Have degree, will travel: Degrees for working abroad

top degrees to work abroad

by Carolyn McGourty | October 10, 2011



Imagine yourself in Italy, working to develop a solar power plant that provides clean power to millions or in the midst of protests in Egypt, reporting about the Arab Spring. Maybe you picture yourself in a small classroom in Ghana, teaching students English or in a fast-paced investment bank in London, assessing how political events in Russia will impact investments.

From government to business to nonprofits, ample opportunities exist for jobs outside of the U.S. But what credentials are necessary to get you there?

A good place to start: Internships & studying abroad

In general, a bachelor's degree is necessary for a job abroad. Language skills for a particular country or region are vital, and can be acquired through courses or study abroad programs. Skills such as cultural awareness and strong writing capabilities are also very important for success.

Meghan Feeks--a New York native--went to work at the Berlin think tank European Migration Center after graduating with a degree in philosophy and politics from McGill University. Her internship then turned into a full-time job offer. Her degree, she said, was important in enabling this opportunity.

"I felt lucky to have a well rounded liberal arts background because it gave me the critical thinking skills and also the exposure to go into a very different foreign environment and understand what the rules were, how the system worked and to get a good grasp on those rules," said Feeks, who has since returned to the U.S. to pursue a career in strategic communications.

Tracy Himmel Isham, assistant director for career services at Middlebury College, suggests studying abroad is an important step for an international career, because it leads to language and cultural immersion skills. "One way to show cultural diversity is to actually immerse yourself," Isham explains. "Being able to do that, while you're in college, is a great opportunity." Many students from Middlebury, a liberal arts school in Vermont, have gone on to work international development, business, government and nonprofit work abroad.

Aside from internships, there are several degree paths that can lead to the opportunity to work outside the U.S.

Teaching English

Teaching degrees: bachelor's, certification

Teaching English is a great option for recent graduates, expats and those looking to work in a foreign country. With English language skills in demand the world over, the market for native speakers is great--especially in Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. Many companies ask their employees to develop language skills through adult classes, and public and private schools are always in need of English teachers.

The credentials for teaching English is usually a bachelor's degree and in some cases, TEFL certification (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). There are many programs that coordinate opportunities to teach abroad by securing the necessary VISAs and paperwork for you.

Nonprofit organizations

Nonprofit degrees: education, business, professional degrees

Many entry-level jobs with nonprofit organizations require a bachelor's degree, though some mid-career and senior positions will require a master's. Organizations such as Doctors Without Borders look for employees with advanced degrees in public health or medicine. Many skills that are needed to succeed in the private or public sectors are transferable to the nonprofit arena, including leadership, management, communication, analysis and technical skills.

Jenni Stoff traveled to Toronto to work for the Canadian Centre for Diversity after graduating with a degree in international relations from the Washington University in St. Louis in 2005. Eventually, she became a national program manager, traveling throughout the country to give workshops on diversity sensitivity and training.

Your degree and coursework should be tailored to the mission you want to pursue. Nonprofits work on a multitude of issues, including human rights, the environment, war and refugees, economic growth, and social entrepreneurship. The work includes research and analysis, public education, health aid, and political mobilization.

The U.S. government

Applicable degrees: public policy, international studies, finance

There are multiple opportunities to work overseas for the U.S. federal government. The Central Intelligence Agency and the Peace Corps are just some of the U.S. entities based in Washington, D.C. with multiple positions abroad. In addition, nearly every agency, including the Treasury Department and Department of Labor, has an international office.

A bachelor's degree and language skills are essential to land a job in this sector. Master's degrees can also lead to more options and growth in an agency, including a master's in public policy, international affairs or business. Degrees in economics and finance or degrees requiring quantitative skills are in demand for development and intelligence work, such as USAID, the treasury and the CIA. Depending on the responsibilities of the agency, tasks will include policy analysis and research, writing and communication, project management, analytical skills, and teamwork.

International banking and business

Finance degrees: business, finance, economics, law

With the growth of developing countries, an education in business development, management consulting or finance can lead to an overseas job. Whether working for a bank or a multinational corporation, the most valuable degrees in these fields will include coursework in finance, economics, accounting and strong quantitative training.

Career experts Nina Segal and Eric Kocher advise in their book "International Jobs" that an M.B.A. is the most useful to get into international business. While understanding economics is also important, the practical and technical business courses provided in an M.B.A. program are more relevant to the job. International law is also an important component to international banking and business, and a law degree from a program that focuses on international trade and law could lead to special expertise and job options in the field.

United nations and related organizations

Applicable degrees: public health, law, technology

The United Nations is an international organization dedicated to economic development, international law, peace and security, the environment, and human rights. The organization has multiple agencies that operate autonomously, including the World Bank, Food and Agricultural Organization, and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Depending on the agency, a master's or Ph.D. may be required, in addition to several years of experience. Training and experience in public health, international relations, business and economics, technology, agriculture, and language skills can also be an asset.

Media & journalism

Journalism degrees: journalism, English, international affairs

While a career as a foreign correspondent sounds certainly glamorous, it requires hard work and long hours. Strong writing and communication abilities, language skills and at least a bachelor's degree are needed to land a job. A master's in international affairs or journalism may also prove valuable. Opportunities to work as a translator, stringer or freelance reporter may be helpful in getting experience and clips published before landing a job for a larger news organization.

Don't leave home without it

Professionals working in a foreign country will need a work VISA, which requires sponsorship from an employer. Depending on the country, the process can be complicated and time consuming, and in addition, work VISAs will need to be renewed. If you're hired through an established program, such as an organization that coordinates English teachers, they may handle VISA materials for you. You will need to work closely with the country's embassy during your application process.

Additionally, while a degree is an important requirement to get an international job, networking, tapping into your university's alumni and participating in internships abroad are helpful in launching an overseas career.

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About the Author

C.R. McGourty is a journalist based in Washington DC.