As a PR pro, you might be interested in acquiring global experience—but getting work opportunities abroad can be difficult. You still can find opportunities to hone international skills without leaving the country.
Here are five solutions:
1. Seek work for companies with a global presence.
Look at PR firms that represent international clients or U.S.-based multinationals or NGOs. Be aware that PR firms belonging to the leading international communication conglomerates, such as Interpublic, Omnicom and WPP Group, represent approximately 60 percent of the global PR business.
However, small independent agencies also represent international organizations. In-house positions can be found at multinational corporations. Privately held companies or even startups might be targeting global audiences. Governments, whether U.S. or foreign with U.S. offices, also offer international career opportunities in-house or on the agency side, particularly in tourism and economic development.
Also consider NGOs with headquarters in the U.S. or other foreign-based NGOs that have a presence in the U.S. According to the U.S. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, approximately 1.5 million NGOs are operating in the U.S. The World Association of Non-governmental Organizations has a directory of NGOs in over 120 countries. Also, look at in-house jobs with nonprofits that need to communicate beyond their headquarters’ borders. Idealist posts nonprofit jobs, internships and volunteer opportunities.
2. Study a language.
Being able to conduct business in another language requires a high level of proficiency. Even people raised in bilingual households might not be confident enough to use the language in a work setting. You could take an online course, campus-based credited or unaccredited classes, or try an interactive digital language program. Duolingo and Memrise are just two examples of free apps to learn languages.
You also could consider a private tutor, preferably with a person from that country. Don’t be afraid to find creative solutions. For example, you could volunteer at an assisted living facility and spend time with a bilingual resident who would enjoy your companionship while you practice speaking another language.
It’s important to use the language—the cliché “use it or lose it” really applies to foreign language retention. Knowing another language is a benefit, but don’t worry if you only speak English. In international business, English has become the world’s lingua franca—but be mindful of regional and international differences and use of idiomatic expressions.
3. Take courses in intercultural communication or global PR, marketing or business.
Consider taking undergraduate or continuing education courses or look at graduate programs. Online course options also offer flexible time and can expand your choices. Several PR industry trade groups also host webinars, workshops or conferences in the U.S. related to topics of interest for global public relations.
4. Volunteer for a nonprofit or participate in events with international reach.
Cross-cultural chambers of commerce, such as the French-American Chamber of Commerce, or cultural organizations like the Asia Society, also offer ways to learn more about other countries.
5. Follow current events about a country of interest.
You can read media coverage in the U.S. and follow the country’s local media (traditional and social) or other international media outlets, many of which would be in English. Don’t forget about blogs covering that country, since expatriates can offer fascinating accounts of their experiences abroad. Follow current fiction or nonfiction that would shed insight into the country’s culture and its people.
These experiences will make you a more desirable candidate for international PR jobs at home—and better prepare you for immersive abroad experiences as a professional, student, volunteer or traveler.
PR executives who work in the international arena in the U.S. most likely will find that their work will include international business travel, particularly as their careers progress.
Opportunities for job transfers abroad will increase with language proficiency and proven global and intercultural business experience.
Do you have experience working in international communications? Share your journey in the comments.
Arhlene Flowers is associate professor of Integrated Marketing Communications at Ithaca College.