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5 Ways to Prepare Now for a Career Working for an International Nonprofit
April 6, 2007
Are you a public service-minded Cal student dreaming of a career that will allow you to make a global impact? Get started now.

Below are 5 easy steps that can help you prepare for a job with an international-oriented nonprofit or NGO (non-governmental organization) after graduation.

1. Evaluate your mission

The key to developing international contacts, finding relevant information, and targeting international organizations is to develop a clear and compelling sense of your own driving goals and interests. What do you care about and what international issues, specific regions, as well as types of international opportunities arouse your passion.

What is the professional goal or mission you hope to fulfill through your work in the international NGO sector? Virtually all NGO's have mission statements available on their websites that describe what they stand by and work for. How does that compare to your mission? Once you have a grounded and thorough understanding of your own source(s) of motivation, it is much easier to locate organizations that share your dedication to a given cause.

Understanding yourself and your mission will help you focus your international job search, communicate your interests, and highlight your skills as you move closer to your goal. The following are a few questions that can help you understand and articulate your own mission or purpose.

  1. What is the reason I want to go abroad?
  2. What issues concern me the most (locally and/or internationally)?
  3. Where do I want to go?
  4. What types of projects have I gotten involved in previously? How did I feel about these projects?

2. Prepare globally by acting locally

There are hundreds of nonprofit organizations in the Bay Area that work with international communities and/or on international issues. Start developing skills now by targeting these organizations for internships or volunteer work. Gaining experience will help you develop transferable skills of value to other nonprofit organization, gain knowledge of the nonprofit sector, increase your knowledge of global issues, and help you build your network within the NGO world.

To find organizations that are in alignment with your interests, be sure to search - Action without Borders and check out the Institute of International Education's (IIE) links to International Organizations in the Bay Area.

3. Study abroad

Most people who end up working abroad have traveled, studied, or lived in the region before. While studying abroad you'll have the opportunity to prove you can thrive in a cross-cultural environment. International education can also jump start your international career by providing you opportunities to dive into the local culture such as developing an international network (e.g., international friends, professors, and local business contacts), learning the language, developing a better understanding of cultural norms, etc.

4. Learn the language

Foreign language fluency conveys cultural respect and knowledge, opens doors to new personal and professional opportunities, and gives you a new understanding of yourself.

Developing confidence in a foreign language facilitates the building of bridges that can better connect you to the region where you're interested in working. It allows you to hear and understand the world from the perspective of the local people and gain their respect. Foreign language training also fosters the development of a more complex and nuanced world view that you might not otherwise have tapped into. Developing aptitude and confidence in a foreign language now will help prepare you for your future career and experience as an international citizen.

5. Network locally with an international focus

Networking is the premier way to gain employment and learn about employment opportunities.

Developing connections with professionals who have current or former experience working with NGO's can yield regional, organizational, and position-specific information that you can apply to your international job search. For example, what are effective strategies for obtaining employment at a micro-finance NGO in Kenya versus a similar organization in Thailand?

You may be wondering, "How can I network and build connections at distances of thousands of miles?" Fear not, for you live in the Bay Area. There are an abundance of opportunities for you to get involved without stepping foot on an airplane. Join listserves through organizations such as Idealist, the campus International or I-House, Bay Area International Development Organizations (BAIDO), International Development Exchange (IDEX), and Global Exchange to receive event updates in your international area of interest.

Local events can connect you with internationally-minded professionals, inside information, as well as opportunities and contacts abroad. Take advantage of the rich international community that surrounds you. Remember - IT'S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL.

For more advice on preparing for an international career, check out The Global Citizen by Elizabeth Kruempelmann available in the Career Center Information Lab (located at 2111 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA).

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This page last updated 4/4/2007 (ag/sb)