Friday, 6 April 2012

Expat Excellence featuring Gillian Kemmerer – Part 1

The first in a three-part series by Gillian Kemmerer, founder of Ready Set Jet - a fantastic resource geared towards Generation Y expats, looks at common concerns of expats under-29 encounter.

Since many Gen Y expats are studying abroad, or at least living alone for the first time in a foreign country, they may experience more specific fears and interests associated with spending time overseas, compared to serial or silver expats.

Part one focuses on the topic of overseas education and qualifications.

International University Accreditation Standards

(source: Oxford-Royale)

The study abroad twittersphere took a collective sigh of relief when Rick Steves wrote a January editorial forUSA Today entitled, “Study abroad is necessity, not luxury”.  Many experts and educators were shaking their heads in a collective, emphatic yes. Study abroad has become a way of life and integral learning experience in today’s hyper-globalised world; it has morphed into a requirement rather than an extended vacation.

It is no surprise, then, that many under-29 expats across the globe are leaving their homes in search of educational pursuits abroad. Studying is a natural, well-planned, and applauded way to gain international experience while sharpening skills and being exposed to varying viewpoints. Though employers and educators alike heavily applaud these opportunities, I find a common concern that sweeps this demographic is: “How will my international degree translate when I return home? Will employers recognise it as prestigious, and is it a smart investment of my money?”

For anyone considering pursuing a full-fledged degree abroad, I give heaping encouragement with a few words of caution. The United States is hot on rankings, particularly when it comes to education, so it is natural to tend toward international institutions with recognisable names. Think: Oxford, Cambridge, INSEAD. These rankings can, at times, blindside our sensibilities and encourage us to pursue opportunities based on brand name alone. I suggest that anyone considering an international degree look to these important factors before hitting the world rankings.

1.     Is your international university accredited?

If you are concerned as to whether or not your international degree will be “accepted” upon return to the United States, your first step must be researching the accreditation standards of the institution itself. International accreditation standards are rigorous and necessary evaluations of an institution’s offerings; while I am the first to recommend taking “rankings” with a grain of salt, I would never suggest attending a university that does not have a legitimate accreditation.

International accreditation standards vary from country to country. Any university abroad that claims to have “American” ties (example: The American University of Cairo) should be checked through the Middle States Commission on Higher Education ( for their accreditation. In other cases, check out the Committee on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)’s list of international education evaluation systems. Once you locate the evaluating body in the country you are interested in, you can verify whether or not your graduate degree is deemed “up to snuff” on home turf.  This is the first indicator of how your degree will be “received” by employers or graduate schools once it is awarded.

2.     Who are you trying to impress?

When a student asks me whether or not I’ve heard of the international university they’re attending, I always ask if they’ve put the same question to their future employers. If your end goal after receiving a degree is to land a certain job or enter a profession, the best people to ask about your international experience are the people who will hire you someday.

Not everyone has heard of the leading departments in your field. There may be incredible educational opportunities—ones that surpass their American counterparts, for example—located abroad within your profession. Make an appointment to speak with a potential future employer or academic in your field and bounce ideas off of them. They may know better than you the best international experiences to suit your passions.

3.     Sometimes it’s about what you learn, and not where you learn it.

Have you ever heard of IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain? Employers in the finance world may or may not be aware of this superstar institution—ranked in The Economist’s Top 10 MBAs—but they will regardless be incredibly impressed with your fluency in Spanish upon graduation. IESE requires all students to be business proficient in Spanish before leaving Barcelona, and employers will certainly value that prime asset alongside your rigorous exposure to the case method.

Whether or not your future employers, professors, or colleagues have heard of your international institution, they will admire the exposure, language skills, and interesting perspective you bring to the table. An international degree suggests a certain level of resilience and curiosity that is highly attractive in fast-paced corporate environments.  You may not have attended a university with the same name recognition as Harvard or Yale, but you will boast experiences that are both valuable and in-demand. 

About the author

Gillian Kemmerer is the founder of Ready Set Jet, a resource geared toward Generation Y expats. She loves to hear from young people living out their dreams abroad on the RSJ Twitter (, and is both an avid compound archer and rabid FC Barcelona fan.

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