Academic Training for an International Career
Students graduating from college with international and area studies expertise can seek employment with an array of governmental agencies such as the Foreign Service, the U. S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Peace Corps, and U.S. intelligence agencies, to mention a few. In addition to governmental opportunities, graduates may want to pursue a career overseas working for a non-governmental organization such as CARE International or the Red Cross. Others may wish to pursue a career in higher education after completing their graduate studies and become faculty members at a college or university. Finally, a myriad of private sector, not-for profit and for-profit opportunities exist for graduates with international and area studies training. These are a few career options that await after the academic training.
This article offers suggestions about what students should look for when choosing a graduate school program that will prepare them for an exciting international-oriented career. The article also highlights the questions students should be concerned about as they prepare for obtaining the international and area expertise that they will need to be successful in the job market. One place to begin is the U.S. Department of Education (ED) Web site that provides a comprehensive annotated list of the currently funded Title VI National Resource Centers and Foreign Language and Area Studies Programs (http://www.ed.gov/programs/iegpsnrc/awards.html). These centers and programs provide a useful starting point for learning about institutions in the United States that offer the training and expertise that students will need to embark on an internationally-oriented career.
The desirable components of a high-quality institution and program includes but are not limited to: (1) a rich and broad offering of area studies courses in the geographic or thematic areas of interest; (2) diverse foreign language offerings (particularly in the less commonly taught languages); (3) outstanding faculty mentoring and advising; (4) opportunities for pre-dissertation research; and, (5) strong support for the preparation of research proposals for dissertation research. These are five key components that lead to successful graduate training and preparation for a career in international and area studies.
Students who wish to specialize in particular world areas can find depth and breadth in the academic courses offered at institutions with National Resource Centers funded by ED. At the University of California, Los Angeles, for example, students interested in Latin America can choose from over 100 graduate-level courses with 100% Latin American content in 17 social science and liberal arts disciplines. The curriculum is particularly strong in anthropology, ethnomusicology, history, Spanish and Brazilian literature, and sociology. Latin American course offerings are also abundant in UCLA’s professional schools with particular strengths in public health, education, urban planning, and management. The geographic coverage of the courses is broad and includes all regions of Latin America. Students can visit the Web sites of the federally-funded Title VI National Resource Centers to learn more about the breadth and depth of course offerings in their geographic or thematic area of interest.
For students with international career aspirations, learning a foreign language is often an integral part of their academic training. While commonly taught languages such as Spanish, German, and French are taught at most colleges and universities, there is an increasing demand for graduates with expertise in the less commonly taught languages (LCTLs) from all world regions. The federally-funded Title VI National Resource Centers are where many of the world’s less commonly taught languages can be studied. For example, The Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center at Indiana University sponsors regular instruction in Estonian, Hungarian, Kazakh, Mongolian, Persian/Tajik, Tibetan, and Uzbek. Other languages that are offered periodically include Buriat, Chaghatay, Chuvash, Evenki, Kyrgyz, Manchu, Mari, Mordvin, Old Tibetan, and Turkmen.
In addition to the fore mentioned languages that are sponsored by the Center, students at Indiana University can also study other relevant languages including: Russian and other Slavic languages, Romanian, Greek, Georgian, Arabic, Sanskrit, Pashto and related Iranian languages, and Chinese. Students may contact a specific National Resource Center with questions about language offerings. Students are also encouraged to ask the institution about the availability of Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships. The fellowships, made with funding from ED, provide support to students for full-time graduate language and area studies training.
Opportunities for overseas pre-dissertation research and support for the preparation of proposals for dissertation research are components of strong, competitive graduate programs. Since 1991 Michigan State University (MSU) graduate students have enrolled in a multidisciplinary seminar titled, “International Social Science Research in Africa, Asia, and Latin America: Concept, Design, and Praxis.” The seminar is for graduate students in the social sciences and related fields who are planning to conduct graduate level field research in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, Eurasia, or the Middle East. The seminar also targets students who desire to use social science methodology to address international human issues that arise in research in applied/professional fields such as agriculture, natural resource management, education and health.
The seminar focuses on three phases including planning/concept development, obtaining funding for, and conducting international field research. The planning/concept development phase involves identifying a research topic; searching the literature for theoretical and methodological frameworks and previous research in the field; and developing a concept paper. In the design phase, the initial ideas articulated in the concept paper are expanded into component sections that can be tailored into individual research proposals for submission to national funding sources such as ED’s Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Awards (DDRA), Social Science Research Council, National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of State’s Fulbright awards. The praxis stage is the third and final phase that involves preparing for and conducting research in the field.
In addition to being instructed on the thematic aspects of proposal preparation, students need attentive mentoring in the technical aspects of preparing proposals for submission. To accomplish this, faculty mentors and fellowship advisors need to be particularly focused on encouraging students and assisting them on how to carefully follow the rules and guidelines of the various funding sources. Faculty mentors and fellowship advisors must be active participants in the vetting process of student proposals as students plan proposals for various grantors. Key questions they should raise include: Does the proposal meet technical guidelines of the funding source (page length, margin width, line spacing)? Are the form, language, and expression of the proposal appropriate and clear? Has the proposal been organized to directly address the criteria outlined in the proposal guidelines? Has a faculty mentor scrutinized the budget? Has the student received permission to conduct the research in the country of study? And, finally, has the project received clearance from the internal review board at the student’s institution?
Graduates with competence in foreign language and area studies face exciting prospects for employment given the increased demand for such skills in the global workforce. Institutions with federally-funded Title VI National Resource Centers and Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship programs are able to offer students the unique training and skills they need in area studies coursework, foreign language training, and the appropriate faculty advising for securing pre-dissertation and dissertation funding.