Sonya Kibler, MPH, MS has spent her career traveling the world. Her employment with Save the Children, Concern Worldwide, Action Against Hunger, the Nepali Technical Assistance Group (NTAG), Peace Corps and USAID has led her to South Sudan, Uganda, Nepal, Tanzania, Guinea…to name just a few of her extensive travels.
To say the least, Sonya knows the ropes when it comes to securing international work. She shares 5 insider tips for MPH grads who are trying to do the same:
1. Be prepared:
- Experience is essential for getting an international MPH job. Most employers are looking for long-term immersion abroad, not just a summer internship in another country. A common way to get this experience is through the Peace Corps, but there are many other opportunities as well such as teaching and volunteering out of the country, obtaining a Fellowship overseas, taking classes at an international school, or interning with USAID or the U.S. State Department.
- You will increase your odds of getting hired by having another language (or two) under your belt. Spanish and French are especially useful, so start studying.
2. Be informed:
- Set up informational interviews with people who work in positions or agencies that you are interested in. You will gain valuable insight into international work and whether this work will actually be a good fit for you (before committing the time and money to finding out first-hand).
- Stay up-to-date about what is occurring throughout the world, who the key players are, and what kinds of jobs are available. CoreGroup.org, devex.com and reliefweb.int are several great resources.
3. Be realistic:
- International workers face a variety of living conditions. While you could find yourself living in a modern home, in a capital city, with regular access to Internet and electricity, and with minimal security risks, you could also be faced with living in 100+ degree heat, in an extremely rural area with a pit latrine, no running water and a high risk of insurgency.
- While the situation depends on your organization, position, or assigned country, global health workers often live in stark conditions and usually find themselves far from the everyday comforts of the developed world.
- With international work, there is no such thing as a 9-5, Monday through Friday schedule. A six-day work week is normal, but in an emergency expect to work round the clock.
- The salaries of international public health workers are usually not very high (except for positions with the United Nations and the United States Government). Job stability can also be an issue because most programs are dependent on grant funding.
- Understand that you will most likely have to commit years to field work overseas before you obtain a U.S.-based position. As much as you’d like to acquire a top job right away, plan on starting on the ground and working your way up.
- Despite these stark realities, realize that international work usually attracts people who are extremely passionate about what they do, want to share their skills to make a positive difference, are very resilient, and are often very interested in traveling, learning about other cultures, and having exciting experiences.
4. Be flexible:
- You might have a good sense of what you would like to do with your MPH degree in the international realm, but don’t be afraid to switch things up if you discover that what you were thinking is actually not a good fit.
- For example, perhaps you have your heart set on managing programs in refugee camps but you find out that you don't withstand pressure and insecurity as well as you thought. Or maybe you think that being in a small rural town would be horrible but end up pleasantly surprised by how tight-knit the NGO community is, that you love being able to have a large garden, and that there is always a place to dance! Be willing to try out new opportunities, be flexible and adaptable, and continue to discover where your passions best jive.
For MPH grads seeking international MPH work, take Sonya’s final tip:
5. “Be open to adventure...
- ...There's nothing more exciting than not knowing what tomorrow could bring.”
Sonya’s work has literally taken her around the world, and her insider tips will help you find your way around as well.