“I feel like my career plan has always been a plan, but it’s always been in pencil and I’m constantly erasing it and modifying it,” Lydia explained at the beginning of the 2021 Globally Engaged Career Panel on April 9, 2021. Lydia McMullen-Laird, a journalist for WNYC radio, was one of four area studies alumni who were invited to talk about their experiences post-graduation to an audience of students interested in pursuing globally impactful careers. 

Each year, the International Institute (II) organizes and hosts this collaborative event to give current and incoming masters and undergraduate students insight into applying their area studies curriculum and experience to the real world. Normally, this would be an opportunity for in-person connections and networking for students, and though the pandemic has made the last two iterations look a bit different, the virtual format has not taken away from the impact and powerful messaging the alumni have to provide. This year’s panelists did a phenomenal job of addressing not only the professional aspects of a career path but also the personal aspects and how the two are intertwined in a fulfilling profession.

Emily Etue, MS in Environmental Policy and Planning, Graduate Certificate in Southeast Asian Studies, has spent almost a decade working throughout Asia, though she didn’t know that this was where life would take her after graduating with undergraduate degrees in history and environmental studies. So, she took a five-year gap between undergraduate and graduate studies. During this time she cultivated various skills, and discovered what she liked and disliked through numerous international work and life experiences. However, her biggest obstacle came in the form of her family questioning her choices to live and work abroad. “For those of you that are looking to live abroad or have a global career where you’re traveling, start prepping your family now. And start prepping them by letting them know how much you love them and how much you care about them, and... that you want to experience different things.”

Like Emily, Frank Hennick, Grants Manager at CAPI USA based in Minneapolis, envisioned himself living and working abroad. His career, on the other hand, has kept him in the states and closer to home thus far. Though he is based in the US, Frank has found himself consistently working on issues he cares about with a global scope: human rights and immigration. Frank admitted he struggled to feel like he “belonged in the room” at work when he first began his career. He assured students that it can take time to feel solid in your work environment, and being open-minded, trying new things, and following your passion to its end were important ways to push through that feeling. 

Nevertheless, following a passion can be an intimidating concept. Lydia noted that sometimes just finding a passion can seem too daunting, so she suggested spending some time writing a personal mission statement. This mission statement can then act as a guide for a pencil plan. To foster a true personal mission statement, Lydia recommended students reflect on long walks or hikes, listen to music, or participate in another activity that allows for personal time and space to consider three important aspects: First, to think about what they deeply care about and are constantly wanting to learn more about. Secondly, she advised thinking about the skills they already have, as well as what skills they are excited to grow and invest more time in. Lastly, Lydia encouraged the audience to consider what kind of work environment will be most beneficial for them. 

Lydia also took the time to touch on how personal life challenges can often interfere with work life, such as chronic illness or mental health struggles. She asserted that this does not take away from the validity of a person or their work. Rather, this is where the importance of finding the environment that is best suited for an individual comes into play.

After hearing Frank’s struggle to feel like he had a place in the room, Evan Hoye, Master’s in International and Regional Studies (MIRS) Program Assistant at the II, talked about imposter syndrome and his own struggle with it. “If you have to shapeshift and forge your own path a little bit to seek employment in an economy that’s kind of hostile to interdisciplinarity in some ways, it can be really tough to feel the confidence that the road you walk on is stable.” His antidote for this was to know his personal story and to recognize the unique skills he’s gained from his individual experiences. 

Originally coming to the university with the intentions of studying architecture, Evan literally wrote his career plan with a drafting pencil (akin to Lydia’s original metaphor.) At U-M, he quickly discovered his love for languages and looked into interdisciplinary ways he could pursue his multifaceted passions. Instead of building physical structures, Evan found that he could leverage his skills from international studies, German, and translation studies into building robust programming and relationships for and with students as well as colleagues.

You can watch the full 2021 Globally Engaged Career Panel on the II YouTube Channel