Working abroad provides cultural awareness, much-needed service


Spending a whirlwind three months working on three farms in three countries – Nova Scotia, Belgium and France – might sound like a laborious version of “The Amazing Race,” but to Ryan Klataske it’s just life after graduation.

Klataske, 2006 K-State graduate in anthropology and Spanish, is one of many recent college graduates seeking opportunities abroad before settling into traditional post-graduation roles.

“I knew that after graduation I wanted to just take off and travel for a while,” Klataske said. “So this summer I packed a couple changes of clothes and my camera and hit the road.”

College students going abroad, either to study or to work, is a growing trend, said Jenifer Chambers, senior study abroad adviser in the Office of International Programs.

Still, Dottie Evans, assistant director of Career and Employment Services, said only about 4 percent of the nation’s college students go abroad. This gives those who do go abroad distinct advantages in the job market.

“Almost every American company has affiliates abroad or has to do business with other companies abroad, and they don’t have very many people who are knowledgeable of foreign languages or have intercultural skills,” Chambers said. “So it’s a real plus these days to (work abroad), not just to put on your résumé but to actually have those skills and use them.”

Vicki Conner, graduate student in political science, was one of five K-State students – including Klataske – to teach English at Huazhong Normal University in Wuhan, China in summer 2005.

“I would recommend international experience in general to every student at K-State. No matter your major, there is a program that will work for you,” Conner said. “Such an experience builds cultural competency, which is pretty vital in today’s world.”

In addition to learning about the culture and the language, both Conner and Klataske said they discovered a lot about themselves from the experience.

“I think this is a benefit of any international experience that we learn so much about ourselves and our ability to survive,” Conner said.

Klataske said traveling taught him independence and self-reliance while abroad, which perhaps gave him confidence to travel independently after graduation.

He said he mixed work and pleasure on his self-made adventure, traveling through Quebec and Europe, sailing off the coast of Maine and planning a trip through the Alps for Oktoberfest.

However, though many students might be excited about the prospect of working abroad, they also might find Klataske’s self-described “vagabond” travels daunting.

Guidance is available from a handful of resources at K-State, as well as online. Even Klataske enlisted the help of World-Wide Opportunities on the Organic Farms Web site,, which facilitates an exchange of labor for room and board on organic farms around the world.

Evans said CES – which offers an overseas teaching workshop in November – is able to direct students to possible overseas opportunities, but also said the decision to work abroad after graduation is personal and requires diligent research. A simple Google search yields numerous opportunities, so the most important thing to do when researching a place and a program is to ask questions, she said.

“Ask lots and lots and lots of questions so that as you are making the decision, you really go in with your eyes open,” Evans said.

Evans said southeast Asian countries, in particular, are so “hungry” for people to teach English that it is one of the surest ways to find a job abroad.

“There are lots of people who are teaching in a classroom overseas who haven’t had the methods classes and the certification that you would need stateside,” she said.

Ann Carter, instructor in the English Language Program, teaches a class for students who plan to teach English abroad but have no previous teaching or language experience. The class, which has enrolled six to 10 students in the two years she has taught it, gives people some background and experience so they are more prepared when they arrive in the foreign country, she said.

“When we left for China, we were armed with handouts, worksheets, games and activities – all the things necessary to keep the classroom fun and keep students engaged,” Conner, who took Carter’s class, said.

Regardless of the specific job, Evans said the demand for service is high, and recent K-State graduates are well-suited to provide it.

“(K-State students) have a strong work ethic, and I think, overall, there is a genuineness about K-Staters – a real caring and real desire to do service and help others,” she said. “And those are going to be the real foundations of going overseas.”