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Working Abroad in International Higher Education: Go for it! by Hillary Vance, University of Arizona

By Sallie Ly posted 11-15-2019 01:08 PM


Since June 2017, I have been based in Cambodia overseeing the University of Arizona’s (UA) programs in Southeast Asia. This was an assignment I eagerly took on, because I worked for an NGO in Cambodia in 2011-2012 and was happy to return. Prior to returning to Cambodia, I was working in the Study Abroad office at UA.


Working overseas for a U.S. based institution naturally has both benefits and challenges. The UA Micro-campus Network, as we call it, is still fairly new, and so we work in an ‘all hands-on deck’ mode pretty much all the time. Until we grow our staff, it’s necessary to be willing to do any and all tasks needed. That means everything from liaising with university presidents and senior staff to helping students who forget their email passwords.

Other challenges include; being flexible with time zone differences (I can’t expect everyone else on a call based in Arizona to be up late or super early), dealing with the isolation of working mostly alone, and problem-solving issues that are unanticipated by the home campus. For instance, our business program textbooks were particularly hard to source in our first semester, so I brought them over in my luggage after a trip home.

Being an overseas staff member also means pitching in with other university needs, including recruitment, alumni events, study abroad, etc. These additional opportunities are not only great for professional development but also add layers of cooperation with our overseas partners which greatly benefits our relationships. In addition to our partnership with the American University of Phnom Penh in Cambodia, we also operate dual degree programs with our partner Sampoerna University in Jakarta, Indonesia, and are planning to launch dual degrees with Hanoi Law University in Vietnam this summer and a Film and Television program with De La Salle University in Manila, Philippines sometime this year.


While it’s not an easy job and requires a good amount of self-discipline and motivation, I can honestly say that being an overseas staff member has been the most valuable experience of my higher ed career. I have been deeply involved with the launch of our programs abroad, in a country where not many other U.S. universities are engaging. Additionally, I’m about halfway through my data collection for my dissertation on transnational higher education in Cambodia and being based here has made that possible. I don’t know how long I will continue to work abroad, but I have no regrets in choosing to go back overseas. I would seriously encourage any higher ed folks out there who are toying with the idea of working abroad to take a leap and go for it, because who wants to spend their whole career in international higher ed working only from an office in your home country? If you can do it, get back out there!


Hillary Vance is the Senior Director, Southeast Asia Programs and Outreach at University of Arizona. Hillary has an M.Ed. in Globalization and Educational Change from Lehigh University and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Arizona researching U.S. transnational higher education in Southeast Asia.