When I decided to attend a four-year study abroad college, I didn’t do so with any specific career path in mind. I grew up in Columbus, Ohio and had never traveled farther than Washington, DC (a three-day trip in the eighth grade). I felt like I didn’t know anything about the “real world.” I watched the news and saw footage from war-ravaged Afghanistan and Iraq; I read my history textbooks and learned about the Holocaust in Europe and the poverty in Africa; I spoke with my neighbors, immigrants from Australia and Estonia and Somalia. The “real world” felt as real to me as Hogwarts or Panem. I recognized this ignorance in myself, but I didn’t seem to have any way to rectify it.
My senior year of high school, I’d settled on studying Modern Languages in college. I would probably attend the Ohio State University, located about twenty minutes away from my house, and graduate early. If you had asked me (or even if you ask me now) why I wanted to study languages, I really couldn’t give you an adequate response. I suppose that it was my way of making fictional characters real. After all, until you’ve met them, Italians and Germans and Argentinians are fictional. Seeing is believing, as they say. Languages would serve as my bridge to this fantastic outside world, to the abroad.
In the end, I didn’t attend the Ohio State University. I chose LIU Global, and in so doing, chose to live a four-year nomadic existence. During my freshman year in Costa Rica, I dedicated myself to a HIV/AIDS NGO. Again, I wasn’t thinking about a prospective career. I saw my classmates taking up so many noble causes—women’s rights, calls for environmental change, indigenous land protection, etc.—and I wanted to have my own. I chose AIDS awareness more out a desperate plea for meaning than any real, logical reason. It was a wonderful experience, and I continue my advocacy for the disease to this day, but I learned then that neither medicine, nor social activism is my life’s calling.
By the time I’d reached India, I knew that I needed a solid career plan, or at the very least a direction. I sat down one evening and made two lists of potential careers: one list that reflected careers for which I would be qualified upon graduating and another that reflected careers I would like to have. Two paths stood out most to me—journalism and international politics. On the one hand, I wanted to write about what is going on in the world from a firsthand perspective. On the other, I wanted to be able to participate, in some way, in actually shaping what is going on in the world. I tested the former in India by working as an intern at a local newspaper.
In China, most of my time was occupied with Mandarin classes and homework. In my spare time, I read about international relations, specifically those between the People’s Republic of China and the former Soviet Union. Intrigued by the idea of a possible career in international diplomacy, I applied on a whim for an internship with the U.S. State Department. And thus I came to live in Vilnius, Lithuania, as an intern in the Public Affairs Section at the U.S. Embassy.
I’m frequently asked the question, “Have you always known that you wanted to be a diplomat?” to which I reply, “I still don’t know if I want to be a diplomat.” Without realizing it, I’ve amassed a set of qualifications that seem ideal for a U.S. Foreign Service Officer—international travel, languages, NGO work, and experience working in foreign media. But skills on paper, I know, are not indicative of one’s aptitude for success.
Today, I’m supposed to talk about how study abroad has influenced my career ambitions. And I assure you, my study abroad experiences (including this internship in Lithuania) have absolutely influenced my career goals. Do I know, unequivocally that I want to become a U.S. Foreign Service Officer? No. First of all, I now know just how competitive the hiring process is. It’s a wonderful dream career, but certainly not one that I can obtain immediately with any degree of realism. Perhaps in a few years, with a few more life experiences, I’ll feel differently. But I undoubtedly want to work in the field of international affairs. Perhaps I’ll become a contributor at a think tank, or maybe a political analyst. I don’t yet feel comfortable proclaiming a definite career choice, but I am sure that my future profession, whatever it may be, will involve international relations work of some kind and hopefully some cultural work too. Time will tell. . .