Guide to International Careers
Headquartered in New York and with Russian as one of its five official languages, the United Nations has considerable demand for employees with language and international experience.
A. The US Federal Government
Qualified individuals with language and cross-cultural skills are required to maintain effective foreign policy, diplomacy, security, and a range of other government functions. The US Federal Government has often struggled to locate and hire these individuals.
“Qualified” does not simply mean language skills, however. Language majors are encouraged to pursue a double major, minor, or at least additional education and training in economics, political science, diplomacy, or another field directly applicable to a specific agency’s functioning (such as environmental science, biology, or aerospace engineering).
The Interagency Language Roundtable
This US government agency is designed to coordinate hiring linguists, interpreters, translators, and other language-oriented professionals for the US federal government.
This is the federal government’s central website for job postings. Try entering “Russian” in the “keywords” field and see what comes up!
The US Foreign Service
This government agency has a chronic shortage of Russian speakers in attempting to secure their official mandate to promoting peace, supporting prosperity, and protecting American citizens while advancing the interests of the US abroad. The Foreign Service Journal is a free publication of the US Foreign Service.
Other US agencies that regularly hire Russian speakers include:
- Central Intelligence Agency
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- State Department
- National Security Administration
- Department of Homeland Security
- National Virtual Translation Center
To apply for any US government job, follow the instructions in the video below.
B. US State and Local Government Jobs
As the US becomes more diverse, various levels of US government are reporting language skills shortages in their health care and education systems, social and police services, and legal systems. Sometimes, there is a local agency serving local institutions and sometimes the institutions rely on freelancers or even volunteers for translation services. Many localities have established incentives to hire a greater range of language speakers in various professions. You’ll need to research your own location.
C. Recommended Books on the Foreign Service
ImaginePHD is a career planning resource for those hoping to make a living in academia.
A. Short Term
Many with foreign language skills and/or international experience use teaching to fund gap years, summers, or as a stop-gap in finding other employment.
Concordia Language Villages
This Russian-speaking youth camp in Minnesota offers volunteer and employment possibilities.
B. Career Job Placement Ads
Students looking to go into teaching can start with job listings placed at two of the largest organizations for scholars of the languages and countries of Eurasia.
Job placement listings for Russian scholars. You must join the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies first.
ACTFL Job Central
For members of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), this site offers information for job seekers and help wanted ads.
For those interested in persuing a career in international education and exchanges, NAFSA runs a job board. You need to join first.
Interested in a career in study abroad? Join Forum and search their listings.
In any job search or in developing any career, a major key to success is building a network of people connected with your chosen career. Below are a number of networking organizations to start you off in academia.
1. Russian / Slavic Languages
SEELANGS is a service which links hundreds of Slavic scholars across the globe into one community. Questions about research topics, class materials, and study abroad opportunities often receive educated answers within a day.
The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) seeks to strengthen and improve the teaching of foreign languages at all educational levels. They run webinars, conventions, provide online materials, and more.
Slavic Information Literacy attempts to ascertain and enunciate many of the core competencies students and scholars of Slavic need to be productive (and employed!) in the field.
The Committee on College and Pre-College Russian (CCPCR) provides an incredible amount of useful information including statistics on college enrollment, resources for teachers, mailing lists for teachers, and even a census of language graduates and their current professions.
The American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages (AATSEEL) exists to advance the study and promote the teaching of Slavic and East European languages, literatures, and cultures on all educational levels, elementary through graduate school.
Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES ) represents American scholarship in the field of Russia, Central Eurasian, Central and East European studies. Representatives of the ASEEES sit on such bodies as the US State Department’s Advisory Committee on the Soviet/East European Research and Training Act (1983), and the International Congress for Central and East European Studies (ICCEES). It is a constituent society of the American Council of Learned Societies.
International Association of Teachers of the Russian Language and Literature publishes journals, sponsors competitions and events, and supports research and teaching. Most of the site is only available in Russian.
The Canadian Association of Slavists (CAS), founded in 1954 at the University of Manitoba, is an interdisciplinary gathering of scholars and professionals whose interests focus on the social, economic and political life of the Slavic peoples, as well as their languages, diverse cultures and histories.
The Slavic Cognitive Linguistics Association seeks to promote Cognitive Linguistics, and particularly to encourage graduate students and junior faculty to pursue research on the Slavic languages in the framework of Cognitive Linguistics and to encourage interdisciplinary applications of Cognitive Linguistics, particularly in the area of literary analysis.
The National Council of Less Commonly Taught Languages seeks to encourage communication between teachers of LCTLs (including Russian) and to increase America’s capacity for teaching and learning them.
The Central Association of Russian Teachers of America (CARTA) officially includes the states of Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, but is open for professionals at all levels of public, private, secondary, and higher educational institutions from other states as well.
American Friends of Russian Folklore mission is to support and promote American understanding of Russian traditional life and culture. To this end, AFRF supports a wide range of projects: field research, recordings, filmmaking, archiving, and analysis of Russian folklore and oral histories.
American Association of University Supervisors and Coordinators (AAUSC) seeks to promote, improve, and strengthen foreign language and second language instruction in the US.
The Association of Departments of Foreign Language (ADFL) puts department chairs in touch with experienced peers and provides professional development to help departmental leaders work more effectively. It provides a forum for collegial exchange about important issues through its summer seminars, journal, and Web site. Members are kept informed about legislation that affects the field.
The Center for Applied Linguistics uses the findings of linguistics and related sciences in identifying and addressing language-related problems and caries out teacher education, design and development of instructional materials among other things.
InterCom is a free weekly e-mail digest for language teachers that you customize so that you receive only the content that you are interested in. Russian teachers should select “Other European” when selecting their language preferences to receive Russian-specific articles.
The Network of Business Language Educators (NOBLE) is a community which brings together professionals across disciplines to collaborate and exchange ideas to build programs and curriculum that will prepare our students to be global leaders.
The National Heritage Language Resource Center develops effective pedagogical approaches to teaching heritage language learners, first by creating a research base and then by pursuing curriculum design, materials development, and teacher education.
The Washington Association for Language Teaching (WAFLT) seeks to meet the needs of a profession dedicated to the teaching of world language skills and cultural awareness by providing information and sensitive global perspectives in an era of ever-increasing internationalization.
3. Study Abroad
NAFSA: Association of International Educators is the leading organization committed to international education and exchange, working to advance policies and practices that build global citizens with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in today’s interconnected world.
The Forum on Education Abroad serves as the collective voice of U.S. post-secondary education abroad.
Association for Women in Slavic Studies is a networking resource for people concerned with the problems, status, and achievements of women in the profession. It also attempts to cover research and teaching in women’s studies and questions of gender and family life in Central/Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union.
Black Bread is a New York based professional network of Black Russian-speakers. We also work to increase the number of Black American students studying abroad in Eurasia.
the Society for the Promotion of LGBTQ Slavic, East European, & Eurasian Studies (Q*ASEEES) was created to promote all forms of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) studies in Slavic, East European, and Eurasian societies.
Diversity Abroad is the leading membership organization that inspires and supports educators, policy makers, industry professionals and other stakeholders in leveraging global educational programs to support the academic success, interpersonal development and career readiness of students from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds.
The American Research Institute of the South Caucasus (ARISC) seeks to encourage and support scholarly study of the South Caucasus states (Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia) in all fields from the earliest times to the present. ARISC aims to provide an ongoing American scholarly presence in each country in order to facilitate research and establish and nurture ties between institutions and individuals.
The Central Eurasian Studies Society (CESS) is a private, non-political, non-profit, North America-based organization of scholars who are interested in the study of Central Eurasia, and its history, languages, cultures, and modern states and societies.
Tartaroved is run by the Tartarstan Academy of Sciences and devoted to Tartar Studies.
The World Academy of Rusyn Culture is an academic and charitable institution for the purpose of encouraging new work and preserving the Rusyn culture.
The Computer Assisted Language Instruction Consortium (CALICO) is a professional organization that serves a membership involved in both education and technology. CALICO has an emphasis on modern language teaching and learning, but reaches out to all areas that employ the languages of the world to instruct and to learn.
EDUCAUSE is a nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education by promoting the intelligent use of information technology.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies is a bi-partisan think tank dealing with international and global issues, including Russia. Their website bristles with information, including the email addresses for experts in Russian domestic and foreign policy, and a list of publications with some available for download.
Language majors often mention translation as a possible career choice. This is a rapidly growing profession, with global demand soaring as the world becomes increasingly connected. However, many translators will find that most clients and, in fact, a great number of other translators, do not know the skill, time, and effort it takes to produce a good translation. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that most university language programs, despite the rising demand for translation, do not offer translation or interpretation courses or requirements. Lastly, because the translation industry is globalized and fractured, a translator in the US will often compete with those in countries such as India and Malaysia, with lower costs of living.
Translators should develop a strong specialization – whether in translating the works of a particular author, legal or accounting documents, or in translating technical manuals for a particular industry. This specialty will give you the specific vocabulary needed for these, but should also help you develop strong contacts within a specific niche of potential clients or employers. Translators also often have to become skilled in client education – explaining persuasively that good translations take time and therefore cost money. A strong specialization, professional presentation skills, and a wide network of contacts are key to building a sustainable career in translation.
Lastly, know that translation and interpretation (translating speech) are two very different skills. The interpretation industry is affected by the same issues as translation. However, while translators can often spend time thinking of the just the right phrasing, interpreters, and particularly in simultaneous interpretation, must often make decisions quickly and without reference books. Furthermore, they must develop the stamina to process linguistic information at this speed for considerable lengths of time. Specialized education and training is especially encouraged for those considering interpretation as a career.
American Translators Association (ATA)
Dedicated to translation and interpreting, the ATA provides lots of material and resources for advocating languages as professions. Their Slavic Language Division also runs a regular newsletter called SlavFile as well as a podcast.
The Association of Language Companies
Find out where to apply for employment post-graduation.
The Interagency Language Roundtable
This US government agency is designed to coordinate hiring linguists, interpreters, translators, and other language-oriented professionals for the US federal government.
A massive online forum and marketplace where translators learn from each other and market their services.
Despite what you often hear, receiving education in one’s chosen profession is almost always a good idea. The above is a short sampling of the (mostly graduate) programs that exist in the US.
PEN Free Sample Freelance Contract
PEN is a literary and language freedom advocacy group. They have a sample contract online to help freelancers establish relations with clients and protect their rights.
B. Recommended Books on Translation
The private sector considers language skills increasingly valuable. A growing number of companies of all sizes are involved in the international economy. Further, many local companies serve increasingly multicultural and multilingual communities at home. In both cases, companies are more efficient when they have staff who can operate in multiple languages and understand cultural differences.
While companies consider language skills valuable, most will not hire based exclusively on them. Language majors hoping to enter the private sector should consider a double major, minor, or at least some other education or experience in a field such as accounting, business, management, or another industry-specific field such as engineering, computer science, or tourism.
Job seekers will have two avenues: looking for work at home or abroad. It was once fairly easy for a recent American graduate to find a job in Eastern Europe. Then, financial crises in 2008 and 2014 caused companies to look for ways to trim costs. As a generation of post-communism young adults comes of age, they are starting to fill the positions that were once widely open to foreigners at a fraction of the cost.
Today, recent graduates will generally find language teaching to be the only field that is fairly widely open. Other positions will require strong industry-related skills as well as very strong language skills to compete with locals. Thus, we generally advise graduates to seek employment at home first.
A. Seeking Employment at Home
If looking for region- or language-specific employment, one great place to start is with businesses that have joined international business organizations. Apply for a job at their American facilities, establish yourself at the company, and look for growth opportunities that will allow you to use your language and cultural skills.
B. Finding Work Abroad (Logistical Issues)
For those interested in pursuing careers abroad, one of the best routes is to get a job at home (see above) and look for opportunities to be transferred to a foreign office. There are also international headhunters that might be able to help place you into a position (see below). Again, this usually requires advanced language skills and previous experience.
Before pursuing this, there are some logistical issues you should consider:
1. Your Paycheck
Most companies abroad will pay you in local currency. This might be a problem if, for instance, you have debt or other bills back home. As other currencies can appreciate or depreciate against the dollar, your paycheck may effectively shrink (or grow) from month to month, affecting your ability to maintain your budget.
Also, if you are employed in abroad, you will likely be paid to a bank account abroad – you will need to figure out how to move money back home (which might require wire fees, which can often be up to $40 plus 1.5% of the total sum being transferred, plus intermediary fees). If you withdraw money abroad from your home bank, you are likely to be charged withdrawal fees (see our guide to budgets and finance abroad).
2. Why Should You Work Abroad and for How Long?
Working abroad can be excellent for growing your resume, showing that you can deliver under almost any circumstances and giving you a number of stories to tell in interviews and staffrooms.
We typically recommend, however, staying 1-2 years abroad. It’s long enough to show that you’ve achieved something, but not long enough for you to be considered “too specialized” or to potentially lose your contacts back home that can help you find work there when you return. Try to keep building contacts at home via social networking or any other means while you are abroad.
3. Visas, Contracts, and Other Documentation Issues
While common in the US to accept employment based on a verbal agreement, in many other countries, if you didn’t sign a contract, you are not legally working.
For foreigners, this is especially important because the contract will be the basis of obtaining a work visa and permit. If you don’t have these, you may not be legally working. Your company must supply them. It is not possible for an American to obtain a work visa and permit independently.
You should take local labor and migration laws very seriously. Infractions can mean fines, deportation, and bans on entering the country for some length of time. While you may be surprised by what will go into maintaining a legal, working status abroad, know that all countries place additional restrictions on foreigners living and working in their countries.
4. Income Taxes and Working Abroad
As an American abroad, you will be responsible for taxes in both in the country you are working and the US. Make sure you discuss local taxes with your company HR before accepting a position abroad.
American citizens are required to pay taxes on worldwide income, no matter where you reside. There is, however, a Foreign Income Exclusion that should help. You must file a return whether or not you owe anything. More info from the IRS is here. There are firms specializing in “expat taxes” such as ExpatCPA and Taxforexpats.com. TurboTax (paid version) can also do the job.
Citizens of Other Countries: Please check your home country’s legislation.
5. Making Careers Abroad
If you decide to stay abroad long-term, there are other considerations. For instance, consider how you will save for retirement – and knowing that investing in the US will be harder as anyone living outside the US (even US citizens) face restrictions on investing in US markets.
You will need to consider your long-term residency – how will you maintain your legal status? Many staying long term get residency or even citizenship, but this can be a fairly long process depending on where you are and involve health tests as well as language requirements and more.
C. Finding Work Abroad (Resources)
1. Professional Placement Services
For those with the language skills and professional skills who are looking to gain experience abroad, contacting a “headhunter” can be a good first step.
Your best opportunities for employment are likely to be found on-the-ground in Russia, through the personal contacts that you’ll make. Here’s an annotated list of resources that you can use to jump into the local social scene.
This site unites international professionals on the ground in various major cities across the globe. Emphasis is placed on physical meetings.
Studying abroad can put you on the ground, fully legally and supported, for a few months. Use the time to learn the language and perhaps study business, economics, or political science (you will have to attend classes to retain your visa). Also use the time to get out and meet locals.
This site has gone from being a place to find a cheap place to crash to building international communities in cities across the globe.
VKontakte or “VK” is sort of a Russian-language Facebook/LinkedIn. It is used to advertise professional skills – but also is used to share personal files and status updates. Especially if you speak Russian, having an account here can be useful in building connections – and a way to impress Russian speakers that you have jumped into “their” site.
Facebook and LinkedIn
Of course, like anywhere else in the world, these two sites are also popular in Russia. LinkedIn can be more useful, though, for advertising your skills and building professional connections.
D. Recommended Books on Working Abroad
Publishing research can be a great way to establish your authority on a particular subject. This guide on our site GeoHistory.Today can help you navigate some of those possibilities.
Make sure to check out our main alumni page for workshops, maintenance Russian courses, our guide to international careers, and much more! Thanks for keeping in touch!
Thanks again to (SRAS Assistant Director) Josh Wilson for being so helpful with getting us started! At our concluding discussion class yesterday I asked the students to write and then present five “Kliuchevykh slov” about their experience. Several of them wound up referencing Josh’s comments about trying to observe without judging, which he made during the Moscow Walking Tour. Thanks for helping me teach this course!
A long overdue thank you for the wonderful trip you and your staff planned for the Drew group in St. Petersburg. I have never had a trip where NOTHING went wrong. It was a terrific experience from start to finish, your staff was superb and St. Petersburg Economics University was a marvelous host. We enjoyed each and every lecture and guide, and the many fine added touches. I would love to do this again.
My Dear Renee, I am still in Kazakhstan but can report back we had a perfectly splendid time in Kyrgyzstan. The students and I want to collectively buy a little plot of land and a yurt or house in the village at the base of the mountains. They loved their families and I fell in love with Kenzhe, we want to include her in our documentary. I will be in touch over the next two weeks. Forever grateful to you.
We had a great time overall. The students were super impressed with SRAS — the guides, the accommodations, the excursions, etc. The guides were super knowledgeable and kind–the only thing that would improve the tours is volume. They tend to speak quietly so a few people who can’t hear lose interest. But we loved the Hermitage art project and Novgorod, and the bunker, and going behind the fountains at Peterhof, and the boat to Peterhof… We loved everything!
Renee, the work that you do is so far beyond any kind of formal service or trip planning in your vision, scope, and ability to think of absolutely everything and anticipate potential problems in advance. You clearly have a gift for this.
The SRAS guides were excellent! They really knew their stuff and were able to relate the history of the places we visited in an interesting and inventive way. It was obvious they had a lot of experience working with American students.