I studied abroad in Chile for all of 2005. It was half of my junior year and half of my senior year at UC Berkeley, and it changed my life. Yes, that may sound a bit cliché, but it really did change my perspective on education, history, politics, and my place in the world.
I thought back to that year as I read A Student Guide to Study Abroad, a new book by Stacie Berdan, Dr. Allan Goodman, and Sir Cyril Taylor. This is the book I should have received for my 19th or 20th birthday, before that year in Chile (when I was 21).
It’s a practical guide that covers just about everything a student needs to know about study abroad. The authors have taken special care to include the perspectives of a diverse array of students, including a student with muscular dystrophy who studied abroad in Tanzania, a gay student who lived with a family in Buenos Aires, a black student who had amusing encounters with Chinese cab drivers (at first the driver didn’t believe she was American, but then he had “a complete moment of clarity” and said “Oooooo I know! Barack Obama daughter!!!” Her response? “Yes, sir. You are right.”)
The book lists lots of different scholarship programs (like the Fulbright, Gilman and Boren scholarships) and includes anecdotes from dozens of students from a wide range of socioeconomic and academic backgrounds, who describe their experiences studying in just about every country you can imagine.
The book covers the entire experience: why study abroad is so important in this globalized era, how to decide if it’s right for you, how to choose the right program, how to figure out the financials, how to prepare, how to immerse yourself in the local culture, how to stay safe and healthy, how to make the most of your time, how to transition back into life at “home,” how to highlight your study abroad experience on a resumé… and more.
Reading this book reminded me of how much support I had when I studied abroad. My parents were both super-supportive, both in terms of their own histories (Dad studied in Brazil in high school, Mom studied in Germany in college) and the finances (though I think it cost about the same as normal tuition. Many people think study abroad is expensive, but it can be affordable, especially if you pick the right program and apply for scholarships.)
I also had support from other people. A high school English teacher told us that the University of California was especially good for study abroad, with plenty of options for academic credit and financial aid. Cal was incredibly supportive — I had some registration problems while I was abroad, and my advisor stood in line on my behalf to get it resolved. If I hadn’t had all that support, studying abroad would have been much harder! This book would have been an especially useful resource.
The last two chapters, about what happens after study abroad, would have been most helpful to me when I was in college.
As I told Cate Brubaker when she interviewed me for her Re-Entry Reality podcast, going back to Berkeley after my year in Chile was hard!
… when I left Chile at the end of 2005, I started preparing to go home basically as I was packing; I’ve never been one to plan really far ahead. As I was organizing my stuff and giving things away and saying farewell, I tried to summarize my experience in one sentence. The sentence I came up with was: “Chile’s a country of contrast between rich and poor, traditional and modern, liberal and conservative, city and country side and as an international student, I was able to see the extremes of all of these different contrasts often in the same day.” And so I was trying to mentally process this year that had been amazing that had totally changed my life, changed my perspective and I really had grown up a lot in one year. I was 21 at the time. And then I left Chilean summer in December and landed in California winter and spent Christmas with my parents in the snow.
But then the reverse culture shock really hit me when I went back to college. I was living in the same sorority where I had lived before I had gone abroad and the rules and the drama really got to me. It felt so petty after having worked on international micro-enterprise training projects and having seen all these enormous peaks and mountains to come back and deal with drama.
Another thing that really stressed me out was that I overcommitted myself. I was in my final semester and I had this fear of missing out on the opportunities I’d only have access to in college. I needed two classes to graduate, but I signed up for five, because I was like ‘oh! I want to learn more about social enterprise’, ‘oh! I want to take this student-taught women’s leadership class’.
But about a month into that semester, I got really burned out. I just didn’t have the energy to deal with it all; I was just like ‘why did I do this to myself?’
I’m glad the book gives tips for dealing with re-entry, especially how to frame your study abroad experiences as you move forward and apply for jobs.
The book motivated me to search for opportunities to study abroad again. A masters’ degree in Europe could be fascinating! (Shhh…)
In short, this book is a must-read for every college student and their parents. It’s inspiring, practical, and vivid. It’s $14.95 (paperback) / $5.95 (Kindle) on Amazon.
P.S. Should More Americans Study Abroad? This is the topic of a recent New York Times Room for Debate section that features many of the contributors to this book. The debate is lively; feel free to add your opinion.
I’m really excited to share this with all of you. For several months I’ve been talking about creating tools for global citizens looking to live and work abroad, and now I’m finally close to making it happen.
I’m teaming up with an up-and-coming Chilean illustrator to make it visual.
International Career Compass will feature stories and photos from global citizens everywhere.
If you’re interested in contributing, let me know and I’ll share more about what we can build together.
Yes, I just wrote about the lean startup a few minutes ago! But I also want to share how I’ve incorporated this method into the course I teach about Social Entrepreneurship. Perhaps this will be helpful to social entrepreneurs, design thinkers, teachers, and anyone else interested in the field.
If you’re new to the lean startup method, the best place to get a concise overview is by reading this short Harvard Business Review article by Steve Blank.
In my class this week, I started with an overview of the method, and then showed two outstanding videos from last year’s Lean Startup Conference.
(1) Back to the Roots. Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez originally planned to go into investment banking, but in their final semester at Cal (go bears!!) they learned how to grow mushrooms from coffee grounds and decided to dedicate themselves to this cool and eco-friendly innovation. At first they sold mushrooms at farmer’s markets in the Bay Area, but then they figured out that getting people involved in the growing process inspired way more engagement than simply selling mushrooms. So they pivoted their business model to focus 100% on kits to grow food at home.
(2) Jocelyn Wyatt from IDEO.org. She talks about toilets in Ghana. More specifically, she explains how her team tested their assumptions in three areas — product, service, and brand — through direct feedback from users to provide more effective solutions to improve sanitation.
Both of these videos convey a ton of information in just a few minutes and vividly illustrate the world-changing possibilities of these methods. Enjoy!
Today I have learned so many new things — the sociology of weak ties, the joys of the Chilean healthcare system (yes, that is not a sarcastic comment), the best ways to create authentic evaluations to track students’ progress. My brain is buzzing with new ideas, so much that I can’t sleep… at least not until I share part of what I learned today: how to bring the Lean Startup into established companies.
The lean startup is incredibly popular in the startup community. The clearest and most concise overview that I’ve read is Steve Blank’s May 2013 Harvard Business Review article: Why the Lean Startup Changes Everything. (emphasis mine)
Launching a new enterprise—whether it’s a tech start-up, a small business, or an initiative within a large corporation—has always been a hit-or-miss proposition. According to the decades-old formula, you write a business plan, pitch it to investors, assemble a team, introduce a product, and start selling as hard as you can. And somewhere in this sequence of events, you’ll probably suffer a fatal setback. The odds are not with you: As new research by Harvard Business School’s Shikhar Ghosh shows, 75% of all start-ups fail.
But recently an important countervailing force has emerged, one that can make the process of starting a company less risky. It’s a methodology called the “lean start-up,” and it favors experimentation over elaborate planning, customer feedback over intuition, and iterative design over traditional “big design up front” development. Although the methodology is just a few years old, its concepts—such as “minimum viable product” and “pivoting”—have quickly taken root in the start-up world, and business schools have already begun adapting their curricula to teach them.
Here’s a graphic from that same Harvard Business Review article that illustrates one of the core concepts of the lean startup. Note that “company building” is the final step. But what if the company is already built? How might this process work in that situation?
Lean Startup techniques aren’t just for young companies. In fact, they’ve been profitably applied in established companies like Intuit, GE, and Toyota. But there are particular challenges in bringing Lean Startup to enterprise corporations, and they aren’t always obvious. In this webcast, Eric Ries, Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits – all of whom have worked closely with Fortune 500 companies – will discuss some of the most common mistakes and paths to success that established firms can take in implementing Lean Startup methods. Their conversation will be followed by live Q&A with the webcast attendees, so come with your questions in mind.
Here are some of my notes from the event:
- Anyone facing extreme uncertainty is an entrepreneur, regardless of what it says on their business card.
- The goal is sustainable growth through continuous innovation. The challenge of creating this kind of growth is the same, regardless of the size of the organization.
- The galvanizing force for implementing the Lean Startup in an established company is generally a C-level executive who has read Eric Ries’ book and gets it. This executive often hand-picks an leader to bring this into the organization. Often there is a combination of a C-level executive and grassroots leaders within the organization who are already applying design thinking, agile, and hands-on learning to their work.
- Innovation is hard. Disruption is hard. Often companies will bring in an “innovation expert” and expect this person to bring quick fixes like motivational posters, but that feel-good stuff keeps you in your comfort zone, and disruptive innovation doesn’t come from one’s comfort zone.
- It is especially challenging for companies to stay competitive because of the major technological transformation that has empowered competitors from all over the world.
- Real disruptive innovation often doesn’t yield immediate revenue. The quickest way to kill disruptive innovation is by asking questions like: “What is the ROI?” “When am I going to see it?” Therefore, it is crucial that a C-level executive create a way to fund experiments, without the expectation of immediate ROI. This might be in the form of a lab or subsidiary identities.
- A major challenge in implementing the lean startup within companies is to provide accurate innovation accounting (not vanity metrics) that communicate the value of these experiments in a way that finance can understand.
- You can’t wait for magic stardust to come along and create lean startup culture. It needs to be intentionally cultivated, with buy-in from the very top of an organization, in a way that doesn’t affect the way that the organization is currently operating its core business with core customers.
- A core component of the lean startup is the “minimum viable product” (MVP) but don’t launch an MVP to all your existing customers (that might erode the company’s reputation). Instead, structure it as a standalone business or product that is reaching out to new customers. This might include an alternate brand and/or specific guidelines from the legal team.
Hi! I'm Leslie.
Entrepreneurial Educator in Chile. Creating Opportunities on a Global Stage. Optimist. Polyglot. Nostalgic for China and California. Looking forward to connecting with you.
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Looking for something on this site?
- one reason I’ve been quiet here
- How you (yes, you!) can study abroad. A Student’s Guide to Study Abroad [review]
- coming soon: a visual tool — International Career Compass
- How Social Entrepreneurs Can Use Lean Startup to Make Meaningful Mushrooms and Optimal Toilets
- How to Bring Lean Startup into Established Companies
- Leslie on How you (yes, you!) can study abroad. A Student’s Guide to Study Abroad [review]
- Stacie Berdan on How you (yes, you!) can study abroad. A Student’s Guide to Study Abroad [review]
- Leslie on How you (yes, you!) can study abroad. A Student’s Guide to Study Abroad [review]
- Marty on How you (yes, you!) can study abroad. A Student’s Guide to Study Abroad [review]
- Leslie on photos from Chile, dispatches from Ghana, the “gymnastic intellectual training” of multiculturals (an update)
The opinions shared here are mine, not those of my employers or clients, or people and companies mentioned. Thanks for reading!