“Vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.”
— Frederick Buechner

For a Prezi presentation on Model UN and careers click here.

Can Model United Nations help you discern your future vocation and career direction? At its best, Model UN offers students the opportunity to both learn about the “world’s greatest needs” and discover a passion for global policymaking, public speaking, research, diplomacy and dialogue. For Model UN students who show an interest in global service and entrepreneurship there are many possible career paths, including:

Pace’s Career Services provides useful advice on post-college opportunities, including those in the international and public service arenas. The following tries to provide in-depth information on preparing for the specific types of global vocations in which Model UN students commonly show interest.

Undergraduate Preparation

Beyond Model UN, Pace University offers many opportunities to develop an academic foundation for an international career in the public, non-profit or private sector. The Political Science program provides a chance to study international relations in depth, but there are many other academic programs at Pace in which you can learn about the world. Here is a selection of classes that might be of interest to Model UN students on offer for the Spring 2012 semester at Pace’s New York City Campus.

Try to design your choice of majors, minors, core curriculum classes and electives to include a mix of:

  • Wisdom: classes that help you make thoughtful, reflective, discerning, well-grounded judgments in your life and work, such as political theory, philosophy, religion, etc.,
  • Knowledge: classes that increase your understanding of the world, its people, history, cultures, arts, literature, etc. and
  • Craft: technical skills such as computing, management, nursing, research methods, writing, quantitative analysis, counseling, etc. (Adapted from Andrew Taggart)

I would perhaps add to this list a fourth item:

  • Community: a group of friends, classmates, colleagues and academic mentors who support you in your learning and become a professional and social network as you move out into the world beyond Pace.

Pace’s Dyson College for the Arts and Sciences offers many opportunities in New York City to get a broad liberal arts background in the various disciplines that inform global vocations. Beyond Political Science, other majors in the social sciences, particularly Economics, Anthropology and Sociology, are good foundational degrees for students who want to go on to careers in global service and/or entrepreneurship. There are also several interdisciplinary programs at Pace that can give students an in-depth understanding of an issue area, such as Peace and Justice Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, Queer Studies and Criminal Justice, or an area of the world, such as, African and African American Studies, East Asian Studies, Middle Eastern Studies and Latin American Studies.

If you are a polyglot or interested in one particular area of the world, majoring modern languages is a good idea. Pace offers majors in Language, Culture and World TradeModern Languages and Cultures and Spanish and minors in French, Italian, Russian and Spanish. However, if you want an international career after graduation, it is imperative that you take some language classes. It is difficult to underestimate how valuable the ability to speak multiple languages can be to opening new avenues for communication, dialogue, trade and service.

An alternative approach is to get a grounding in a technical discipline that is in global demand, such as Nursing, Computer Sciences, Biology (including the pre-professional tracks), Psychology, Chemistry, Environmental Science, Environmental Studies and Forensic Science. An ability to write well or craft messages in various media are also valued technical skills, so majoring in  English, Communications Studies and Film and Screen Studies can be a fruitful academic pursuit.

Even if you do not go into the private sector, the skills you learn in the programs offered by the Lubin School of Business are useful in a wide variety of settings — government agencies and non-profits also need managers, accountants, marketers and financial analysts. Lubin offers bachelor’s degrees in International Management and Global Marketing Management as well as majors in AccountingBusiness Studies, Finance, Management and Quantitative Business Analysis.

If you do decide to go the technical or business school route, make sure also to develop a broad understanding of global issues through your choice of classes in the Core Curriculum, or by getting a minor in the social sciences, humanities, languages or area studies.

Try also to use your research projects and written assignments in class to explore the ideas and issues that most fascinate you, and will give you a foundation in the kind of wisdom, knowledge and craft you will need to follow your vocation.

Read this article about a recent global careers event put on by the Model UN program that highlighted the importance of a well-rounded undergraduate education.

Enriching Experiences: Internships, Study Abroad and Local Volunteering

The learning that occurs in the university classroom provides important foundational training, but it is also important, while still in college, to get out into the world, learning wisdom, knowledge and craft through enriching experiences in new places, new spaces and new work environments.

Bronislaw Malinowski, an early social anthropologists criticized his intellectual colleagues for gathering all their information about cultures and peoples from second-hand sources like missionaries, imperial agents, soldiers and ‘explorers.’ He urged anthropologists to get “off the verandah” — what we would now call “getting out of our comfort zone” — and immerse themselves in local societies and culture. There is a particular danger in the age of the internet, where information seems immediately accessible, that people believe that they can find out all they need to know about the world from a computer or smartphone screen. Try to consider the kinds of offline experiences that push you to engage with the world, to deal with its uncertainties, unexpected situations and surprising dissonances.

A common way to do this ‘expanding of horizons’ is through studying abroad. If you are able to afford the time and resources to do this, it offers an excellent opportunity to expose yourself to very different part of the globe in a structured and managed way. Try to select a program that will increase the knowledge and skills you will need to follow your vocation, such as languages, cross-cultural communication and contextual understanding. The Transitions Abroad website has excellent resources for students discerning how best to study abroad.

You do not necessarily have to go far to immerse yourself in new situations and contexts. You can use AOK1 assignments, internships, local volunteering opportunities and student jobs to build your experience, learn new skills and expand your networks of people involved in the areas of your interest. New York City offers plenty of opportunities to learn about diverse cultures and peoples, and work for all kinds of interesting organizations. There are literally thousands of non-profit organizations in New York City, working on local, national and global issues. AmeriCorps is a particularly good opportunity, though there are many other similar programs.

Long-Term Volunteer Programs, Fellowships and Teaching English

It can be difficult for a new college graduate to find a well-paid and fulfilling international job immediately after graduation. Students are often surprised to find that their good intentions to serve and their willingness to work globally are not sufficient. There is often significant competition even for low paid jobs — if you want to work globally, you must compete against a global workforce, including people who speak multiple languages, are highly-trained and have experience living and operating in multiple cultural contexts. (For example, see this article, which though somewhat dated, shows how difficult it can be to get a job with a humanitarian aid agency without qualification, expertise and experience.)

Often the best way into a global vocation is to enter a long-term volunteer program. Short-term volunteer service and mission trips rarely provide the opportunity to learn in-depth the cultural knowledge, understanding of global issues, technical skills and professional networks needed to succeed in an international career. The alternative, going directly into paid employment with an NGO or business often means getting stuck in a low-level position that does not offer the kind of career-advancing exposure to operations and programs ‘on the ground.’ Long-term international volunteer programs, in which you commit to two to three years in a place, offer a good middle ground — allowing you to gain fine-grained knowledge and experience of a place and sector.

Note that long-term volunteer assignments can be very emotionally and intellectually demanding and so you should think very carefully about the risks involved and ways to manage your physical and emotional health while far from home. Here is an article that offers some tips on ‘how to survive as an aid worker‘, which are relevant to these kind of assignments.

Not all volunteer programs are created equal, so be careful of which ones you select. You want a program that is professional, well-established, has a solid support and training system and places volunteers in meaningful assignments. Focus on organizations that have existed for a long-time and be particularly suspicious of programs that ask you to pay a large amount of money. Transitions Abroad has useful resources for making these decisions.

The following are programs that have a lengthy and well-respected track record:

There are also a variety of fellowship programs that allow you to design your own projects within certain parameters and will pay some or all of your expenses for a given period of time. For example, check out:

Pace University actually has a prestigious fellowships office that can help you identify and apply for such opportunities.

An alternative approach is to teach English. This route often offers a salary and sometimes benefits. However, be careful again to work with an established institution (there are many scams out there) that will get you proper visa papers (another significant problem in the English teaching sector) and try to get proper certification in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) before you go. Note that though this can give you experience in a new culture and context, as well as teaching skills and contacts, an English teaching assignment alone may not adequately prepare you for the kinds of technical skills demanded in NGO and UN careers. Again, Transitions Abroad offers useful resources.

Graduate Schools

Eventually you will probably need to get a graduate degree to advance beyond an entry-level position in public, private or non-profit sector international careers. It usually helps to have a few years of experience under your belt to have a sense of what you actually want from a graduate degree before taking on the large commitment of time and money it represents.

As with your undergraduate degree, think about whether you kind of balance of wisdom, knowledge and craft you want to get out of a degree. Professional and technical programs are weighted toward skills that will help you be more adept at particular professional skills, such as the law, medicine, public health, nutrition, business or public management, teaching English or engineering. Academically-oriented programs try to build your knowledge and analytical capacity for understanding the context of what you are doing, such as master’s degrees in development studies, international relations, peace and conflict studies, economics, political science, anthropology, area studies and languages. For listings of graduate programs in international affairs and similar disciplines, check out the following links:

It is generally wise to avoid doing a doctoral program unless you intend to go into academia, or you are sure that you want to become a technical expert in a very specific field.

Useful General Resources

The following are useful career websites in international careers:

Back to the Model United Nations Handbook.