When I returned to the US after teaching for a study abroad program in Germany, I dove into studying for my comprehensive exams, writing my dissertation proposal, and conducting a pilot study in Germany.
Since my coursework was complete, I suddenly had time open up in my schedule. And since I’d decided not to pursue academia as a career, I looked for opportunities to try out different types of work situations.
I started interning in the study abroad office at my university, and then I switched from teaching German to working as a grad assistant for the Center for Language Education and Research (CLEAR) and collaborating with the Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER). I also took on freelance projects as they arose.
I really loved this time in my grad school experience. I started feeling less like a student and more like a professional. My schedule was no longer dominated by classes and teaching; instead, I chose how to schedule my day and mostly went to campus for meetings. I discovered that I loved working on projects way more than writing papers.
The study abroad office gave me real-world office experience. There, I led the Peer Advisors, gave presentations about study abroad to hundreds of incoming first-years and their parents, organized a Spanish language and culture crash course for students and faculty heading out on short-term programs, and created an online intercultural communication course for study abroad students. I also got to join conversations about updating the website, sit in on interviews, and attend staff meetings. Even thought I didn’t do day-to-day study abroad adviser tasks, I learned what was expected in that role. I really loved my time in the study abroad office; everyone was so helpful and gave so much time, attention, and energy to us grad student interns.
Working with CLEAR and CIBER opened up the world of business. I worked on a team developing an app that would help business people learn German language and culture, organized an international business roundtable, and presented at conferences. I loved the project work, the team, and that I was using my knowledge and experience of German, second language acquisition, and teaching in a new context. Through my work with CIBER I presented at conferences, met a lot of new people, and learned that maybe business isn’t as boring as I’d always thought.
During this time I was also preparing to return to Germany to collect dissertation data. My topic? Student perceptions of self-identified cultural encounters during a short-term study abroad program. I loved my topic. I hadn’t exactly planned it this way but my dissertation ended up combining the things I enjoyed most – interviewing people, finding the story and meaning in an experience, study abroad, Germany, and writing.
As I was trying out different types of work environments and starting on my dissertation, my husband was narrowing down where he wanted to attend grad school. Ultimately he chose the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Once again I found myself say “Hey, Aaron…I’ve got this crazy idea for the summer…”