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With U.S. Downsizing, a Foreign Post Can Help Jump-Start Career

September 22, 1996|LISA TWARONITE | Lisa Twaronite is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles

Rob Schonberger, like many 1996 college graduates, hasn't charted a long-term career path. But the Yale University philosophy major does have a two-year plan: After a summer of intensive Mandarin language training, move to Changsha, China, to teach English at Hunan Medical University through a Yale-sponsored program.

"My father wanted me to go to med school, and in a way that's what I'm doing," said Schonberger, who was to leave this month for China.

Whether or not he pursues a career in medicine, living in a new culture will be a valuable experience, he said. "China will challenge me in ways I've never been challenged before. I think it's a good job to have for a couple of years."

Faced with a dearth of entry-level jobs in today's climate of corporate downsizing, Schonberger and other recent graduates are turning to a time-honored way to jump-start their careers: teaching English abroad.

"There are opportunities all over the world for all kinds of applicants," said Michael Linden-Martin, an instructor at the UCLA Education Extension. "We see a lot of people right out of college and even some retiree-types looking for a second career in another country."

For those who want to continue in the field of education, teaching abroad may be a natural choice. Those whose aspirations lie in other directions may find that a teaching job in a country of interest provides a good base from which to find other jobs there.

"Oftentimes a student can play on that international teaching experience and parlay that into a particular job," said Dan Sandweiss, director of career development at Pomona College.

International business contacts are a bonus of many teaching jobs abroad, agreed Jeff Wood, director of career development and alumni at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

"Business people are usually the ones who can afford the English language training," he said.

Some of the institute's alumni helped found an English program at a start-up manufacturing company in China. Monterey Institute graduates sign up to be in-house English teachers for the company's middle managers and some of the assembly-line workers, Wood said.

In addition to such private arrangements, many public programs exist. The United States Information Agency sponsors the Fulbright Teacher Exchange Program for applicants who already have teaching experience. The Peace Corps, which also recruits math and science teachers, is another public program. Some foreign governments have their own programs. Japan's JET program, for example, employs more than 2,000 U.S. citizens, most of them as English teaching assistants in public junior and senior high schools.

One JET alumna parlayed her experience in Japan into an executive job in the Los Angeles office of a Japanese travel agency.

"I found teaching interesting, but never had the desire to make it my own as a profession," said Linda Chenoweth, who spent three years teaching in the JET program. Chenoweth had studied a semester in Japan before graduating from Indiana's DePauw University in 1979. She found a job in the field of medical data analysis and was on track for a career in hospital administration before deciding to make a change.

"I wanted to have a job in something with more of an international influence. I also wanted to go back to Japan and work, not study," she said. She signed up with the JET program. When that ended, Chenoweth took a job with Kintetsu International Express U.S.A.'s Los Angeles Tour Operation Center, where she is now director of human resources.

Chenoweth also started and maintains the JET resume bank for the JET Alumni Assn. of Southern California. More than 200 resumes of former program participants are on file. Chenoweth fields about five inquiries per month from potential employers.

Not all former overseas teachers make a smooth transition to other jobs, career advisors caution. The extent to which a teaching job abroad enhances a career often depends on an individual's other skills, networking efforts and a thorough researching of employment conditions.

The same caution applies to determining the short-term success of an overseas teaching job, said Bobbe Browning, director of career development and counseling at Cal State Fullerton.

"For some people, this can be an invaluable experience, but if people are not clear about the requirements and expectations, they can be disappointed," Browning said.

In addition to learning as much about the culture and economic conditions of one's destination as possible, potential teachers should thoroughly investigate each job program. Some programs charge an application fee to cover training expenses; others require teachers to arrange their own visas and transportation.

Salary is another factor to negotiate in advance.

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