Back in 2007, I was desperate to escape my cubicle job in Chicago. I wanted to set off on another global adventure; but I knew I had to do the responsible thing and put my college degree to use. Not ready to set aside my dream of being abroad again, I quickly decided to enroll in a grad school program in Europe–my ticket to two more years in Europe.
Once in Europe, I knew I couldn’t end my two years abroad with just a master’s degree. I knew I needed an amazing resume in order to justify my time abroad (I had already studied abroad twice during college, so another global experience wouldn’t necessary add that that much more to my already international resume). I realized that these two years would make or break my career…and I was determined to prove to the world that I could follow my heart without screwing up my career prospects…that’s what I was hoping anyway. I really had no clue if it was possible.
2007 | Copenhagen Denmark
I began my master’s program in Copenhagen, Denmark in August 2007. After getting settled in, I immediately started looking for ways to beef up my resume. I did this by creating (work) opportunities for myself, networking, developing specialized knowledge and being open to new experiences.
During the first year of my program, I had several meetings with our director to discuss my career aspirations; specifically my interest in entering higher education administration upon graduation. We had a lot of great conversations which led to a few introductions/informational interviews and recommendations for professional development resources. It was nice to start growing my professional network in Denmark…once which I still connect with (especially now that I live just across the bridge in Sweden!).
2008 | Bilbao, Spain
During my 3rd semester in grad school, I actually went abroad to Spain. Again, I set up a meeting with the program coordinator to express my interest in higher education administration as well as to mention my Spanish language skills (I was the only person in my cohort who had this skill). I checked in with him once or twice over the course of the semester and both times, after being back on his radar, I was offered different professional opportunities.
The first was to serve as a project assistant in designing the University’s official International Student Handbook (an unpaid, volunteer position). The other project was the result of my interest and knowledge related to quality management. The second opportunity was a direct result of my expressed interest in the quality management of higher education and my Spanish skills. My coordinator referred me to The UNESCO Chair for Human Resources Training in Latin America, who offered me 4,000 Euros to write a paper for the European Commission on quality assurance in Europe and Latin America. Not only was this going to look AMAZING on my resume, but I was getting paid to write in English on a subject I was still learning about. It sounds made up, but it really was through networking and nurturing relationships that I was able to secure such an opportunity.
2009 | Copenhagen, Denmark
My 4th semester was spent writing my thesis in Denmark, which took a bit longer than a semester. The reason…I returned with the objective of getting even more experience in higher education, so I offered to volunteer with whatever tasks my program’s director needed help with. After being floored by my offer, he made a counter offer…which was to create a student job for me so that he could pay me.
Looking back, I can directly attribute my success to networking, the development of specialized knowledge and continuously striving to add value to those around me. At the time, there was no roadmap to help me do this. I figured it out on my own through trial and (lots of) error.
The examples above are my success stories. The other side of the coin shows a different story. One where I sent out over 50 resumes and never heard back. One where I joined a number of professional development organization but never managed to really connect with people because I was socially awkward and didn’t know what to say to people during networking events.
If you’re planning to go to grad school–at home or abroad–I recommend the following:
- Choose your niche as quickly as possible and start getting experience in that area. It doesn’t matter if it’s paid or unpaid, just get experience doing the work in your area. If you’re not sure what area you want to specialize in, schedule as many informational interviews as possible during your first semester.
- Be selective with your time. Being in school is so great because the world is literally your oyster. I think that’s a small part why I love working in higher education — the endless learning opportunities, events, projects, etc. It’s all so fun. But remember that grad school is the time to develop specialized knowledge, develop skills, grow your network and gain relevant experience. All these things will help you get a job after graduation. So before you accept any offer to join a club, volunteer, socialize or take a course, think about how it relates to your niche and if it will help elevate you to the next level. After grad school, you want your professional profile to clearly reflect your niche (here’s mine).
- Finally, be open. Get out there and meet people. Had I not put myself out there, I would have never secured the types of opportunities I did. By telling people who you are, your niche/interests and what you can offer, you open up to possibilities you didn’t know even existed.
Interested in attending grad school in Europe? Then you need my book “Grad School in Europe: Choosing, Applying to & Financing a Master’s Degree in Europe”. Download this free resource here.