Sora Friedman

Sora Friedman GlobalEd Columnist About Dr. Sora Friedman has worked in the field of international education (IE) for more than 35 years, focusing on the preparation of new professionals in the field, IE management training, exchange program management, public diplomacy, and international policy advocacy. She joined the SIT Graduate Institute faculty in 2005, having served…

In my work as a professor and as a volunteer with various professional associations, I am often asked about the best ways to jump-start a career in international education. While there are as many paths as individuals working in the field, here are a few suggestions that have proven effective to my students and mentees over the years. You can find more information and sample worksheets in Chapter 3 of Careers in International Education: A Guide for New Professionals, co-authored with Dr. Amir Reza. (Notes: NAFSA authors do not receive royalties based on sales. The information below has been slightly revised to include current realities in the field.)

  1. Consider the Past: Know yourself and what you bring to the table.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the field of International Education experienced significant layoffs. Now three years beyond the onset of the pandemic, the field is in a period of rebuilding and as such, there are many openings that reflect both diverse opportunities and needs. So, how do you know where to start? What is the best opening for you to consider? What do you have to offer that others don’t? How can you differentiate yourself from other applicants?

The starting point for anyone seeking to enter the field should be with a period of self-reflection in order to develop a true sense of self-understanding. The following are three exercises to facilitate that process. I suggest that you complete them in writing as doing so will help you gain deeper clarity that will in turn help you later on your professional journey.

The first exercise is to create an autobiography to help you be able to clearly articulate your background and abilities, and how both affect and relate to your future professional work. Below is a list of categories for your reflection. Start by considering your experiences, your connections, your identities related to each category. Then, consider how significant each category is for you. This will help you to prioritize the order in which you present them. Here is a list of the categories:

  • nationality
  • place where you grew up
  • type of community in which you grew up (e.g., rural, urban, suburban, etc.)
  • parents’ ethnic background
  • parents’ education
  • family composition and birth order
  • socioeconomic status
  • gender identification and sexual orientation
  • race
  • religion
  • secondary education (e.g., public, private, boarding, inner city, large suburban, etc.)
  • higher education (e.g., first generation. community college, self-funded, study abroad experience, etc.)
  • intercultural experience
  • languages spoken
  • physical abilities and disabilities
  • learning preferences and disabilities
  • political position
  • relationship status
  • other

The second exercise in Step 1 is to review the following questions and when you feel ready, write out your answers. The questions are designed to help you bridge the personal and professional aspects of your identities. Use your responses from the first exercise as starting points and expand on them as feels right to you here. Also, since no one else will see this, try pushing yourself deeper and further in your reflections:

  • What have been your personal and academic paths to date? What were the formative experiences or decisions that led you to this point?
  • Who are two or three primary influencers, mentors, or leaders who have helped you to become the person you are at this point? These may be individuals from your personal life, former professors, community and social leaders, authors, or other famous people you have found inspiring in some way.
  • What has been your professional path to date?
  • Why are you interested in the field of international education? What are your motivations for pursuing a career in international education?
  • What related experiences have you had so far? These can include professional work experiences, volunteer roles, leadership roles, faith-based experiences, etc.
  • What are the knowledge areas and skill sets that you have at this point in your career? Be sure to include all skills, i.e. budgeting, proposal writing, time management, organizational, human resource management, or language fluency, self-confidence, conflict resolution, etc.

Lastly, consider your goals. Once again, set aside time to consider and write out your responses to the following questions:

  • What do you hope to be doing in your next international education job?
  • What do you hope to be doing five years from now?
  • What opportunities and challenges do you foresee affecting your ability to meet your goals and accomplish your plan?
  • What other factors might help or hinder your future work?

2.Know the Present: Get a clear understanding of the field today, including the various stakeholders, programs, challenges, and successes.

One positive outcome from the pandemic is the rise of free and low-cost seminars that explore various issues, realities, challenges, and success stories in our field. While face-to-face attendance at conferences and meetings is again possible and offers excellent opportunities for networking, it is still possible to learn more about the field without incurring significant financial expenses. For example, you are invited to join me in a discussion about this topic on Wednesday, March 15, 12-1 pm EST, with Bryan McAllister-Grande, founder of GlobalEd, and Marty Tillman, Consultant, GlobalEd Career Accelerator Program; President, Global Career Compass; and Affiliate, Gateway International Group.

Other spaces in which notice of such seminars are shared include:

Another strategy for learning about the field is to set up informational interviews with people who hold positions of interest to you with organizations of interest to you. Request emails should start by noting a personal connection if possible (i.e., a suggestion from a shared acquaintance, having graduated from the same undergraduate institution, having lived in the same lesser-known location, or having attended a session in which they were presenting) and should include a brief introduction to yourself (see Step 1!) as well as a request for 30 minutes of the person’s time. Often such meetings will run longer but asking for more time invites the risk of the individual claiming a lack of availability. If the individual lives in your community, ask if they prefer to meet in their office or a nearby coffee shop (and offer to treat them). Virtual meetings are also commonplace now as well, of course. As with any interview, arrive a few minutes early prepared with a few questions and after the meeting, send a personalized thank-you note either by email or written by hand. One note: I suggest that you do NOT come on strongly (or at all) about a job search. The individual will understand why you are networking but if you prioritize your search over your sincere desire to learn more about the field, you again run the risk of their claiming a lack of time.

The third strategy for learning about the field is to review as current job postings to see how what you have to offer compares with what is being sought by potential employers. By identifying the variables for a large pool of openings (starting with 10 or so, to ensure a diverse pool), you can gain deep insights into current priorities, bracket any assumptions you may be holding about your next job, and begin to clarify your vision of what might constitute a good match. Variables to consider include title, responsibilities, travel expectations, required and preferred qualifications, supervisory lines, institutional context, salary range, benefits, professional development opportunities, organizational culture, and criteria for evaluation of applicants.

Another suggestion for learning about the field is to volunteer at professional conferences. Doing so may help to reduce the cost of attendance and provides multiple opportunities for networking as well as the chance to learn about the latest programs, practices, policies, and conversations in the field.

3. Plan for the Future: Create a SMART plan of action

Using the qualities reflected in the acronym SMART, identify three to five action steps that you can take within a realistic period of time that works for you.

 Not-so-good examples:Good examples:
S = specificI’ll start to think about getting a new job.I will update my resume and cover letter templates.
M = measurableI will send out some resumes.I will apply for 3 jobs each weekend.
A = achievableI will get a new job.I will start my job search by the end of the spring semester.
R = realisticI will be the SIEO of my institution.I will be clear about the kind of job I aspire to and am qualified for by May.
T = timelyI will have a new job.I will find a new job by the summer of 2023.

4. Get started!

We are most successful at achieving our goals when we lay them out clearly, when we identify an actionable and reasonable first step, and when we block out time for ourselves to take action. With this mind–

  • Which exercise above speaks to you most? Considering this can be a good place to start, especially if you are feeling overwhelmed at this point.
  • When do you have time or can you find time to start the process? This past year, I have been blocking out a few hours most Saturday mornings for self-reflection and personal growth activities. It is my “me” time and has resulted in the development of new skills, awareness, and networks. Another approach might be to take a day of personal time from work to complete all of the steps at once.

Whichever approach you take, think about this as self-care because planning for your professional future IS self-care! Treat yourself to a new journal for notetaking and saving emails or resources that you want to keep for future reference. Find a coffee shop, bookstore/library, or space on your campus where you can work uninterrupted for a period of time. And be sure to take time for reflection along the way.

I look forward to talking more about this as well as the state of the field of International Education on Wednesday, March 15, 12-1 pm EST, with Bryan McAllister-Grande, founder of GlobalEd, and Marty Tillman, Consultant, GlobalEd Career Accelerator Program; President, Global Career Compass; and Affiliate, Gateway International Group. Please join us!

And as always, please feel free to contact me with your ideas, questions, or thoughts at and together we’ll continue our practice,


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