MU.

When Richardson arrived in Rwanda, she instantly fell in love with the people and the country. As part of the program, Richardson not only fulfilled her French requirements but also had an internship in her chosen field, broadcast journalism, at the national television station.

Today, Richardson is the news director of the French news, “La Grande Edition,” at TV10, Rwanda’s first private television station, a position she got through the connections she made while studying abroad.

“I’d always wanted to report and anchor,” said Richardson, “but I didn’t expect Rwanda and I love it here.” In her position, she monitors reporters and writes international news.

The family’s first globetrotter

She didn’t come from a family immersed in an international focus. She grew up in Schaumburg, Ill., just outside Chicago, in basically a predominately white neighborhood. Richardson didn’t know anything about Africa before she went there, nor had she considered working overseas.

At first her family “freaked” when they about her heading to Rwanda and again when they learned she was heading back to live there. In fact, at first, she didn’t tell them her study abroad plans involved Africa.

That’s what made the International Center’s returnee support even more important. When Richardson returned, she received help from the center about how to leverage her experience into an employment asset and encouraged her to further her experience, including helping her write to potential employers and, once she was headed overseas, provided tips on preparing and moving overseas.

Still, it isn’t easy to live abroad and work in Rwanda. While it is safe, working at the first non-governmental television station doesn’t pay much. Richardson works as a teacher of preschool and dance to make ends meet.

Yet, she loves her life in Rwanda and the study abroad step it took to get there. “It was beyond worth it.”

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