Understand and Manage Your Post-Graduation Expectations: Tips for International Students

With three fairs in one week, last week was truly a week of career fairs at Career Services. At the engineering career fair (Engineering Career Day), I was a little surprised but happy to see lots of first year international students – most of them master’s students. For many of them, that was only their second week at Penn and in the US. Many of them were not even in the system yet so we had to type in their name manually into our system to print out a name tag for them. As a career counselor, I was really glad to see that these new students were already on a job search mood before their journey at Penn fully unfolded. As a previous international student, I couldn’t help but thinking about what would happen to these students a year or two from now. Would they want to stay in the US? Would they get to stay? What would that mean to their professional and personal life?
I understand that many of you may not have yet pondered what this American education can mean for you. While undergraduate international students may have the luxury to focus on just being a student in the first two years of their Penn career, most master’s programs are only a year or two, so as an international master’s student, you do have to be conscious of your post-graduate plans throughout your journey at Penn. Here are some of my personal thoughts as a previous international student more so as a career counselor:

• Understand your post-graduation expectation. Ask yourself: do you want to work in the US or to go back to work in your home country? No matter what you may want for yourself, this is a huge decision that will not only affect your career but also your personal life. While working and living in the US can be very exciting and it may bring many benefits that working in your home country may not offer, it can also be very challenging. Working in the US means you are most likely going to be far away from your family, friends, and familiar culture and activities. Whether or not you are the only child in the family, eventually you may have to worry about the ability to care for your parents when they get old because you may be just too far away to do that. If you decide to have a family in the US, your children may not have that much opportunity to bond with your family back in your home country and neither will you have that much family support when you need it. So it’s not just a decision on your career, it’s a decision on many aspects of your life.

• Be aware of your options. You may or may not want to work and stay in the US. While it can be a lot easier to get visa sponsorships and ultimately green cards with majors in certain fields such as STEM, it can be rather difficult for humanities majors, because H1 visas and green cards are often tied to specific educational background. So if you do hope to work in the US after graduation, you want to make sure you learn as much and as early as possible about all visa related questions. You want to seek out advice from ISSS advisors and take advantage of all available resources inside and outside of Penn to best prepare yourself for a potential career in the US. Sometimes you may even need to transfer to another program or consider a dual degree to be able to eligible for visa sponsorship. A few of my colleagues have written blogs on ways to identify US employers hiring international students as well as various resources for international students’ job search. You can find all of them by just searching “international student” under our blog category at the top right corner. Some of you may want to return to your home country. Naturally, you would want to take advantage of Penn alumni as well as your personal and professional connections in your home country to find a dream job. However there may be opportunities to work for some American companies’ offices in your home country. Some US companies may even recruit graduates to work for their rotation programs where students may spend the first year or two in US locations and then complete their program in other countries.