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  • Helping Students Articulate International Experiences

    September 13, 2017 | By NACE Staff

    A group of college students study abroad.

    TAGS: best practices, branding and marketing, coaching, competencies, interviewing, international students, nace insights, students

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals

    Jason Napoli doesn’t have to look far to see evidence of the impact of international experience on a professional career.

    Napoli, director of employer relations and career coaching at Cornell College in Iowa, has lived, studied, and worked across five continents. His international work includes leading service projects in the Ecuadorian Amazon and a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in India. He also led an English language acquisition program in Chicago for international students from more than 70 countries.

    Napoli believes that international experiences are extremely valuable to students who are developing their skill sets for the workplace.

    “International experiences develop skills in students that greatly prepare them for jobs and internships, most of which can be directly correlated to NACE’s key career competencies,” he explains. “Whether it’s critical thinking/problem solving, communication, leadership, professionalism, intercultural fluency, or teamwork, just to name a few, we have students stationed all over the world adapting to new and unpredictable conditions, while gaining experiences within these competencies.”

    For example, Napoli says that when students are abroad, they often have to navigate a variety of challenges due to unforeseen transportation or banking issues, political instability, unfamiliar cultural mores, or other factors.

    “This plays right into the critical thinking/problem solving competency and demonstrating adaptability,” he says. “I think adaptability is one of the most important skills a recent college graduate needs to succeed in the workplace, and that is undoubtedly gained while immersing yourself into an international experience.”

    He also points to leadership, noting that by its NACE competency definition, students need to assess and manage their emotions, as well as demonstrate empathy.

    “These are all skills practiced while abroad, particularly in developing countries,” Napoli says. “Whether it’s witnessing extreme poverty or viewing the effects a corrupt government can inflict on its citizens, our students observe many of the world’s unjust conditions while abroad, and acting on those issues can be powerful.”

    He adds that the leadership competency definition also references the need to organize and prioritize, which directly relates to having strong time-management skills, another skill employers need, and is a key part to ensuring an individual has an impactful international experience.

    “Though these skills are often acquired through what I like to call ‘experiential osmosis,’ it’s the responsibility of our profession to bring these experiences out of the students’ subconscious and apply them to what’s next,” Napoli says.

    Many students struggle to effectively articulate their international experiences and the skills they developed while traveling. However, there are actions career services professionals can take to help students clear these obstacles, and strategically brand their international experiences as a benefit to employers.

    First and foremost, Napoli stresses that career services professionals help students to understand that, when talking with recruiters, they shouldn’t only focus on the fun adventures they experienced and cool things they saw.

    “Sure,” Napoli says, “that gorgeous beach and ancient temple were awesome, but students need to focus on what they learned, both inside and outside the classroom, lab, or office, and the personal impact it had on them and know how it’s relevant to what’s next.”

    He says that heading out on an immersive experience abroad can set the expectation that students are leaving life behind for a while and escaping reality.

    “In many ways, this is only natural,” Napoli says. “Some people see long-term travel as ‘getting away from it all.’ What I've found is actually the opposite. At no point in my life other than during long-term travel has life truly smacked me in the face and made me realize there are challenges and problems in this world. Parents get sick, friends divorce, finances are stressful, poverty is everywhere, the streets are dangerous. Realizing this not only results in personal growth, but sharing this realization with an employer can be impactful.”

    At Cornell College, Napoli partners with the Office of International and Off-Campus Study to deliver a professional development workshop during the Study Abroad Returners’ Fair. The fair is a multi-day set of programming that has students reflect and present on their experiences abroad, while receiving coaching on how to articulate the experience to potential employers and graduate programs.

    “This coaching is weighted toward the NACE career competencies that already exist,” Napoli says. “We also deliver material on the possibility of what’s next and share resources to help go abroad again after graduation. Many students believe the one semester during their junior or senior was their last chance to have an immersive international experience because after graduation they need to settle down and get that ‘real job.’ In reality, there are amazing opportunities for recent college graduates all over the world, whether that’s in the form of gainful employment, post-graduate service, and even graduate school.”

    Napoli encourages career services practitioners to support graduates in following their wanderlust, and to provide them with resources and tools to find opportunities after graduation.

    “Take graduate school for example,” Napoli says. “In many parts of Europe, and specifically the United Kingdom, a master’s degree can be acquired in one year. This makes the investment less expensive and more efficient. Our offices need to be sure that’s a known option.”

    He also recommends searching throughout campus for faculty and staff who have had impactful international experiences of their own.

    “Many would love to share their stories, but their specific function in the institution may not give them the opportunity to do so,” Napoli says. “Collaborate with these new people.”

    Furthermore, get international students involved in sharing tips, tricks, and even contacts with domestic students for procuring employment in their particular countries.

    “International students are very proud of their home countries and get excited when given the opportunity to share them with others,” Napoli says.

    Several years ago, he received a request from an American law school student looking for assistance securing an international law internship in Myanmar. Knowing there were students from Yangon on campus, Napoli facilitated an introduction and the international student was more than happy to assist by using his own network.

    “While many of our international students need extra assistance finding experiences here in the United States,” Napoli points out, “they can be fantastic partners to help domestic students find opportunities abroad.”

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