Panel discusses career benefits of study abroad

Study abroad tips also discussed


Photo by Judith Gibson-Okunieff

By Cassie McGrath, Collegian Staff

A panel covering international education and career trajectory for study abroad students was held in the Commonwealth Honors College on Wednesday, where speakers discussed the assets to studying abroad.

Hosted by Madalina Akli of the Office of National Scholarship Advisement, the panel was made up of five prominent professionals who have been impacted by international education.

Speakers included Ilene Tillman of Academic Programs International, University of Massachusetts doctoral students Mujtaba Hedayet and Nadia Alahmed and CISabroad employees Zachary Bookman and Jessica Jones.

The panelists, who come from very different backgrounds and cultures, spoke about their own experiences studying abroad and how it had led them to their careers. For Tillman, Bookman and Jones, their passion for international education led them to work in the field itself.

Hedayet and Alahmed are currently international students. Hedayet is from Afghanistan and Alahmed has lived all over the world since she was a child.

Questions from the audience inspired conversation. When asked what skills they have gained from participating in study abroad, patience, budgeting and adapting were all discussed. There will be problems when studying abroad, speakers said, but the programs offer resources for solving them.

Hedayet talked about how he learned English before studying abroad.

“It’s different when you read the books than when you are living in a community,” he said. “When I came here for the first few weeks, I didn’t understand 50 percent of what was said.”

Hedayet noted that there were no automatic resources to study abroad that there are for students in the United States. He had to work for these resources, as well as attain his own visa before coming to UMass.

Alahmed spoke about the culture shock of coming to the U.S.

“There were a lot of things I had to unlearn from all of my experiences. It is really hard to explain,” she said. “Just negative things that are imposed by a culture.”

Alahmed, who grew up in the Middle East said there are a lot of expectations imposed by women.

“Things are changing but I still go to my hometown and I am really outspoken, I am [educated], it is a struggle,” she said.

One student was curious how, when studying abroad, students can avoid living like a tourist. The first time Tillman went on a plane was a trip to Argentina. She was inspired by an exchange student who lived in her neighborhood.

“Meet locals, don’t hang out with Americans,” Tillman said, suggesting students live with a host family and stay up to date with the news and culture.

The panel also touched on interview skills. Jones emphasizes the importance of travel and its effects on her ability to get a job. While Tillman expressed the importance of having a hook, or something that stands out to the employer, Jones discussed how the culture of the workplace will determine if the job is the right fit.

“When you are answering questions, don’t say what you think they want to hear,” Jones said. “Say to yourself, do I want this job?”

The panel also suggests doing research on the company and asking questions so the interview is interactive. They say that employers are looking for personality.

Alahmed said that value of studying abroad was that it allowed her to witness history.

“From watching the fall of the Soviet Empire fall apart, that was just intense. And then going to live with my mother to post-Soviet Ukraine and the degrees of imperialism,” she said.

“Watching how my students think, and approach education, politics, value education, knowing what’s going on in the country and knowing what’s going on in the world,” she continued, “I have watched the transformation of American youth to being almost entirely apolitical to extremely politicized.”

Cassie McGrath can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @cassiemcgrath_.