Decades ago, working across borders was a rarity. Now, having an international career is the new normal. But just because it’s normal, doesn’t mean it has to be boring – quite the opposite. The adventure of encountering new people, behaviors, languages and methods, the mere idea of embracing our common humanity and working together to make the world a better place is still as exciting as ever.
In recent years, university campuses have become hubs of experiential international learning and skill-building. With an attitude of openness, curiosity and cultural awareness, anyone can set off on the path to building global perspective on-campus. I hope that my personal experiences, both at home and abroad, will impress upon you that an international career is just an arm’s reach away.
When I started university, I didn’t know what field or discipline I wanted to study. All I knew was that I didn’t like pure sciences. So, during my first year, I explored a broad range of topics: psychology, political science, history and economics, and found that I was immediately drawn to courses with an international focus. By my second semester, I had decided to major in international relations.
To hone my interest, I began participating in extracurricular activities. I knew that beyond pursuing my diploma, I also wanted to build relevant skills and experience during my time at university. My first big step was to join the uOttawa Model United Nations club, which was a great way to meet people with similar interests and have fun, while still developing crucial debating and public speaking skills. Furthermore, I participated in an entrepreneurial mindset certification program, where I had the opportunity to learn management and design skills, and network with various bright minds around Ottawa. This was enlightening, teaching me that entrepreneurship isn’t just a business skill, but rather a valuable approach for anyone wanting to make use of their creative spirit.
A university is so much more than its classrooms. I like to think of it as a sort of miniature city, with its own clubs, activities, restaurants and the like. And just as Ottawa is a multicultural city, the University of Ottawa is a multicultural university, offering many opportunities to connect with people from around the world. I, for one, learned a lot about different cultures simply by talking to fellow students, many of whom were international students. Here’s a key piece of advice for every global career hopeful: Keep in mind that lectures, textbooks and classrooms aren’t the only place to learn!
For example, I met one South Korean student and we would often talk about our respective cultures on the way out of our macroeconomics class. I’ve never traveled to South Korea, but from our short talks, I learned about their way of life, which, though not too different from our own, still seemed exciting and exotic. I discovered that although South Korea is undoubtedly centered around the western values of freedom and economic development, tech and industry development has led to a fast-paced life of modernity, where technology is omnipresent and blended into more traditional practices. And I learned all this without ever leaving my home campus.
To me, contact with other cultures is like a breath of fresh air, drawing the mind outward, beyond simple preconceptions and rendering the bigger picture visible. Even classrooms can play host to surprising cultural learning experiences. In my English literature class (of all places) I actually learned a lot about subjects like discrimination, racism, gender and First Nations issues, which are usually the prerogative of other disciplines. One time, a classroom discussion on Thomas King’s Borders morphed into a larger discussion about airport screening and issues of discrimination. With an open mind, there are countless opportunities to build global perspective.
By the time I arrived at the University of Ottawa, I’d already had a taste of international living and the joys of cross-cultural learning. In high school, I traveled in Europe and decided to do my 12th year in France. My mother was working for the OECD in Paris, so I left the familiarity of Gatineau and departed for the City of Lights to study in an international high school just outside the city. My first long stay abroad was enlightening, and really changed my mindset, opening me up to new cultures and ways of life. I believed that this would be an easy introduction to Europe, thinking that the language and culture of the province of Quebec wouldn’t be so different from that of France. This assumption did not hold, and during my one-year stay I experienced the centuries-old diversion of French and Quebecois culture. From lifestyle to leisure, to the way French was spoken, it was plain to see that French culture was not as similar to mine as I’d initially thought. The experience was profoundly transformative.
During this year abroad, I adapted to French culture and society, but also sat at the crossroads of many different cultures. My international high school was home to about 50 students and sat within a much larger lycée (French school) of about 3,000 students from primary to high school level. This made for a rather curious cultural experience: I was studying in the American intellectual tradition, with students from all over the world, in a French school and cultural context. In this way, my experience went beyond French culture alone and the context strengthened my cultural awareness and understanding of how cultures clash and contrast. For instance, I got to see how my more Americanized way of life, defined by overconsumption, clashed with the French lifestyle of efficiency and simplicity. With the added insight and perspective of fellow students from other regions of the world, I gained a holistic understanding and fluid view of many cultural approaches.
Though I found Europe to be friendly and welcoming, with impressive cultural monuments, something was still missing for me. For all its splendor, Europe still felt quite familiar. I was in search of an exotic spark of energy, the unknown. This idea grew in me during my post-secondary studies at the University of Ottawa, and I realised I felt compelled to know more about other areas of the world, and I became interested in Latin America, where I hope to travel in future.
As I already mentioned, as a first-year student, I was confused about the path that lay ahead of me. Despite my interest in international careers, I had no idea of how to build one. This led me to explore uOttawa’s student services, where I stumbled upon the career development center. My brief visit there was profoundly enlightening, breaking down my mental barrier between work and study, and giving me the resources I needed to build skills and succeed in today’s highly competitive, globalized world. During this visit, I became aware of career fairs, employment and volunteer opportunities, workshops and a global mindset certification. I also got a job out of the visit and gained an understanding of the labor market and how I could jumpstart my professional development.
I believe that although skills and knowledge are undoubtedly important, passion is crucial to developing an international career. Without drive, interest and energy, it’s difficult to overcome obstacles and find the motivation to realize your ambitions. What drives me is a natural curiosity and willingness to help others, without discrimination. So, I try to nurture an attitude of open-mindedness and openness to new experiences. I have biases and judgments just like everyone else, but I try to be aware of them so that I can detach from them and embrace other approaches.
Although the nature of international skills can seem somewhat vague, there are specific skills that can be developed by partaking in on-campus experiential learning opportunities. Studies or internships abroad, cultural clubs and activities, workshops and presentations, studying in an internationally focused program, certifications, volunteering and research placements are some of the more conventional methods. What’s most important is to jump right into it as early as possible. For instance, I am participating in the University of Ottawa’s uOGlobal certification program, which is specifically for students who wish to develop international skills.
Keep in mind that it’s fine, even good, to get lost or sidetracked during university studies. Very few people jump into post-secondary studies with a clear career goal in mind and even fewer get through without changing their program even a little. I was definitely at a loss starting out, but by exploring many options I discovered my passion for international subjects.
As a concluding thought, there are many ways to build international skills on campus, as long as you have the right perspective. Classroom discussions, making friends with international students, extracurricular activities, sports, music and art will all play a role in developing your cross-cultural awareness. And traveling, of course, remains one of the best hands-on methods for developing international skills. But in the age of digital communications and global pandemics, various distance learning and work opportunities will have to suffice for now.
As far as my future plans go, I am studying in the Civil Law and International Development program at uOttawa, and working. Throughout the school year I will be studying and engaging in various internationally focused clubs and extracurricular activities, specifically to further develop my international skills. I would also like to follow the uOGlobal certification and go abroad probably to Mexico to further learn Spanish in my second year. I also plan to enrol in the school’s co-op program to benefit from special international job opportunities.
Evan has already developed the most crucial components for any international career: curiosity, determination and open-mindedness. His well-written essay clearly conveys his passion for pursuing an international career. Students who are on campuses across North America can follows Evan’s lead, connecting with international students and actively seeking out clubs and extra-curriculars to broaden their mindsets.
We encourage Evan to keep aiming high, and encourage him to pursue his goal of traveling to Mexico to develop his Spanish language skills. The ideal immersive experience is a minimum of three months, or a semester, abroad. So, we encourage Evan to aim for a long-term stay abroad, and to take the opportunity to travel further afield, perhaps to Latin America. In addition, we suggest adding professional components to his study/travel adventures to boost the career value. Good luck! Check out these articles:
- The Ideal International Profile will help you look ahead and consider what skills you’ll need in order to build an international career for yourself.
- International School Year Check List outlines how to make the most of your school year to boost your international skills.
- Language Learning and Your International Career is a great article containing many practical strategies on how to job search while expanding language capabilities. Consider these ideas as you work towards developing your global personality.
- 24 Ways to Go International has many suggestions for those hoping to create international connections at home. One of the best ways to do this is to hang out with foreign students on campus, join international clubs or contact your International Student Office to volunteer for their foreign student buddy program.