Posts tagged working abroad
Whenever I participate in an event for students aspiring to work in public relations, I try to publish a helpful blog post for them to check out. Today, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide‘s Bellevue (Seattle area) office is hosting an agency tour of students from Allen Hall Public Relations, my alma mater’s student-run public relations agency, and I’m lucky enough to speak on a panel of University of Oregon graduates to answer their questions.
After much deliberation on what kind of blog post to write, I’ve decided to raid my blogging history and Twitter favorites to compile a round-up post of tweets and posts that I think are especially helpful for students.
Some of these blog posts and tweets are quite old. I promise I’ve read through them and only included ones that, in my opinion, are still 100 percent true today.
Tweets by others:
“If you don’t figure out what you want to become, someone else will define it for you.” goo.gl/n0ZPI
— Justin Tsang (@justinjtsang) November 8, 2011
— arikhanson (@arikhanson) June 12, 2012
— Lori McNee(@lorimcneeartist) June 14, 2012
— Pat Rhoads (@patmrhoads) January 29, 2013
— Derek Belt (@derekbelt) January 26, 2013
Blog posts by me:
- 2008 Student vs. 2011 Professional: The PR Industry and 2008 Student vs. 2011 Professional: PR Agency Job Duties - Note: I’m happy to report that entry-level public relations hiring is better than when I wrote those posts. Some agencies now have a shortage of good intern candidates. Everything else about those posts are still true today.
- Student Interviews Me About PR and China
- How to Survive the Undergraduate to Post-Graduate Transition
- Tips for Students on Finding Post-Grad Jobs Abroad – Part 1: Before You Leave
- Tips for Students on Finding Post-Grad Jobs Abroad – Part 2: Visa Advice
- Tips for Students on Finding Post-Grad Jobs Abroad – Part 3: Once You’re There
- NGO Public Relations in Uganda – Interview with Jessica Lomelin
- UO PR Grads Who Now…Teach English in Korea
Students and aspiring public relations professionals, let me know if you have any questions about working at Waggener Edstrom Wordwide in the comments or by emailing me at beth dot evans 4 at gmail dot com.
Welcome to Seattle Guanxi’s first video interview. We hope to do many more of them. Our first is with Larry Johnson, a prominent Seattle-based writer who worked as a journalist in China in the 1980s and was part of a lot of firsts at the time. I meant to only interview him for about three minutes, but he had so many good things to say that the interview lasted nearly nine minutes. Video is below as well as a full text transcript, if you prefer to read instead of watch.
Beth: I am here today with Larry Johnson who has some really good work experience in China in journalism. Larry, first of all, can you tell us your background and give us your spiel about yourself?
Larry: Sure. I was a journalist in California and I got an offer to work with a magazine in China called “China Reconstructs,” and it was a one-year contract, and my wife and I both actually got an offer to do that. We went. This was way back in 1987, and we were there from ’87 to ’88.
Beth: I know this is a really loaded question, but what were kind of your strongest impressions of China at the time that you’d like to share?
Larry: Well, the most stark contrast between China and the United States at the time was that it was very regulated, authoritarian. We, for example, we were the first journalists working for this magazine, it’s called China Reconstructs, that we didn’t have a socialist background or a communist background. We were the first just regular journalists hired by the magazine. But, one of the things they did was they kept really tight control over you, and they watched you at all times, and the people where you lived, there was a hotel called the Friendship Hotel where we stayed, and the maids, everybody there, cleaners, they were all reporting to the government: what you did, where you went, who your friends were, especially who your Chinese friends were. So it was a pretty authoritarian atmosphere.
Beth: So did you get to travel in China at all for your work?
Larry: We did. We traveled all over. And this was another first. They allowed us to go as reporters and photographers for the magazine to Tibet, for example, which was pretty unusual to get to go to Tibet at that time. And also, we went to some of the Special Economic Zones they were setting up, starting in the ’80s, to bring in investment from overseas. We went to Fujian province, and that was pretty exciting. It was a thriving industrial area, bringing in factories from Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong. So, we traveled and wrote and took photos for the magazine quite a bit.
Beth: At that time, and in China, how did you get your story ideas and find people to interview?
Larry: Well, it wasn’t hard coming up with story ideas, because China was one of the main topics for magazines and newspapers all over the world. In fact, before we left, we set up a little news service of our own, where we sent stories back to about half a dozen big newspapers across the country. And they would suggest ideas, and in our everyday work for the magazine, we’d come across story ideas that were great. It was a great environment for journalists at that time.
Beth: So did you work at all with people who would be seen as PR people, or was that kind of nonexistent at the time?
Larry: It was funny. They were all rolled into one. Journalists in China were seen as PR people, basically, at that time. One of the funny stories for when I was working for the magazine was one of the stories I did for them, they assigned me to go out and do a story on an old China hand, someone who had been in the country for years, from overseas, and helped them get established in various fields. This was a very successful businessman. So I went out, and I interviewed him at his hotel, took photos, came back, wrote the story up, sent it to my editors, and they immediately came over and said, “Wait a minute, you have your byline on this story. You should have his byline.” So, it was like, “What? I’m a journalist. I just interviewed this guy. And you want his byline on the story?” You know, and I’d done PR before, so if they’d said, “This is going to be a PR assignment,” I would have understood it, but I was really kind of shocked and offended that they were treating me as a journalist as a PR person for this guy. And it eventually ran, despite my protests, under his name.
Beth: I also wanted to ask you if you’re familiar with the term “guanxi.”
Larry: Oh, of course.
Beth: How do you define guanxi, because it’s one of the words in our blog title?
Larry: Well, guanxi at the time, just basically bribes, and still is. I mean, I haven’t been to China in years, but I understand that guanxi is still, kind of an everyday thing. For dealing with, especially, government officials, you want to take them presents. That’s another nice name for it. You give them presents, and you’ll get what you want. When we traveled, and we traveled quite a bit, we would hire someone to get our tickets for us because they knew how to work with guanxi. We didn’t. We’re used to going up, getting in line, paying our fare, and getting on. Well if you do that, at the time we were there, you would never get a ticket to a plane or train, or you wouldn’t get into hotels or anything. So we’d hired someone, they’d give them a little extra, so they could give to the officials some present, in this case, money, and you’d get a really nice ticket, better than most people.
Beth: One thing that’s kind of famous about Chinese journalism is the blur between advertising and editorial content, and bribing journalists and things like that. Did you ever get bribed yourself as a journalist or was it different because you were a foreigner?
Larry: I think it was different because I was a foreigner. No one ever offered me bribes. They knew I was working for the Chinese magazine as a quote: “foreign expert,” and so I was never approached, never offered anything. Actually I went to a travel fair. A bunch of travel agents in China. They suggested that I do things like come to their area of the country and write a story about it, and they would pay certain fees, you know. But they do that in this country, too, they offer to pay your plane travel or train ticket or whatever to do a story on it. So it didn’t seem any different than what I was used to in the United States. But I know, my colleagues, they were offered money and talked about it a little bit, and we talked about the differences between journalism in this country and the way it was done in many other countries overseas at the time.
Beth: So I see that you have copies of magazines with you. Would you like to show them to the camera?
Larry: I do. This is a copy of the magazine when we were working for it in 1987. It was called “China Reconstructs,” and it was founded by Madame Sun Yat-sen, originally. And then in 1998 or 9, maybe 1989, they changed their name to make it sound more modern. “Reconstructs” sounded like the old communist idea, so they changed it to this, and it became a little more modern. More use of color, a little bit better magazine. It’s still basically a PR magazine for the country. I would not call it a journalism magazine. It’s more finding good things about the country to write about, good things, good people, and putting on a good face to the world.
Beth: This has been really great. Do you have any final thoughts that you’d like to share?
Larry: Well, I think, I would just encourage people to do things kinds of things, to go somewhere overseas, especially in countries where journalism, public relations and public affairs work is considerably different than what we have in the United States, just to get the difference and kind of understand how other people operate.
Beth: Lastly, how can we find you online?
A few months after I moved to Beijing to work as a gallery assistant, my classmate and fellow student leader from the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication‘s public relations program Jessica Lomelin interviewed me about my experiences abroad for a blog post. After Jessica moved to Uganda to work as Invisible Children‘s communications assistant this past February, I had to take advantage of the opportunity to in turn interview her about her public relations experience abroad.
Back in the United States, Jessica was already a young public relations professional to admire, winning the Liz Cawood Award for community service from the Greater Oregon Chapter of Public Relations Society of America as one of the top students in our program’s graduating class and going on to work for the Seattle office of Weber Shandwick after graduation.
Now for the interview:
How did you decide that you wanted to move to Uganda to work as Invisible Children’s communications assistant?
Last year, I was living in Seattle, and although I was very happy, I knew I wanted to work abroad. In the recent years, I studied abroad and traveled internationally, but I knew I was ready to take my work to a global level. I’ve had my taste of working stateside for international organizations, but I decided it was time to be on the ground and in the heart of the work I was passionate about. I was fairly open to different regions and as I was talking to a friend about my interests, she reminded me about the work Invisible Children (IC) was doing.
I did not have a strong knowledge or impression of Africa, but I was always very impressed with IC. They are a global organization founded on youth advocacy and movement. Given the scope of my work, I was also impressed with their use of media to share the story of a war that took place and changed the lives of those in northern Uganda.
I kept my eye on the organization’s web site and one day came across a communications assistant position. Not thinking further than that day, I applied for the position. Never in my mind did I think, “How will I do this?” or “could I even live in Uganda – a war-torn area?” For some reason, during the entire application process, I just had a sense of peace and ease in what I was doing. It just felt like an ideal fit for me. It was challenging and relatively unfamiliar, but extremely intriguing and promising.
How did you get a job in Uganda when you were still in the U.S.? What about you as a candidate do you think impressed Invisible Children the most?
I think this position was unique in that they knew their candidate would likely be from out of Uganda. It wasn’t easy, but the interview and transition process required a lot of patience, late nights/early mornings, and on-going skype calls. Luckily, the office’s headquarters are in San Diego, so they also served as a great support and resource for answering questions and providing information.
Now, living in Uganda, I understand the disadvantage a candidate would be in by living outside of the respective area. Particularly in development, employers not only look for work experience and skill, but also character in terms of cultural sensitivity and immersion, as well as open-mindedness and patience. Unfortunately, that is not something you can often portray through a resume or even a phone interview. With that said, it’s crucial to tap into personal networks, which I believe will put you at an advantage.
I think (well, hope, hehe) that what made me stand out as a candidate was my balance of professional experience with personal desire and passion.
What I quickly learned is that one can have a great heart and good intentions, but if they do not have appropriate job experience, they will not be seen as a strong candidate. Development is a very competitive field and very time and labor intensive, so employers have to be selective to find candidates who have a motivation to improve certain conditions, but also have unique skills that a local employee could not fulfill. With that, I think they were impressed with my international travel and experience of working with international staff and within different working environments. I’ve been very committed to non-profits and philanthropic organizations and am very knowledgeable about major global issues. Most importantly however, I have professional journalism and communications experience. I’ve worked at two global public relations firms, have extensive knowledge of Adobe programs, and am very comfortable using social media tools. Having had this experience in a professional setting and for global clients proved accountability and high quality in my work and experience.
During my interview, I was able to speak confidently about my work experience as well as respond to hypothetical scenarios of working in international settings with people of different culture, background, and work ethic. Being born in Mexico, as well, gave me a sense of living in a culturally sensitive area.
That is my interpretation, anyhow! They may answer differently ;)
What were the easiest and most difficult aspects of transitioning from corporate agency PR in the U.S. to NGO PR in Uganda?
Ha, what is funny is that I don’t think any transition aspect was easy! The months leading up to the move and up until a couple of months ago were terrifying. I definitely received bold comments of “So you’re leaving a salaried job in a global, corporate agency (during the economic downfall, mind you) to take an unpaid internship that in six months would make you unemployed?” Now, I’m able to counteract that statement confidently, but at the time I’d have panic moments of “what am I thinking!?”
What gave me ease was knowing the amount of support and encouragement I had from friends and family. As well, I learned to put less pressure and expectation on myself, and accepted that in taking risks, there may be some hiccups along the way. I think too often we put such high expectations on every single professional move that we often set ourselves up for failure. Being okay with the outcome and having faith in my decisions made me relax and look forward to what was to come. A huge lessonfor me during the transitioning period was that no move or opportunity is a wasted one. If on paper it was deemed a “failure,” in life, it could be seen as a growth and learning experience.
You’ve done quite a bit of personal fundraising for your trip. Could you take us through an overview of your planning and implementation process for this?
Yes, fundraising was crucial! To be honest, it was one of the most difficult aspects of the pre-trip phase. I’ve never felt comfortable asking for things, let alone money, so it was a component of my pride I had to swallow and accept. I had to be honest with myself that I wouldn’t be able to do this without the support of others.
After talking it through with friends and colleagues, I approached the fundraising as “help me help Invisible Children support the people of northern Uganda.” Knowing that it was something I couldn’t do alone, I positioned this as a group effort. Thinking back to basic elements of PR helped me as well. I don’t think the difficulty lied in asking for support, but rather, continuing the relationship and assuring that the donors felt satisfied in their contribution. Just as you would handle a donor, client, or stakeholder, there requires a delicate inter-personal relationship. I know that the economic climate is an extreme burden, so I was very appreciative of people’s support – no matter the monetary value. Given my work with IC, I particularly wanted to focus on youth and reiterate mass advocacy. Meaning, emphasizing the idea of what support would be like if 500 people donated $5. Donations don’t need to come in mass quantity, but in large volumes. I knew it would be a big time investment, but I wanted to bring people along on my journey and serve as a lens into this world and experience.
With that said, I created a Web site, along with videos explaining the work I was doing. I used my social media knowledge to create material that was impactful and visual. I create a digital package that contained a variety of materials – videos, FAQ’s, and bios of northern Uganda, Invisible Children, and myself. I encouraged people to pass it on to interested friends and families. I then contacted Seattle-based organizations and pitched myself for potential product or monetary support. Although it was a bit difficult to get actual funding, I did receive support from Nike and Emergen-C! Hey, every little bit counts, right?
Once someone donated, I listed them on my Website, thanked them via Facebook and Twitter, and sent a personal thank you letter. Now being in Uganda, I send frequent emails with pictures and personal stories. What is important now is maintaining the relationship and involving the advocates in what I’m doing.
What about Uganda do you wish more people outside the country knew?
That the country is full of beauty and opportunity! Due to the media exposure, people only associate Uganda with the LRA and conflict in northern Uganda. Although it is important to be familiar with the history of the war, it is more important to realize that an immense amount of work and rehabilitation has since occurred. The country has been peaceful since 2006 and is focusing on bettering the community through health, educational, and agricultural initiatives, to name a few.
What I love is the character of the local people (speaking primarily in Gulu district). Considering what they’ve gone through, it is incredible to see these people persevere and continue to live their lives with hope, respect, and determination. I’ve encountered the most selfless, genuine people I’ve ever met. I came to Uganda thinking (as a Westerner) I’d be providing a service and assisting the community. What I quickly realized, however, is that this experience is very reciprocal and I, in fact, was learning a great deal from the community.
Northern Ugandans do not need pity or sympathy. They need outlets to share their stories and resources to thrive and live a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.
What will you do once you finish your 6 months at Invisible Children?
Ah, that’s the golden question! Stay tuned and you will soon find out.
Just kidding. I’m considering a few options, but it is still too soon to tell. I am definitely staying abroad and every day, I’m realizing how much I love my life in Uganda and how I want to stay in Africa. I love working with a development organization that has allowed me to use my communication knowledge and passion to tell IC’s story and shed light on the community. I’ve been fulfilled in more ways that I could imagine, and lucky for me, it is only the beginning!
Any other thoughts?
Working abroad, particularly in the development sector, can be challenging and often emotionally draining, but entirely possible. I suggest tapping online resources (Idealist.org, Relief Web and MyDevJobs) for job and internship postings. As well, start volunteering for local organizations and seek mentors who can serve as a wealth of knowledge. Do extensive research to help narrow your focus on a particular initiative and region.
Most importantly, however, continue to share your passion with others and tap into your networks. You’d be amazed at the groundswell of support you will get to take this leap of faith. Moving abroad may be terrifying and unpredictable, but entirely worthwhile.
You have nothing to lose, but everything to gain.
Please contact me at Jessica dot lomelin at gmail dot com or on my Website, www.jessicalomelin.com if you have any questions. I’d love to hear from you!
Photos in this post were taken from Jessica’s Facebook profile.
Update July 12, 2010: Jessica’s coworker was killed in Uganda’s World Cup terrorist attack. Read the blog post on his work and memorial fund here.
This is the conclusion of a three-part series inspired by students’ and recent graduates’ requests for my advice on how to get a job offers abroad immediately after graduation. The series topics are Before You Leave, Visa Advice and Once You’re There, in that order.
Jessica Lomelin interviewed me on my experience working in China for a blog post, which was mentioned to a large lecture full of International Communication students at the University of Oregon. Jessica and I got to know each other last year from working in the same groups in two of our public relations classes and serving on the Executive Board of the University of Oregon Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) Chapter together. She’s now a team assistant at the Seattle office of Weber Shandwick. You can read the post on her blog here. For those of you behind the Great Firewall of China, I’ve copied and pasted the full text below:
Seek out students and professors at your university who are from where you want to work and get to know them. Many universities have a student group for international students, and sometimes they have groups for international students from specific regions or countries. Some universities and cities have a group that arranges language partnerships. At the University of Oregon, this is the Friendship Foundation for International Students. People will usually be flattered you want to work in their home country and want to help you as much as possible.
Your university might also have student groups specifically for Americans who want to work abroad and international students who want to work in the U.S. At the University of Oregon, I recommend the International Business and Economic Club.
Make sure that as many people in the above groups plus mentors and professors who like you, especially in your major and language classes, know that you want to work abroad and what kind of jobs you want. Last year, I let my major’s department head, Pat Curtin, know I got an internship in Beijing. The internship ended up falling through, and I didn’t tell many people I got another job in Beijing. The day I graduated, I got an e-mail from a student who knew Pat letting me know a really good job lead in Beijing. This would have never happened had Pat not known I wanted to work there.