Advice & News

October 6, 2021

Advance International Student Employability with Cultural Humility and Collaboration


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How welcoming is your institution's career services office to international students?

For example, Chinese international students make up the largest percentage of international students in the United States, and yet, career services are underutilized by this population according to recent research from Yue Li at Indiana University. This is despite career mobility being a major motivation in studying abroad. While Chinese international students encounter obstacles facing all college students, they also experience challenges typical to international students as well as culturally unique challenges related to being Asian. In other words, a single student could be facing a host of challenges simultaneously, including generally acquiring career salience and knowledge of career paths, to cultural adjustment and stress due to experiences of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, or national origin.

Additionally, Li found that there is a mismatch between Chinese international students' perception about career counseling and the ideal services they would like to receive from career counseling. Negative expectations about career counseling include students feeling that interactions with advising staff were too general, superficial, or lacking in cultural knowledge (e.g., suggestions not considering immigration barriers) rendering the advice not useful or actionable. Students may also have a misunderstanding about career services and mistrust career advisers based on this unfamiliarity. This feeling of distrust is amplified by a desire for culturally competent career advising, but not perceiving that it is available.

Li writes, "to provide appropriate career services to Chinese international students necessitates a culturally sensitive assessment on the student's personal, familial and cross-cultural experiences during the initial meeting." Despite the assumption that all international students want to work in the United States after graduation, only about 51 percent of surveyed students in 2011 reported desire to do so, with the remaining seeking jobs at home or unsure. This means many Chinese students may benefit from, or expect, career services that help them find employment in their home country or another location outside of the United States.

Depending on the makeup of your institution's enrollment, this can be a daunting task -- to understand and meet the nuanced needs of the many campus populations we serve. However, there are a few strategies that enable us to employ what Melanie Tervalon termed "cultural humility" in physician training education: a continual process of critical self-reflection, lifelong learning, and humility to develop respectful and effective relationships with individuals across many backgrounds and identities. These strategies can lay an important foundation for future career development initiatives focused on strategically important identities, whether it is Chinese international students or first-generation college students.

Assess and Plan for Global Careers
Previously, I wrote about how career services professionals can partner with international student and scholar services (ISSS) to enhance international student career support services, and Alexi Tai and McKenna Hughes wrote on how to advocate for international students with U.S. employers. But as we see above, not every international student has a goal to work in the United States and some students may want to only for the temporary optional practical training (OPT) period after their academic degree program. In addition to structuring these questions in advising intake processes -- and allowing for continuous check-ins to benchmark shifts in career aspirations and multiple job search plans -- these resources can help advisers locate opportunities outside the United States.

1. Global Job Search Tool.
The GoinGlobal platform provides career resources for more than 120 locations, including country-specific career guides. It also includes a H-1B database for international students to understand which companies have historically sponsored employment visas. This is a paid subscription platform, so if your career center already has access, it is worth considering how to embed it in communications and advising strategies. Those without access can also explore this free H-1B database.

2. International Career Fairs and Job Boards.
Begin to curate a list of international career fairs and job boards that is visible on your center's website or materials. Some examples to get this list started include Career Fair Canada, Japan's Career Forum, Job Korea USA, and LockinU for the Chinese market. Multinational firms can also be a useful strategy for flexible employment for students interested in global mobility opportunities.

3. Alumni Engagement Through the Student Lifecycle
International alumni can be important mentors to students and recent graduates, particularly by providing expertise in job searches abroad or specific industries that the career office may approach more generally. Published by NAFSA, "Engaging International Alumni as Strategic Partners" details how universities can more fully leverage international alumni engagement with case studies, showing how sustained engagement enables international alums to contribute to international student recruitment, philanthropy efforts, professional development and career opportunities, and more.

If your institution already has a robust international alumni engagement program, then consider assessing the needs your career office has for such a program to enhance potential collaboration between the two offices. For example, perhaps your advising staff regularly refers students to join or connect with international alumni clubs during the job search -- think about how these alums may be willing to be engaged earlier in the student lifecycle as mentors, helping to provide career salience with an international perspective. These networks will continue to raise the brand reputation of your career office as a welcome place for international students, inclusive of geographical career interests.

Leverage Peer Networks
Li's research found that Chinese international students are more comfortable seeking informal help from peer networks, friends, and family members and that students typically engage career services when facing a setback or immense stress. Knowing this, career services practitioners can sponsor and monitor such peer sharing networks, emphasizing and embracing the importance of peer support while highlighting areas in which the career office has an expertise, like the U.S. job market or specific industries. Moreover, intentional partnership with internationally focused student groups or departments can continue to demonstrate to new students how they can leverage career services.

These strategies, and continued cultural humility, can begin to advance international student employability globally. Let us know what other tactics your institution has leveraged in this space!

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