Professional Skills

Going Abroad for Professional Development

going abroad for professional development

Do you already work in international education but don’t travel internationally as part of your job? Are you looking for opportunities to gain international experience? Would you like those opportunities to be professional development abroad? It’s possible!

On March 13, 2018, yPIE DC hosted a panel discussion on opportunities to go abroad in a professional capacity during your career. The speakers covered the wide variety of options available through Fulbright programs and Peace Corps Response.

Rachel Gordon, Assistant Director of WCL Abroad at American University Washington College of Law, was one of our speakers. She participated in the Fulbright International Education Administrator (IEA) Seminar and you can read about her experience and what she discussed at the event here.

Rachel Gordon posing in the city square with four colleagues

What is Fulbright International Education Administrators Seminars?

The Fulbright International Education Administrators Seminars are short-term professional development opportunities abroad for US international educators and senior higher education officials. The program’s purpose is to create empowering connections with societal, cultural, and higher education systems of other countries. Grantees also build their international and domestic networks throughout the two weeks. The program provides participants with an enhanced ability to serve international students and to encourage prospective study-abroad students. Fulbright currently offers programs in France, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Russia.

How did you find this opportunity?

I first learned about this opportunity through a colleague at American University who had participated in the program. Fulbright encourages returning grantees to share information with their networks and I am pleased to share mine through yPIE DC! My colleague organized an informal brown bag lunch where he talked about his experience and what he got out of the program. This inspired me to set a personal goal of doing the program at some point. I applied a year later because I wanted a stronger application and to feel professionally ready.

Why did you apply to this professional development abroad program?

Rachel Gordon posing at the US Embassy in Brussels with a colleague during her professional development abroad program

The biggest factor that encouraged me to apply was hearing about my colleague’s experience and what he learned. I have no formal training in international education. My academic background includes a degree in food science and a junior year revelation that I wasn’t interested in going into a traditional “science” job. I then went to law school and stumbled upon the field of international education through a summer study abroad program. My legal education allowed me to break into the international legal education field, and much of what I’ve had to learn has been on the job. However, I wanted to have more of an academic experience, so I thought that a “study abroad” program for study abroad professionals would be a fantastic immersion.

How has participating in this program helped your career?

The program has helped my career in a few ways. First, I had the invaluable ability to take two weeks away from the day-to-day details of my job. I had the opportunity to think about everything I do from the “10,000 feet” perspective. When I returned to the office, I had a much clearer vision of my goals and how to accomplish them.

Second, I was able to explore a new education system in depth. I knew about Bologna, ECTS, and the general structure of European schools before the program. But I gained a much deeper understanding by spending two weeks intensively learning about them. The ability to meet my counterparts and learn how the German system is different than ours taught me the questions to ask when I explore a new education system. I was also comforted and better able to understand my students after learning about our shared similarities.

Finally, I had the opportunity to expand my network, meet new colleagues from the US and abroad, and understand the scope of the field. The incredible diversity of my cohort opened my eyes to many of the bigger issues in international education that I, as a law school study abroad administrator, don’t think about on a daily basis.

What advice would you give someone that is looking to apply for this program?

My advice is similar to the advice that most study abroad advisers give to their students: know your reason for going. My reason was to break out of my law school bubble and see the field through a wider lens. Fulbright looks for grantees that will both benefit personally and will apply their experiences to their work at their institution. The application requires an institutional statement and a personal statement.

I worried that the selection committee would pass on my application because AU is so international and there have been previous AU grantees. However, I framed AU’s internationalization as an opportunity to disseminate my knowledge more easily and to use this power to reach other groups, like legal educators.

I was also concerned that my inexperience in the field would be held against me. However, I argued that I should be afforded the opportunity because of my inexperience. I did so by thinking about specific things I would like to learn and explained how this program would help me reach those goals.

Rachel Gordon during her Fulbright professional development abroad program

Photo credit: Rachel Gordon. This blog post was edited for format and clarity.

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