Career Reintegration Strategies for Pre and Post-International Experiences of College Students
By Satomi Yaji Chudasama
Welcoming students back on campus each fall is exciting. Career development professionals often enjoy listening to students share their experiences from their time abroad. During these conversations, career practitioners have an opportunity to teach students to identify newly gained skills and leverage their learning for the future. However, welcoming students back home isn't the only time to be helpful.
Career development professionals can help these students prepare for their international adventures. Presenting at a pre-departure orientation or workshop and inviting the students for individual career development conversations would offer such preparation. Some ideas career practitioners can incorporate into pre-departure activities include
- Encourage students to describe excitement and anticipation. Focus their discussion on what they desire to learn and accomplish. Prompt them to establish goals for the international experience and brainstorm with them how they might achieve the goals.
- Identify alumni to connect with. Ideally, have students virtually introduce themselves to the alumni prior to departure.
- Encourage students to meet others who have gone through similar experiences for advice. A panel discussion and tabling would also accomplish this goal.
- Discuss ways to keep track of their learning, memorable experiences and self-reflection.
Ensure they are aware of helpful resources while abroad, including remotely-available support from you. (e.g., virtual appointments)
- Brainstorm how to expand their connections abroad, including personal and professional contacts.
Similar to the adjustment process overseas, there is another round of cultural adjustment process when returning home. It is not unusual for returning students to experience some degree of reverse culture shock, which most are not quite prepared for. The chances are that many students have changed personally during their time abroad. Their experience of change is compounded by changes that occurred in the people and things back home. Many returnees assume what they left at home is exactly what they will find upon their return. The gap generated by these changes manifests itself as reverse culture shock. The process of readjustment at home can be so challenging that it could evolve into mental health issues. It is imperative to be aware when any mental health issues are suspected or present in returnees. As Hinkelman and Luzzo (2007) argue, psychological distress may exacerbate underlying career/vocational symptoms (e.g., career indecision).
Here are some of the ways to support students when they return home from overseas.
- Host a "Marketing Your International Experience" type of workshop where students learn how to articulate their experiences and learning to potential employers.
- Have students work on a skill and attribute inventory while sharing stories. It will help them identify transferable skills acquired or enhanced during their time abroad, potential career interests and stories they can share with potential employers. Career development professionals can ask follow-up questions during this exercise, which will prompt students to more deeply explore their experiences. Often, they find a way to articulate what they enjoyed and found inspirational during this exercise. Such questions may include what their favorite stories are and why; what they learned and how; what the most memorable experience is and why; and why they decide to go abroad and if they accomplished what they desired.
- Ask a wide range of questions, including some rather unexpected ones. Examples may include what they would have done differently and why; what the hardest thing they did was; and what the most challenging aspect of the cultural differences was and why. These questions help students to think more broadly about their experiences and push themselves out of the comfort zone of the favorite stories that they may repeat.
- Discuss the cultural adjustment/readjustment process. This part may also include how they coped with and survived cultural differences, which often results in identification of additional transferable skills and attributes. Moreover, if students are struggling with the readjustment process, career practitioners will be able to refer them to appropriate support resources.
- Brainstorm ways to leverage their experiences and learning. How might they continue to stay current with the country they visited? How might they keep practicing newly acquired language skills? How might they stay in touch with people they came to know while abroad? How might they connect with international students on campus who are from the country they visited? There may be multiple opportunities already available on campus or in the local area to assist this leveraging process, including lectures, classes, student organizations, and volunteer organizations.
- Introduce strategies and resources pertaining to global job search if students are interested. How might they reconnect with contacts they established overseas? Additionally, students might find American-based organizations in the countries of interests, foreign-based organizations operating in the U.S., international NGOs offering global opportunities, for-profit or government organizations with potential foreign assignments, nonprofit organizations supporting cultural exchange and global issues, and more.
Promoting Student Growth
In conclusion, support before and after international experiences promotes the growth and learning of students. The study conducted by Farrugia and Sanger (2017) demonstrates the positive skill gains among study abroad students, including intercultural skills, curiosity, flexibility and adaptability, confidence and self-awareness. These gains by study abroad students are also applicable to students returning from international internships, and volunteering.
Farrugia, C. & Sanger, J. (2017). Gaining an Employment Edge: The Impact of Study Abroad on 21st Century Skills & Career Prospects in the United States. New York, NY: The Institute of International Education.
Hinkelman, J. M. & Luzzo, D.A. (2007). Mental Health and Career Development of College Students, Journal of Counseling and Development, 85(2), 143-147.
Satomi Yaji Chudasama, NCC, CCC, GCDF is the Senior Associate Director for Student Engagement at the Center for Career Development at Princeton University. She has nearly 20 years of experience in career development in higher education. Satomi is a graduate of the NCDA Leadership Academy and has been active in the NCDA International Student Services Committee since its inception. She is also a founding member of the Asia Pacific Career Development Association (APCDA). Her master’s degree in Counselor Education is from Syracuse University. Satomi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.