I just returned from an amazing two week Fulbright program for higher education administrators in Germany. The purpose of the program is to foster international exchange and educate Americans about the German education system. In addition to the amazing historical sites of Berlin, and eating more bread and meat than I ever had in my life, I also had the opportunity to visit seven universities, including one in Poland and another in France, and learn a tremendous amount about Germany higher education. Being exposed to the differences in our systems and cultures also helped me see aspects of our own American system in a new light. Of course, being abroad during the government shut down also was a good exercise in trying to explain how our government works (or doesn’t) to many different Europeans.
From my own perspective as a career advisor, several things from these encounters struck me that will benefit students entering the work force today. The first is that having a global perspective and being aware of issues of importance in other cultures and countries will be very important to being successful in any career. Most Europeans I encountered on this trip spoke at least two languages fluently so being bilingual will be a big advantage on the global market place. To these ends, I strongly encourage all students to consider studying or interning abroad. These intercultural exchanges will be invaluable to your future career development, not to mention your personal growth.
The last and most unexpected “gift” of this experience was how much I also benefitted and grew from being around my fellow participants in the program, who were all in different kinds of roles and from different types of institutions all over the country. It’s a good reminder that diversity of experience and perspectives will enrich any conversation or working environment. So, as you volunteer, take part in student clubs, intern, or in your future jobs, get to know those around you in the work place. You never know what they may be able to teach you about the world!