In the cycle of life, it’s that time once again. Students are graduating from colleges and universities across the country and for many, the unanswered question is: Now what?
Shortly, NAFSA: Association of International Educators will conduct its annual international conference in Denver. And one of its major speakers is NY Times columnist, David Brooks. In thinking about graduation and what “place” lies ahead for millions of youths, I re-read his September 8, 2014 Times column, “Becoming a Real Person.”
Brooks references three different missions of the current university: commercial (preparing for work), cognitive (acquisition of information & knowledge), and moral purpose (building an integrated understanding of self). Of course, a week later, the Times published several letters to the editor from campuses around the country. The gist of these responses was that students should not have to choose one path over another.
A good follow-up to the Brooks column is an essay in the March 9, 2015 Chronicle of Higher Education by Lisa M. Dolling, “To Help Students Succeed Professionally and Personally, Teach the Art of Being Human.” Her essay discusses the “false dichotomies” which she sees behind the ongoing debate about the purpose of college – or perhaps the ROI – and she states:
“Either you believe the purpose of going to college is to be able to secure a (preferably high-paying) job, or you think there is something more intrinsically valuable to be gained from the years spent earning a degree. My question is: When did these become mutually exclusive?” Exactly.
And I’d circle back to what I usually focus on in this blog which centers on the value of international experience in the life of an undergraduate. And yes, how such experioence can add value to and become essential to a students’ employability as they seek entry into the workforce. The above value questions relate to this goal — as a co-curricular “activity,” study-service-or work abroad adds a dimension to a students’ life experience with unparalled potential for personal growth and development of critical skills and competencies. Such experience complements classroom learning and provides invaluable perspective to their studies.
Whether in the community around campus or in the wider world community, I’ve always believed that experiential learning provides a laboratory for students to test themselves, challenge their values, and learn how to become more adaptable and flexible colleagues and members of a community outside their comfort zone.
My advice to members of the Class of 2016? Keep challenging yourself. Keep communicating with your network of friends and mentors.Take risks as you move through your first jobs – be that person who says yes when there is a new task to be done. Travel if and when you can. Be persistent in your job search. It’s hard work. The search process can be very humbling and even humiliating. Stay with it. Rely upon the hard skills you developed in the classroom and those softer skills you honed outside in the community. You need both to succeed.
It will take awhile to “find your place.” Actually, that’s a given.