I’m writing this from the annual Fulbright Association (FA) conference in Washington, DC held October 24-27, 2019. FA meets annually, usually alternating between Washington and an overseas location. Next year’s conference is in Taipei, Taiwan.
I find attendees at the conference tend to fall into two groups: older, mostly retired college educators and professionals, who enjoy getting together and supporting their passion for the program. The second group tends to be newly minted Fulbright alumni, often recently returning from their experiences in the Fulbright U.S. Student Program or internationals in the U.S. participating in Fulbright Foreign Student Program. A conference like this is a wonderful opportunity to bridge generational divides. The older attendees, many having held multiple awards, offer important knowledge and insight about professional pathways. They are ideal mentors to younger Fulbright alumni looking to start their careers.
Creating an opportunity for informal networking should be a primary goal of any professional conference. Unfortunately, I find younger would-be professionals at times hesitant to approach senior ones. And older colleagues sometimes limit their socializing to their friends (often the ones they see every year). It is important to move individuals out of their comfort zones and allow for sharing across generations.
I was part of a panel discussion on careers with Sherry Mueller, co-author of Working World: Careers in International Education, Exchange, and Development, 2nd edition, and Nada Glick, a professional career counselor and member of the Fulbright Association national board. About 20, mostly younger Fulbrighters, attended our session. For many, this was their first conference. Some were clear about their plans in launching a career, they just needed help in developing a strategy. Others were not so sure. They had returned from their experience enthusiastic about international education and wanting to do more but unsure exactly what that might be.
In my remarks, I stressed the ways in which a Fulbrighter can leverage their experience to impress potential employers and those who might help them in their careers. One important way is to offer examples of the work you did overseas and its impact. This allows for storytelling, an important way to share about your insights and enthusiasm for your work and the country you lived in.
I also had a chance later in the conference to meet one on one reviewing resumes and offering personal advice on strategies. These conversations provided me a chance to engage in an empathic way with someone who might be struggling with uncertainty about their future.
I hosted a roundtable discussion meeting with a mixed group of older and younger Fulbrighters looking at ways to leverage their experience. Some ideas I offered included:
• Stressing the significance of being selected for a formal peer reviewed prestigious exchange. Sometimes potential employers might not recognize the extensive process you went through to obtain your grant.
• Sharing about the project, research, or teaching you engaged in. The core of a Fulbright experience is doing important work to advance the objectives of the program.
• Discussing the various networks and linkages you’ve both created and benefited from during your experience. The ability to offer this to an employer can provide you with an important advantage in the hiring process.
• Recognizing that you are now to some extent an “expert” in the country or subject matter of your Fulbright. Even if your stay was short, your “on the ground” observations and interactions with locals have provided you with awareness that positions you as someone who can offer insights when asked.
A conference such as the national Fulbright Association meeting provides important opportunities to learn and share from others. If you are a senior Fulbright alumni, talking with younger ones offers you the chance to recapture the spirit and purpose of your own experience. And younger Fulbrighters, benefit from the reassurance and knowledge of those who have blazed the path for them.
—David J. Smith
David J. Smith (Fulbright Scholar, Estonia 2003-2004) is a career coach and the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016). He is on the career advisory board of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. David writes regularly on career issues at davidjsmithconsulting.com. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.