Work in Washington D.C.
International Education Internships Lead to Careers
By Heather Powers
While the job market in your area may be depressed, Washington, DC continues to offer internships and entry-level job opportunities in the field of international education. With planning and persistence, you may land an internship that will get you started in your desired career.
College graduates sometimes dismiss internships because a steady income is needed to pay off accumulated debt—student loans, car payments, or credit cards. But when job leads are scarce, an internship may provide the experience that will help you break into the field while giving you the opportunity to get to know the players. An internship also lets an organization learn what you have to offer, and as an internal candidate you get first crack at job openings. Other benefits of an internship are the ability to openly conduct a job search, after-hours use of computers and printers to produce cover letters and resumes, and work experience that will immediately be recognized by other not-for-profits in DC.
So how do you begin? Some nonprofits, like the Institute of International Education, and Meridian International Center, try to reach prospective interns through flyers sent to career placement offices. I discovered the NAFSA Job Registry, a publication of job openings, in my alma mater’s international center. This opened my eyes to the wide range of positions available in international education—from credentials evaluation to international student advising to grant administration.
In Washington D.C., organizations such as the World Affairs Council and the Council and Foreign Relations, offers international internships. The International Exchange Locator contains overviews of organizations involved in international educational exchange. While not all-inclusive, it does provide information critical to a job search, such as the organization’s mission, branch offices if any, and the number of staff.
Not-for-profit organizations such as Youth for Understanding, NAFSA, and the Institute of International Education welcome interns and rely on volunteers to meet their objectives. Personalize your resumes and cover letters to convince human resource personnel they have a good match. Call to determine to whom your resume should be sent, if writing samples and transcripts are required, and if there is a hiring cycle for interns. A bachelor’s degree, demonstrated interest in international education, and writing samples are usually all that is required to secure an internship.
Compensation ranges from nothing to stipends of $500 per month. Your survival during this time requires careful budgeting. Once you obtain your internship, contact your student loan provider about a temporary hardship deferment; it won’t affect your credit rating and the six-month deferment of payments on the principal will help you pay your bills.
Networking Is the Key
Only 20 percent of job vacancies are advertised, so networking is the key to success, personally and through social networking sites. This is especially true of international nonprofits where position descriptions are distributed to similar organizations. Asking your colleagues to keep their eyes open is important. Your chances of getting the job increase enormously when you have a contact or you are an internal candidate. Typical minimum requirements are a BA, foreign language study, experience abroad, and good communication skills. Computer skills are recommended. Salaries in the field are low and there is no overtime, but most organizations offer excellent benefits: health insurance, retirement, sick leave, and ample paid vacation time.
The circle of international educational exchange in Washington is relatively small; after a year in the city you will recognize names and begin to run into familiar people. Participating in career roundtables, after-work happy hours, office sports leagues, and an occasional embassy reception will give you sufficient opportunity to mingle with your colleagues and advance your new career.
HEATHER POWERS is Program Coordinator, Field Service and Regional Affairs for NAFSA: Association of International Educators, Washington, DC.