in International Careers

Get Your International Career in Gear: Advice, Diagrams, and Links from our Cal Career Center Presentation

I just got back to Chile after a trip “home” to San Francisco. The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of catching up with family and friends, showing a certain chileno the best parts of the Bay Area, stocking up on clothes and shoes (which are much cheaper and more stylish than in Santiago), and giving a presentation at my alma mater with the fabulous Ms. Natalie Tan!

Natalie Tan

Natalie Tan

Natalie and I share an obsession with living and working abroad. We met as students at Cal, and have pursued international careers in completely different ways. Natalie’s path has been more linear than mine. She majored in Mass Communications at Cal, and studied abroad in Paris. While working for a major public relations firm in San Francisco, she negotiated a transfer to the London office. Now she’s back in the Bay Area and managing digital projects for Lonely Planet and preparing to enter an MBA program in Hong Kong. A few months ago Natalie got in touch with the Cal Career Center and was invited to lead a workshop called Get Your International Career in Gear. The workshop happened to be during my visit, and I was so glad to participate.

Here are the slides from the event.

These summarize Natalie’s experiences and mine, and include flow charts that explain each of our career paths. Mine is about to going from a starter position to a local hire. Natalie’s is about how to transfer within a multinational company. Many students took photos of these flow charts! A good sign.

A few more comments on topics that came up during our presentation:

1) Network, network, network!

The best way to find international opportunities is through friends (and friends of friends.) If you’re interested in, say, urban planning in China, or social entrepreneurship in Singapore, or ways to live in France, tell everyone you know. Your aunt’s friend’s daughter might be a fantastic contact for you. Search LinkedIn for people with similar interests. Ask them about their experiences. Make it easy for these people to help you, by being specific, concise, friendly, and grateful. Through this blog I get quite a few emails from people considering a similar path and I am more than happy to listen to their ideas and connect them with my friends.

2) Opportunity Benefits and Costs.

The big benefits of living and working in another country are that you can immerse yourself in a different culture and experience the world in a new way. You can master a language, get involved with new industries, and connect with fascinating people. And so much more. I’ve talked about these benefits at length in this interview for Atlas Sliced, this podcast on Brazen Careerist, this post for Untemplater, and Why China? Because I could.

Would I be able to invent a new course at a university in the US, like I have in Chile? No, especially not without a graduate degree. Would I be able to work in such a wide range of industries and build the portfolio career I have now? Probably not.

However, the opportunity costs of these choices are less commonly discussed. One student asked if I thought I was missing out on career growth by working overseas. I answered by saying, “It depends on what’s important to you and how you’re defining career growth.” If I were looking for a steady job in the Bay Area right now, would a recruiter look at me just like a 2006 Cal grad who had spent the past 6.5 years working for the same company in the Bay Area? No. Would I be offered the same position and salary as that hypothetical person? Likely not. If I’d had tens of thousands of dollars in student loans from college, would I have been able to pay them off by now? Maybe, but I might have made different career choices in China and Chile to ensure more stable income.

A friend of mine served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Latin America and then did an International MBA in one of the best programs in the US, which included a year of study and internship in China. When he finished his MBA, he applied for jobs in the US in his field, and it took him more than a year to find a job, and he described that job as less than ideal. He’s bright and hardworking and his experience is all related, but he noticed a mismatch between his experience and what company recruiters were looking for, since the recruiters are used to seeing MBA graduates who’d had more traditional pre-MBA experience.

If and when I decide to move back to my home country, I know I’ll need to carefully package my experiences into something that people can understand and see specific value in. I will likely continue to pursue an entrepreneurial portfolio career. Cate Brubaker at Small Planet Studio has written extensively about re-entry, and she interviewed me about my re-entry experiences in this podcast.

If your dream is to live and work abroad, you can make it happen. Do your research, build your connections, and get your international career in gear.

Here’s the text of the handout we gave out at the event, to guide students in their initial international career research:

Websites About Working Abroad:   

The Cal Career Center is a great place to start researching international opportunities! Other resources that Leslie and Natalie recommend that aren’t already mentioned on the site are discussed below.

On, twenty-something Alexa Hart interviews dozens of young people about their international career paths. Her site also features excellent resources about how to volunteer or work abroad.

At, Lillie Marshall shares stories to help more teachers travel, and more travelers teach!


Go Global! Launching an International Career Here or Abroad by Stacie Berdan
$4.99 Kindle/$11.99 paperback on
Stacie draws from her own experience to give practical, step-by-step advice. She worked for a top global PR firm in Hong Kong for many years, during which she gained the skills and experience to skip several levels on the corporate ladder. (I previously reviewed this book here.) 

Delaying The Real World by Colleen Kinder
$5.18 on for the paperback
This book changed Leslie’s life by giving her the idea to move to China with a Latin American Studies degree! It lists hundreds of ideas on things to do after college that do not involve law school or a cubicle. (I previously reviewed this book here.) 

Fellowships, Internships, Traineeships:

AIESEC is the world’s largest student-run organization, and it offers placements for internships and traineeships all over the world.

The Luce Scholars program is a competitive fellowship program to enhance the understanding of Asia among potential leaders in American society. It’s designed for young leaders with limited exposure to Asia.

Teach for China is part of Teach for All, which is the international arm for Teach for America. American and Chinese teachers work side by side at schools in rural China.

Princeton in Asia/Latin America/Africa. Princeton University offers year-long fellowships in lots of countries in the fields of journalism, international development, business, and teaching, even for students who do not attend Princeton full-time.

English as a Second Language (ESL) Teaching Resources: is a site with everything you need to know about teaching ESL. A key feature is that you can post your resume so schools can contact you about relevant opportunities. This is the program that brought Leslie to China. It is run like a study abroad program and offers placements in Chile, China, Dominican Republic, South Korea, Spain, Thailand and Vietnam. NOTE: You may have to pay an initial placement fee, but the administrative process is a lot smoother than going out on your own.

Contact Us:

Leslie Forman | |

Natalie Tan | |

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  1. Thank you! I’d love to redesign those flow charts into something prettier that can stand on its own, without being buried inside a SlideShare. Stay tuned! And thank you for your enthusiastic support :)

  2. Thank you for including me in your list! There are a couple resources on here that I didn’t know about that seem super helpful. Excited to check them out :)

  3. Thanks for sharing your wealth of experience, Leslie! So nice to see you and Natalie working together, too! :)

  4. Alexa, you’re welcome. Thank YOU for all that you do to spread the word about opportunities like these. I’m more than happy to add what I can to your portfolio…

    Carol, thanks for reading and for all your enthusiastic support over the years :)

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