By Amy Lum

When I graduated from Wesleyan University in the spring of 2010 with a degree in East Asian Studies, the economy was still suffering from the financial crisis of 2008 and the prospect of finding a job in the states was daunting, to say the least. I also wasn’t sure about what kind of job I wanted, so for me, teaching abroad was an easy decision to make.

In the fall of 2010 I completed my LanguageCorps training in Cambodia and Vietnam, and started a job in Ho Chi Minh City a few weeks after finishing the course. I stayed in Ho Chi Minh for three and a half years and moved back to America a couple months ago. I can’t say enough good things about my time in Vietnam. I traveled to over 15 countries, ate a lot of delicious and cheap Vietnamese food, made a great group of friends who I still see and keep in touch with, and learned a lot about Vietnam and Vietnamese culture from my students. Also, if you go to Ho Chi Minh you get to meet the two program trainers there, Hien and Linh, who are two of the best people you will ever meet. I never thought that I would stay there as long as I did, but there were always more places I wanted to go and things I wanted to do. Vietnam was basically a fantasyland!

Alas, there came a time when I knew it was time to return home. I really enjoyed teaching and it instilled in me a grave respect for teachers all around the world, but as a career, it’s not for me. About a year before I returned to the states I decided that I wanted to go to graduate school to earn a MBA (Masters in Business Administration). I completed my application, took the GMAT, and did a Skype interview all while I was still in Vietnam. When I was accepted into my program I was thrilled, but also terrified. Vietnam was my home for almost four years and I had become so accustomed to my life there. I was also scared about starting Business School. I’ve taken no business classes and being an ESL teacher has been my only occupation post college. I felt very intimidated thinking about how much more relevant work experience my classmates would have than me.  I even started to question whether I had spent too much time abroad.

Now that I have finished orientation and am set to start classes at Rutgers Business School next week, I have no doubts about my decision to spend almost 4 years teaching in Vietnam. Throughout my orientation I heard from my school’s Office of Career Management, experts on networking and personal branding, professors, and executives from a number of major companies. They all had the same thing to say about how to present yourself to prospective employers. It’s not necessarily about what you did before you started business school, it’s about how your past experiences have shaped you into the person you are today. It’s about connecting the dots. It’s about why whatever you did in the past will make you a successful employee in the future. This notion really stuck with me. I spent a lot of time this summer worrying about having no “business” background, but now this anxiety has almost disappeared. There are things that you can only learn, observe and experience while living and working abroad that can be applied to any future career.

So if you are questioning spending time abroad and away from a more traditional career path, don’t! If you are on the fence about taking the leap and leaving home, just do it! Whatever is at home will be there when you return. You will not only come back with great memories and new friends, but also have a set of experiences that will be relevant to you in the future.

And who knows? Maybe you will move abroad and want to stay. A friend of mine, and fellow LC grad, met his wife in Vietnam, got married last year and he and his wife are now expecting their first child. (Congrats Paul and Huong!)

Taking time to travel and having an adventure is something everyone should do. LanguageCorps offers a great platform to start that adventure. I’ll leave you with a great quote from Mark Twain that will hopefully seal the deal and persuade you to go abroad:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” 

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