What do you currently do?
I am the Director of Community Development at Youth For Understanding USA. Youth For Understanding is one of the world’s oldest, largest, and most respected intercultural exchange programs. We facilitate study abroad programs for youth, and one of our largest programs has been our inbound high school exchange program. I manage the team that seeks host families for our students.
We have international partners from over 60 different countries, and we also work with several Department of State scholarship programs, so we receive students from all over the world! At YFU I have also worked in our Volunteer Programs department, and for a few years I was also recruiting host families myself!
How do you see the connection between the time you spent as a IR major and what you’ve been able to do since?
The connection is unquestionable! After I left Ursinus I spent 3 years working for another organization called The Close Up Foundation, which facilitated civic education programs for youth visiting Washington, DC. My experiences as an IR major definitely got me hired there. Through that experience I had the opportunity to work on civic education programs for a few of the State Department scholarship programs, which led me to getting my Masters in International Education, which led me to working at Youth For Understanding.
Even in my work today, the things I learned at Ursinus about international relations helps guide my decision making. I often reflect back on my classes and think about discussions we had on the intersection of culture, politics, and education. The things I learned at Ursinus helps me see “the bigger picture” at work, which has been helped me navigate professional life.
Also, in retrospect, I really appreciate the opportunities that I had to do projects and presentations that allowed me to speak in front of groups. That is something my friends who went to other colleges didn’t seem to have much of, and that has been helpful in my work.
What advice do you have for students currently majoring in, or considering to major in IR?
My advice is to keep an open mind about jobs when you graduate. When I left Ursinus I had a very specific idea of what I wanted to do with my IR major. I wanted to work for the State Department, and I failed the Foreign Service exam. Because of that, I ended up at Close up, which led me down a different path.
It is so important to remember that when you graduate there are so many different options for you, so don’t be too disappointed if what you want to do doesn’t work out. Try new things, even if it isn’t what you thought you wanted.
For those who are considering IR as a major, I absolutely recommend it. The good thing about the IR major is that it is flexible. A background in IR really helps make you marketable in a variety of different fields. You can work in politics, non-profits, education, or business. It’s very versatile and you can apply the principles you learn to just about anything.