Life after UW-Whitewater: What do IS majors do after graduation?
The International Studies program is in the process of doing a survey of IS graduates. The results will be reported when available. In the meantime, the Coordinator has compiled information through e-mail exchanges and websites such as LinkedIn. IS majors have secured positions in business, government (FBI, Peace Corps), international education, non-governmental organizations, international law, and policy-related organizations, foreign language teaching and ESL programs. They have also pursued graduate degrees in development, human rights, international law, and business. For individual stories about particular careers, see the career-related stories in the linked Global Journeys newsletter.
"A Person's Perspective Shapes Her Reality: Reflections on my UWW courses ten years into my career"
International and Area Studies is about more than learning a foreign language or political history and having a global adventure. International Studies is a more expansive experience. Students will test their thinking and problem-solving skills, cultural knowledge, and assumptions about the world. In 2001 I was a student at UW-Whitewater, with a plan to complete my studies in international business. I had the romantic notion of working in a Fortune 500 company while travelling the world. Two weeks into my first semester, tragedy hit. September 11, 2001 started off like any regular fall day but ended up altering the world for countless people. There was so much confusion. So many questions. Once many of the basic questions were answered, there was one looming unanswered one: WHY? Why were these people motivated to commit such a devastating act? There were many theories and a strong suspicion. While processing the events of that day I came to two realizations. The first was that personal motivation is influenced by a person's perspective. The second was that a person's perspective on the world shapes his reality. This led me to alter my course of study. Initially enrolled in the College of Business & Economics, I decided to shift gears and take courses in the College of Letters & Sciences and major in International Studies. I needed to know how a person's perspective shaped her reality. What perspective would someone from China bring to a business transaction with an American business partner? Why would certain areas of the world condemn and hinder education for females? How do religions shape a person's worldview? International Studies classes helped me seek answers to these questions. Some people assume that a degree in International Studies leads to specific careers -- in human rights, politics, global sales, or language translation. It will--and it does. But, I have learned that employers in a broad range of career fields find the transferrable skills learned during the course of an IS major invaluable. Critical thinking, analysis, writing, problem solving, cultural knowledge and foreign language are all skills necessary for success. Even though I did not pursue a career in an international field, I have found these skills essential for my positions in logistics, real estate, and account sales.
"What kinds of jobs can I get with an International Studies major?" This is a question I hear often, sometimes three or four times a day. The good news is that there are many types of jobs for which International Studies students are qualified. The bad news is that there are so many career paths from which to choose that the process can appear overwhelming. To give you a sense of the choices involved, I consulted the 2008 edition of Georgetown University Press's Careers in International Affairs. It has chapters covering careers with the US government, international organizations, businesses, business-related organizations, consulting firms, international development and relief organizations, nonprofits, and educational organizations. It also includes a chapter on graduate school options. Co-editor Maria Punto Carland assures us, "As a new international affairs professional, you are in demand!" What makes an international studies degree marketable?
International Studies students have demonstrated competence in 4-5 disciplines, including a foreign language, and have studied abroad.
Carland: "Agencies, corporations, nonprofit groups and international or- ganizations around the world now expect the new hire to have not only cross-cultural experience but also cross-disciplinary skills. ... Cross-cultural competence is the critical new human resource requirement created by the global environment."
International Studies students usually have good communication skills and are interested in becoming better communicators.
Carland: "The ability to communicate is the essence of international relations. It is the capacity to resolve communication difficulties among specialists that distinguishes the international policymaker."
International Studies students are risk takers: they are open to new ideas, new people, new environments.
Carland: "Studies reveal that employers place the highest value on skills not usually associated with specific training: generic cognitive skills and social skills. These include: poise, humor, imagination, compassion, intellectual curiosity, judgment, and openness to new ideas." The various emphases in the major include courses that suggest different career paths. A major who chooses a business emphasis is likely planning to go into business, whereas one who chooses a public diplomacy emphasis could be most interested in a public relations-type job. In fact, the individual who chooses a public diplomacy emphasis may pursue a career in business or diplomacy. Employers in many sectors place a premium on foreign language training, especially in the more difficult languages. An emphasis in foreign language and area studies, leading to fluency in Chinese, Arabic, or Spanish, could land an IS student a job in business- over a business undergraduate without language skills. It is important to understand that the choice of an emphasis does not close any doors. Few graduates follow a linear career path; the norm is to hold several types of jobs over a number of years, often in different sectors. My own career is illustrative. My first job after college was an administrative position in the UN Secretariat, on the staff of the Special Committee on Decolonization-a job I got because of my language skills. While at graduate school in International Affairs at Columbia University, I worked as a copy editor. After receiving my Masters, I worked in the following positions: trade analyst at the US Department of Commerce, US Foreign Service Officer (with assignments in Buenos Aires and at the State Department), development director at a non-profit literacy center in Milwaukee, and assistant director and outreach coordinator of a federally funded center on Russia, East Europe and Central Asia at UW-Madison, where I earned my Ph.D. I enjoy brainstorming with IS students about career options. Make an appointment with me at firstname.lastname@example.org