Member Insights

“So, why do you work in International Education?”

By: Mary Catherine Scarborough

When I ask this question “So, why do you work in international education?” I always feel like an undergraduate student. I’ll explain.

While some people saw, “So… what’s your major?” as a pick-up line or an awkward introduction in class or at parties, I was always genuinely interested in the answer when I was in college. My motivation for that question was to figure out what that person was interested in, and what underlying passion was driving him/her to study it further.

The same impetus applies now. I more often than not ask people why they’re in our field upon meeting them. The question is not reserved for particular contacts; everyone is subjected to this inquiry. But, I do find that the answers are similar, sometimes based on nationality, generation, or focus in the field.

I must be doing something with this data, right? What I like is the grouping and the outliers.

The groups I find useful because I am finding patterns. Really simple ones include that:

  • Most Americans working in international education actually studied abroad at some point. (Whether you work on inbound or outbound mobility.)
  • Most went abroad in college, some went in high school, and fewer were scholars or earned an entire degree abroad.

We’ve come to expect that, right?

So, for me, it’s then going further into the why. That’s where the differences within these patterns come to light. In D.C. for example, I’ve found that our generation will include in their answer about why they are in the field with something like this, “Well I really want to solve this problem…” Whether it’s affordability of a global education, credit transfer, diversity of students and locations, or even increasing the overall percentage of students going abroad – I’m finding that our generation working in international education in D.C. is here to solve problems.

The pattern here is that our own experience has inspired our generation to provide this highlight of our lives with other people. We have chosen our career to “give back.” The other pattern is that our generation is here to “improve” things.

But then, there are outliers too. Some of these responses include really random stories that are fun and often insightful into what our field could become in the professional sense. When I talk to someone that didn’t study abroad and they’re working in international education, I want to know how they ended up in the field. Was it intentional? How do they view things differently than the majority of our peers?

If we combine this collective motivation in positively moving the field of international education forward, while leveraging these “outlier” ideas, we have the potential accomplish quite a lot. I’d like our generation to know each other and really discuss our ideas and proposed solutions.

At yPIE events I’ll continue to ask why you’re in international education.You can guarantee I’m genuinely listening when you’re talking. My hope with yPIE is that we enjoy the networking time together, we learn about our industry, brainstorm what is possible, and then have the collective spirit to accomplish these goals.

So, if you’re also asking fellow yPIE members why they’re in international education, your conversations can inform our discussions, which will develop into solutions our generation will deliver.

Looking forward to talking with you soon!

– Mary Catherine

Mary Catherine Scarborough is a founding board member of yPIE: Young Professionals in International Education in DC and director of European Programs at ISEP: International Student Exchange Programs.

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