Every so often, practitioners in most fields step back from their day-to-day work to conduct a macro-level assessment of how things are going, where things are, and even where their field might be headed in the months or years to come. International Education (IE) is no different, and on March 15, I had the honor of joining Martin (Marty) Tillman, Global Career Compass Founder, and Bryan McAllister-Grande, GlobalEd Founder, in a discussion about the State of the International Education Field for the launch of GlobalEd. Following is a recap of Bryan’s thought-provoking questions and my responses. I’ve taken the liberty of developing these responses further in the days since our discussion.

Bryan: So, what is the “state of the field”?  Can you give us a mini “state of the field address”?

Sora: I am very positive about the state of the field as even as some leaders in our world fight for national or global domination, we are one world of 200 nations and thousands of cultures, and the need for people to be able to live together will not go away. On a more practical level, I know that the field is fraught with challenge, including a lack of adequate financial resources for our programs and many participants, and a huge focus on risk management, legal issues, health and safety, and regulatory affairs. But the field is also layered with joy when learning and self-awareness happen on the parts of our participants (and ourselves!), and with opportunities for new and rising professionals to find their niche, do amazing work, and positively impact others.

Bryan: How has the field progressed since you first entered? What are our two to three main achievements of the last couple of decades, and where have we missed opportunities?

Sora: The field is now much more professionalized, with peer-reviewed research that informs our practice, multiple opportunities for training and professional development, and a larger global network for us to work within, give to, and learn from. In terms of missed opportunities, I actually frame things differently, as some opportunities just take longer for us to learn from than others and so, our learning and advancement may still be in process. An example is the current work of the field to increase diversity and access, especially for traditionally marginalized groups such as people of color and women who want to rise to senior leadership roles.

Bryan: If you had an international educator crystal ball, and you could peek at the year 2030, what does international education look like?

Sora: I actually am not big on prognostication as the only thing we know for sure is that crises will happen and change will be needed. We have learned that our field is always affected by the unknown. The 2001 terrorist attacks, the 2008 financial crisis, the impacts of the #MeTwo movement and George Floyd’s murder a few years ago, the pandemic — who knew that these events would happen? But one constant regarding professionals in our field is that we are always ready for change, for shift, so really, all I have to offer is that eventually, something will be different. I just don’t know what it will be.

So, if we accept this assumption, then for me, the next consideration is the acknowledgement that IE professionals need to have a variety of knowledge and skills ready to go. In its recent report A Brief History of Senior International Officers on U.S. Higher Education Campuses based on 200 interviews with Senior International Officers (SIOs), the Institute for International Education (IIE) noted that “Common to all we interviewed was a career trajectory that, no matter where it started, contained a willingness to say ‘yes’ to new ideas, approaches, and opportunities” (p. 19). While this report focused on senior leaders, I believe that the best time to start developing the capacity to say “yes” is at the start of one’s career, and of course, given the flux of our field, there are many opportunities to develop this skill from the start.

Shifting our focus from the internal to the external, in NAFSA’s March 2023 State of International Education: Diverse Views and Inclusive Voices Summit, LaNitra Berger, NAFSA President and Chair of the Board of Directors, and Associate Professor of Art History and Director of African and African American Studies at George Mason University, encouraged IE professionals to consider that there is a “need to consider the constantly shifting context” within which our work takes place. I concur: IE professionals and programs are not islands that can operate independently; all is connected and must be recognized as such.

In addition to flexibility and open-mindedness, other skills and areas of expertise that I think are key include strong theoretical groundings, advocacy, management, professional writing, knowledge of health/safety/security policies, and crisis management planning and implementation. Again, according to IIE,

. . . health, safety, and emergency preparedness will continue to be a priority among SIOs as international mobility resumes. The COVID-19 pandemic affected how U.S. universities and colleges function, especially regarding interaction and focus on international students and scholars, and study abroad. Health and safety, and global and domestic immigration policies stand out as priorities that remain an area of focus for SIOs. Emergency protocols, procedures, and data from the COVID-19 pandemic should be leveraged to support effective policies (p. 19).

The last quality that I believe is critical for IE professionals at all levels is self-confidence. Given that International Education is such a fluid field, it can be easy to question oneself as there often is not a map for a clear path forward. This is especially true for women, as my earlier research has shown that women especially continue to doubt themselves, often feeling elements of “imposter syndrome” as they rise to higher levels of responsibility. Of course, with good training, resources (including broad networks of friends and colleagues to check in with), and instincts, most people can be outstanding in their work.

Bryan: What practical tips do you have for newcomers trying to advance in the field?

Sora: Again, newcomers and job changers alike need to have confidence, even if the process of looking for that first or next position takes longer than first anticipated. Here are some concrete steps that one can take to prepare:

  1. Have someone review your resume and cover letter before sharing them. Be sure that they are perfect as even though there are lots of job openings at the current time, you never want to give a potential employer any reason to discard your application. Career changers should also consider using a thematically-focused resume instead of a chronologically-organized resume as presenting their professional story by themes such as management, teaching, advising, program administration, etc. may make it easier for prospective employers to see how skills and expertise from one field have prepared the individual to be successful in another.
  2. Network virtually and in person. In addition to IE-focused webinars, many communities have meet-up’s for young professionals, globally-minded professionals, college alumni, and so on. And of course, be sure to have your resume ready to share in case someone asks for a copy.
  3. Volunteer at conferences such as NAFSA, The Forum on Education Abroad, Diversity Abroad, TESOL, AACRAO, etc. to make them more affordable. For example, if you volunteer between 20 and 29 hours at NAFSA’s upcoming annual conference, you can get a 50 percent discount! Click HERE for details and the sliding scale, as registration fees vary depending on the number of hours volunteered.
  4. If you are able to attend NAFSA, sign up for a personal session at the Career Center. There is no additional fee for this great service and the more input you can receive on not just your cover letter or resume, but also regarding approaches to career development, the better. Also check out their fabulous list of career-related sessions.
  5. Participate in mentorship programs. Many professional associations offer short-term mentoring programs during their conferences (and yes, NAFSA is one) and some offer longer-term mentor programs as well. In addition, you can set one up for yourself by asking someone whose career you respect and follow if they might be able to mentor you for a determined period of time. (You can always ask about extending the relationship if things go well!)*
  6. Remember that International Education as a field of practice is MUCH broader than just higher education. For example, refugee resettlement programs, language schools, independent and public high schools, citizen diplomacy programs, and youth exchange programs all need well-trained, globally-minded staff. Professionals with international education backgrounds have the preparedness required for these fields and sub-fields, and many allow you to think (and travel) globally while contributing locally to your home community!*
  7. Never burn a bridge. It is also a small world and a small field. ☺

* Look out for more about effective mentorships and explorations of the broad field of IE in upcoming columns!

Looking forward, I will be attending this year’s NAFSA Annual Conference in Washington, DC. I have the honor of presenting a session on Thursday, June 1, titled “Women’s Leadership in International Education: New Paradigms for Future Practice” with Anne D’Angelo, Assistant Dean of Global Initiatives, Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota, and Anna Kelly, Youth Programs Leader, World Learning, and doctoral student in Global Education at SIT Graduate Institute. I hope you will consider joining us for discussion, reflection, and learning. My next column will share some of the content from our session as well.

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



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