Name: Adriana Smith

Age: 31

Job title: Assistant Director of International Programmes

Time in current role: 4 years

Adriana works in the field of International Education as the Assistant Director of International Programmes at a private liberal arts college in South Carolina.

How did you land your current job? 

I’d taken some days off from my job at the time to attend and present at an annual International Education conference. I went to a session for first-time attendees and the panelists suggested that we wear our name tags and first-timer stickers proudly because it made it easier to network. I followed their advice and it paid off. 

One afternoon I went out for lunch and as I was waiting for my food a woman walked in and invited me to sit with her. I was reluctant and a bit shy but I agreed to join her. She introduced herself as the Assistant Director of International Programmes at a college in South Carolina and asked why I was attending the conference. I explained that I wanted to find an advisory position and spoke a little about my experience. Then she let me know that her team was looking for an intern and suggested I apply as soon as possible. 

My application was successful and a few months later I’d resigned from my full-time job, packed my stuff and moved to South Carolina from Miami, Florida for a one-year internship. As my internship was coming to an end the lovely lady who I’d met several months prior was moving on to another job and I’m happy to say that I landed her position as the Assistant Director of International Programmes. 

What are the key functions of your role?

My department oversees internationalisation on campus and facilitates international experiences for both international and domestic students. So if domestic students want to study abroad they visit my office for assistance. 

As the main advisor for the office I speak with students during the fall and spring semesters to prepare them for their time abroad. I also oversee the management system that hosts their applications. Essentially I manage the study abroad lifecycle from students’ interests through to their return home.

On the flip side I manage a portion of the international student population, specifically the degree-seeking students. I advise them starting from enrolment through to their graduation, or employment if they choose to stay in the U.S. for an additional year. This part of my job requires more attention to detail because I have to adhere to federal regulations and law. 

I also work on programming for international students. This is the part of my job that’s a lot more fun because we get to take them on overnight trips, plan interactive activities on campus and pair them with their first friends from the U.S. There’s a lot of time spent helping them adapt to American culture and academics. 

Finally, on an institutional level I bring a unique perspective to different conversations, in particular for international students this often around developing diversity initiatives and coordinating inclusive programmes.

Talk us through your typical day at work

Each day is different but typically my mornings are reserved for catching up with emails and going to staff meetings. Occasionally a couple of students will pop in with a question or for a meeting with a campus partner, for example Multicultural Affairs, to discuss upcoming collaborations. I like having my mornings to myself because I can get a lot done. During this time I may also work on creating digital resources, reviewing applications or responding to questions from international partners.  

After lunch I set my appointments to meet with students. I try to limit these so that my last appointment finishes at 4:30pm, this way I can wind down and leave promptly at 5pm. It’s usually never that easy but setting boundaries for personal time is important, especially in my role. 

When there are international students on-campus, however, I’m on-call. This means that I have to respond to any emergencies and this also applies when I have students overseas so my day doesn’t truly end at 5pm. It’s a 24/7 work schedule that’s modified based on the semester and time of year.  

How would your colleagues describe you in three words? 

Creative. Reliable. Tenacious.

Your favourite part of the job?

My absolute favourite part has been meeting students from all over the world. I’ve met students from China, South Korea, Japan, Russia, Spain, Germany, France, Niger, Nigeria, Benin, Ecuador and so many other countries. It’s a pleasure to share cultures and I feel like a proud mama watching them develop personally and academically.

…and the part you could do without?

Wow! The administrative tasks. I’d rather spend my time speaking to students, parents or faculty about international experiences than sitting behind my desk responding to emails and managing the application system. 

Plans for the future? 

I love my job for various reasons, including being surrounded by students from different countries and cultures. Yet, higher education as a whole is challenging and I’ve experienced and seen things I don’t agree with which I’ve been very vocal about. Truthfully I don’t want to continue being in a place where complacency is the standard. 

One day I’ll leave my current role and higher education altogether to pursue my dream of full-time business ownership. At the moment I have a side hustle, Travepreneur, which is a digital platform that empowers new travellers to see and do good in the world so that they can enact positive change in their local and global communities. My hope is that it encourages more black and brown people to see the world.

Do you have any advice for others aspiring to break into your field?

If you want to break into International Education I’d say focus on developing your portfolio and your skillsets. What would make you stand out in the sea of seasoned professionals who are seeking employment too? Do you have an engineering background that could be useful for an office, institution or provider? Or do you have an IT background that could allow you to assist with virtual programming? At this point you’ll have to really think outside the box to get your foot in the door. 

Even if the only opportunities available are unpaid and voluntary, take them. That’s how I eased my way into the field. And to clarify, I’m not saying go back to school. There are online courses, e-books, coaching, and other ways to get the additional training if necessary. LLY

Posted by:Carly Lewis-Oduntan

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