Leveraging the Unique Skills of U.S. Exchange Alumni

Leorah B. McGinnis, Career Connections Seminar Participant

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I recently had the privilege of attending the inaugural Career Connections Seminar for U.S. exchange alumni. The Seminar provided career development workshops to leverage the unique skills that alumni of U.S. Department of State-sponsored exchange programs developed abroad. Partners of the Americas and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. State Department (ECA) created and hosted the Seminar from February 21-22 in Raleigh, North Carolina.
As a U.S. exchange alumna, I found the Seminar highly rewarding. In 2014, I participated in the US Congress Korean National Assembly Exchange Program though Meridian International Center and the US Department of State. Ten young citizen diplomats from the United States and ten from South Korea spent time exploring each other’s country’s and creating meaningful relationships. Now, I’m looking to make the most of my skills to create a meaningful career.
All of the participants were in a similar boat – many actively searching for jobs and satisfying next steps in their career, which was comforting. We met many helpful speakers, guides and new friends. There were a lot of other successful alumni there with us to give us hope for a fulfilling future.
The first Career Connections Seminar was designed to be a regionally-focused event, with the first event targeting states in the Southeast. Living in Colorado, I am not from anywhere near North Carolina. I would have chosen to attend the next event, taking place in Denver, Colorado, but I will be out of the country at that time. I therefore applied and begged shamelessly to attend this inaugural event instead. I am very glad that I did.

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The Career Connections Seminar officially started with Assistant Secretary of State at ECA, Marie Royce, who delivered the Welcome Remarks and discussed how to find career opportunities. Throughout the two days, I participated in a one-on-one resume workshop and heard presentations on everything from resume and cover letter crafting for different sectors, to the best way to do an informational interview and make it count. 
One of my favorite opportunities was attending a panel that included the North Carolina Secretary of State and members of the Coalition for Global Competitiveness, some of whom joined us for a networking mixer later that evening. There were several awe-inspiring women on the panel who talked about the winding roads of their careers and candidly revealed some of the most unexpectedly influential turning points in their lives. I appreciated hearing one woman in power talk about how her divorce impacted her career and what it meant for her. It is good to be reminded that even those who have ascended the ladder of success are still mortals who share many of the same challenges as those of us just fighting to get started. It gave me another treasured moment of "Yes, we (women) can."
I also enjoyed meeting several Foreign Service Officers (FSO). One of the FSOs told us at the mixer about her experience in the Peace Corps, meeting her husband there, and how they manage the challenges of constant movement associated with this life. Our last speaker of the event was the Diplomat in Residence for the Mid-Atlantic Region and she gave one of the most helpful overviews of the service I have ever received, answering questions I did not even know I had. It reignited the spark of determination I’ve harbored for that career goal for many years.
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Overall, it was a wonderful opportunity and I encourage all eligible U.S. exchange alumni to apply. I vacillated the entire two days between feeling supported and motivated and basking in the knowledge that we were all in the same place, and feeling a little bit overwhelmed. It is a lot to take in, and it honestly does not always feel great to be trying to push forward in an uncertain career when you do not totally know where you are going or why but you do know you are competing against a lot of other gifted people to get there. Yet I would hazard to say that attending this event was a good first step in figuring it out.