Is it time to Break Up with Your Study Abroad Job?

I closed my office door, in tears. One of my international students was denied a visa to return to the US.  The ruling wasn’t going to change, despite our heroic efforts and attempts to lobby for her at the national level. In more than twenty years in international education, this was a first. I hurt for her; it was unfair and impossible to believe.

I coordinated with her via email to go to her room that she rented to pack her belongings. I had the boxes ready for shipping her goods abroad (at her expense) and tidied up her car, as it was also being shipped abroad (all which she coordinated)  I drove to her home on a sweltering summer day, introduced myself to her landlord, shopped for shipping boxes, boxed up everything in her life in the US over an eight hour period in a room with no air conditioning in 90 degree weather. Two hours round trip and then checked emails once back home to ensure that everything else in my one person office was not on fire. Another strange 11 hour day “at the office” in a career in international education.

My boss called to tell me that I had to mark the day as a personal day on my time sheet because it wasn’t required work.  I sat there with my jaw on the floor, sick to my stomach that my boss didn’t understand that a non-immigrant on our watch was stuck at home while her life was 1/2 way around the world – and she couldn’t return at all, let alone to pack her boxes. She has no family here and no one else to call to ensure her life’s possessions would be returned to her.  I was disgusted and then numb.

This is at true story. It was a period of time in a field that I loved when I seriously thought about quitting or changing jobs.

If you’re quietly acknowledging that you have thought about tossing in your career across cultures – perhaps more than once –  you are not alone. As a career coach, I can assure you that you’re in VERY good company.

As early as my mid 20s,  I thought about breaking up with the field of international education. And then I actually DID break up with a career I loved – not once, but more three times.

What triggered me to do so? There are SO many reasons:

–          I’m human and curious – what could other career paths could offer? What was I missing?

–          The people around me didn’t quite understand the value and complexity of the work and often relegated it to metrics (“Where do we rank?”, “Are we making money” etc.) The incident described above also serves as an example of people around me not “getting it.”

–          I was often a one-person office and that meant always being on call.

–          My expertise was often considered less important than campus politics.

–          I was underpaid most of my career in international education.

–          There were long hours, days that I felt like I was part of a paper pushing network, and the work started to feel transactional.  (Think of chasing down study abroad release forms.)

My gut and my heart told me it was time for me to break up with study abroad.

Please understand that despite breaking up with this field – I seriously do love it. I coach people HOW to get into this field. I deeply believe in the work of this field.  Yet, I broke up with this field – and that is STILL ok.

If imagining breaking up with your beloved international education job still makes you feel sick to your stomach, this is what you need to hear: (Read it as many times as you need to.)

1)      You are human. You are allowed to be curious about a change in careers.

2)      Your students WILL survive without you, despite any guilt you feel at imagining a new career path that doesn’t include them.

I broke up with study abroad and international student advising to explore another area of interest – Human Resources. Understanding how to move people around the world for their work and have them feel “whole” in different global employment scenarios had me snooping at a job posting that I wasn’t intentionally seeking, but that serendipitously caught my view.  This moment led to my first career pivot – a robust and joyful new career as a Human Resource Consultant to a Fortune 500 global relocation company! My clients were non-US based (for the most part), travel was often and at times in business class (oh la la!), and my brain was absorbing new information at a pace that was exhilarating.

With that said, I did feel like I was cheating on my first love – serving international students and sending US students outbound to gain a non-US centric view.  There were days I missed “my” students, programs I had set up with such care, cultural programming, and the international students who inspired me. But this new career was hard to pass on. It took me to new cities around the world, introduced me to complex global teams, enhanced my problem solving skills, and I was learning on the fly.

Did I mention my compensation in year two of this job nearly doubled what my higher ed salary was at my last college? I had school loans. It was hard to be mad at that kind of pay.

One of the global HR teams I worked on during my career pivot to work at a Fortune 500 company. I’m in the black suit with the red collar, circa 2000.

That is the tale of my very first career pivot. (And one of the reasons I’ve been hosting some free conversations on how to pivot. Click here if you’d like to get the scoop on the next free session.) I had no idea that by sending in one job application to a large company that was formed through a merger – and conveniently located their headquarters 20 minutes from my front door, I would parlay a new career path that brought tremendous joy. I learned more than I ever thought possible. I felt like I was living a mini MBA program in the real world and they were paying ME to do it.

I loved working for a global Fortune 500 company…until I didn’t. The company was growing, the politics were exponentially expanding too. The organizational culture was changing and I knew it was time to pivot again.

September 11th took place while I was jet setting around the world. My heart told me that I needed to return to international education, as I believed it was where I could make the most difference. Sure, I’d miss the client dinners in four-star restaurants, business class travel, and late nights brainstorming with new friends amongst global teams. But the world was hurting and I had to be with students who wanted to learn about the world, not serve global executives.

I returned to international education. I continued to do so several times over my 20+ year career in the field.  International education as a career was akin to my first love – the human you reminisce about, romanticize, adore. And then you realize that there are other wonderful experiences in life to have that call you – and that you cannot ignore the plea any longer. AND THAT IS OK AND NORMAL. WHEN YOU ARE TRULY LISTENING TO YOUR INNER VOICE, YOU ACT UPON IT BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT A ONE DIMENSIONAL HUMAN. YOU ARE MADE OF MANY COMPLEX LAYERS AND INTERESTS.

I’ve worked in many other fields during my career pivots including contract work for a start up in NYC where I’d photograph fashion merchandise on music video sets, teaching English as a Second Language, consulting on training programs for a communications company, and even handling customer service for a small WordPress shop. Each of these jobs taught me new skills, clarified for me what I enjoyed doing at work at that phase in my life as well as what I could live without (e.g. being paid to hang around on a music video set all day, as glamorous at it sounds, can be rather boring!). With each pivot, I became more curious about where I could fit and what was out there to learn and explore.

Ultimately, my career likes culminated into my current role – Founder of Melibee Global. Here, I use my strengths in training, coaching, cultural competency, networking, customer service, problem solving, curiosity (yes – that is a strength!), agility, and creativity in my own shop.

Will it be the last time I career pivot? I hope not. Changing careers has been one of the most rewarding (financially and otherwise) parts of my journey. It has given me confidence and opened me up to networks of people (and experiences) I would never have known. Study abroad and international education will always be my first love, but they won’t be my last.

So, I’ll revisit my initial question:  Is it time to break up with your international education or study abroad job?

Have you thought about it?

Did something motivate you to ponder this question?

Perhaps you lost your job because of the pandemic and you had no choice – the pandemic broke it up for you?

Take a deep breath and read this gorgeous quote by Amelia Earhart:

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.”

Yes, that is how I feel about The Career Pivot.  The biggest barrier for most people is simply the fear of acting upon it.

I’ve been offering free zoom sessions with tips on The Career Pivot these past few weeks and based on the number of people showing up fully, there is a deep need out there to explore a new path.  Our conversations in these free sessions have been forward thinking in a time that has been cemented by our covid stagnancy.

If you are or have ever been curious about the idea of changing careers, exploring sides of your multi-dimensional self, and/or simply want to snoop around and see what I’ve been up to these days -please do join our conversations.  I challenge you to bust into 2021 with a commitment to shift your perspective on who you are meant to be in this world in terms of work. Sign up here to receive information about for our next LIVE Career Pivot sessions with tips such as how to even begin looking for a new career path, how a resume reframing can help you pursue one, and hear stories from others who have successfully pivoted their careers.

Pivoting my career several times ultimately gave me a better sense of self – and what better gift can there be for a new year ahead (especially after THIS year, lol)!