Chelsea Beaulieu studied abroad with ISA in Hyderabad, India in Spring 2013 and was an ISA Global Ambassador at Salve Regina University before graduating in Spring 2014. Chelsea talks about why she was inspired to study in India, as well as her experiences traveling and backpacking around the world! Chelsea currently works for the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) and shares her advice for students interested in pursuing a career in a global field. We reached out to Chelsea to learn more about her story!
- What was the most memorable experience from your semester abroad in Hyderabad, India? What inspired you to choose this program?
Three of my classmates and I took a six-day trip to the southern state of Kerala. We took a 30-hour sleeper train to get there, which was an experience in itself! We rented a houseboat for two days and cruised the river, eating the best and freshest fish I’ve ever had. Then, we finished our trip in Munnar, which is a tea plantation region high up in the mountains. The air was so fresh and the views were breathtaking. I think that the varied and striking landscapes of India was one of my absolute favorite things about my time there.
I was actually a French major, so all logic would have pointed to me studying abroad in a French-speaking country. I thought about the opportunity I had in front of me, where I’d be living abroad for an extended period of time, but with the type of dedicated support I would probably never have again while going abroad later on in life. I figured this was the best opportunity in my life to go somewhere far away with a culture as unfamiliar to me as possible. I wanted to test myself, my limits, and my understanding of the world, but with the safety net of ISA and my university behind me if I needed it. It turns out that this was one of the most important decisions I have made in my life, and this experience was incredibly transformative and humbling. It solidified my interest in working in a global field, and it inspired in me a passion for cultural exchange and understanding.
2. Tell us about your experience working as an ISA Global Ambassador. What skills did you develop from this position?
I think the most important thing I learned from my experience as an ISA Global Ambassador was that you could work in study abroad as a career! I had really never thought of it as a career path, but it was a big eye-opener for me to the world of exchanges as a profession.
In terms of skills, this role also introduced me to advocating for exchanges. I used these skills when I interned at a small international education nonprofit in Vermont, where many people are not exposed to this type of experience, and in the past year during the Alliance for International Exchange’s Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill, where representatives from exchange organizations all over the country convene to advocate for funding for exchanges through Congress.
3. What do you currently do for the International Visitor Leadership Program? What’s your favorite part of your job?
Right now I work as a program officer on the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). My team at Cultural Vistas collaborates with the U.S. Department of State to implement three-week programs where, before COVID, we’d bring emerging leaders from all over the world, grouped by professional focus or cause, to meet with their professional counterparts in the United States. Luckily we’ve gone virtual now, and while it’s not quite the same, I feel lucky being able to continue this work. Fun fact: The IVLP is the oldest U.S. government-funded exchange program. We are celebrating its 80th anniversary this year!
My role is to take the project goals set by the Department of State and translate them into a comprehensive program that shows as much of the full diversity of the U.S. as possible in three short weeks through the types of meetings I arrange, the cultural activities we plan, the cities and towns we show them, and more.
It’s hard to narrow down my favorite part of the job; I love the planning and research that goes into developing the program, learning about different professions and parts of the U.S. that I would have never known about otherwise, collaborating with people abroad and all over this country, and meeting our visitors in person and being inspired by the passion they have for their work. I think my favorite experience so far was in January of this year. I had a group of documentary filmmakers from India (everything comes full circle), and I got to attend Sundance Film Festival in Utah with them!
4. Tell us about the 11-month solo backpacking trip that you went on!
One of the things I did not get to while I was in India was solo travel, so it was on my list to accomplish! I decided to take some time off from my master’s degree and bought a one-way ticket to Morocco. I had always been curious about Morocco, and wanted an opportunity to finally use that French degree! I figured that once I was over on that side of the Atlantic, I might as well spend as much time as possible exploring. I didn’t know when I’d have an opportunity like this again. I spent three months backpacking around Morocco and can really say it’s one of my favorite countries I’ve been to.
After Morocco, I took the ferry up to Spain, and then traveled through Portugal, France, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Italy. Something to note about solo travel: if you’re staying at hostels and/or couch surfing, you make new friends really quickly, so you’re never really alone if you don’t want to be. I recommend it to anyone!
I think my biggest takeaway from this trip and from all of the international experiences I’ve had before and after is that people are generally good and well-meaning, and the world is not such a scary place as many make it out to be. Understanding the shared humanity in us all is the source of my optimism in life and for the world, and I think travel facilitates that.
5. What advice do you have for any students looking to pursue a career in International Relations?
Find who is connected internationally within your community, and get involved with them! After I returned from my backpacking trip, I was living at home in rural Vermont, working to finish my MA online, and was itching to reconnect with the international community. I googled something like, “international organizations Vermont,” and started reaching out. One organization wrote back to me, and in time my occasional volunteering with them turned into a full-time internship. This organization was also the local nonprofit partner for the IVLP, that I work on at the national level today. My boss at the organization there became my mentor, and she helped me get my career started in DC just a few months later.
Particularly if you’re in a smaller city or town, look into the World Affairs Councils of America and Global Ties U.S. networks and see if there’s a local chapter near you. They have partners in over 90 cities across the U.S that work to connect the world to their communities, and vice versa. I have many colleagues in DC who started out like me at one of these organizations. If you’re interested in a career as a diplomat or other international work at the government level, look up your local diplomat in residence and ask them for a meeting. They’re typically based at universities and are always happy to talk to interested students.
Finally, don’t feel pressure to get a master’s degree right away, if at all! There are a lot of entry-level positions available in major cities, particularly DC and NYC, that will give you the opportunity to hone in on what you’re interested in within the field, and many places of work will offer financial support to get your master’s degree later on if you decide it’s what you want.
Inspired by Chelsea’s journey and want to discover your own while immersing yourself in an abroad experience? Fill out your details below to let our team know and we’ll help you find your adventure today!