09/01/2004

"A Day in the Life" of a Career Counselor at a US-accredited University Abroad

by Danielle Savage

"Do you have any contacts for doing an internship in New Zealand?"
 
 "I was offered a position in Singapore. Would you mind having a look at the work contract they have issued me and telling me what you think?"
 
"I've been moving from country to country all of my life. I want a job where I can travel as much as possible."
 
 "I have an interview lined up for a job in the UK, but I've never lived there. Can you tell me about salary ranges? And how can I find an apartment?"

 
All institutions have international students, but where I work, all students are international students. Over 100 nationalities are represented at The American University of Paris, and about 30 % of our students have US nationality. Yet they are also "international students" in that they are foreigners in France and require visas to study here. The French students here are studying in the American educational system, very different from the French one. All of this creates an interesting dynamic in that no one is really on their "home turf."
 
I never know who's going to come in the door next, from which country, or what their request will be. Assisting students with their job and internship search, in writing their resumes and cover letters, or by discussing career options, I discover fascinating trajectories for people still in their early 20's who in many cases already have extensive international experience. Helping them to see the great advantage this gives them, to figure out what they want to do with it, and to market themselves effectively to employers is my job.

My background is in adult education and applied linguistics. When I graduated from college I came to Paris to visit my French mother who had recently moved back. Wondering what to do, I spent a year as a language assistant in a French school and then found work teaching English to professionals in corporations. Over the next few years I visited dozens of workplaces and got a real feel for what it was like to work in a French company. I provided training for everyone from the cleaning staff in a hotel to top executives in multinationals. Since employees were usually taking English classes for professional reasons, I began each new session by talking to them about their positions. Later, when I was managing educational programs for career-changers, I again had ample opportunity to talk to people about their jobs. I discovered that I really enjoyed discussing career issues with individuals from a variety of backgrounds.

I got to ponder the recruitment process from the other side of the desk as I was hiring trainers for these adult education programs. When the career counselor position became available within my educational institution, I contacted the department head. Extensive reading and attending workshops had given me a great interest in career concerns, and he was impressed with my ideas and enthusiasm as well as my knowledge of both French and American corporate cultures. As a practicing psychologist who had run the career counseling area of the university for several years, he was the one who trained me. Today I am complementing my hands-on experience by completing a Master's degree in Organizational Psychology.

My office is a small one, with me and a staff member providing counseling, registering internships, posting job offers, and organizing events. In addition to students, we interact with employers, alumni, faculty, and other university staff in an effort to support and promote our office's activities. The joy of this position is that I'm never bored, given the wide variety of queries that I respond to every day. It keeps me on my toes, to say the least. The challenge is trying to assist a very mobile group of young people who are spontaneous and less inclined to plan to prepare for the thorny transition from university to working life.

The rewards come when alumni return and let me know what they have been up to. Our graduates end up working all over the world. When someone whom I first knew as a freshman calls and tells me he or she needs to hire an intern or a new staff member, it always puts a smile on my face. Sometimes they are back in touch to request assistance as they prepare for the next phase of their career. I can't think of a greater compliment!


Danielle Savage is a Career Counselor at The American University of Paris. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Toronto, a matrise de l'Université de Paris III la Sorbonne Nouvelle and is currently pursuing a MSc. in Organizational Psychology from the University of London. In addition to NCDA, Danielle is a member of NACE (the National Association of Colleges and Employers), NRWA (the National Resume Writing Association), and several European associations. She can be reached at
Email: savage@aup.fr


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