Elon University professors encourage students to work, volunteer abroad after graduation

Marlena Chertock

FEB. 17, 2011

Heidi White and Jonathan Romm speak about their international volunteer experiences. Photo by Marlena Chertock.

Three faculty members discussed their experiences in several abroad opportunities Thursday at 6-7 p.m. in McKinnon in the Moseley Student Center as a part of the Professional Discovery Week at Elon which ran from Feb. 14 to 17 and was hosted by Career Services. The information session was the final event.

International Programs Adviser in the Isabella Cannon International Centre (ICIC) Bill Burress, Associate Director of Study Abroad in the ICIC Heidi White and Jonathan Romm of North Carolina Campus Contact focused on jobs abroad, the Peace Corps and teaching English abroad.

The faculty gave brief descriptions of their abroad work or volunteer experiences and then students asked questions.

White told students to read a packet available on the Elon study abroad website which provides information about abroad work and volunteer experiences.

Graphic by Marlena Chertock.

Working and volunteering abroad with BUNAC

Burress talked about his experience with BUNAC, an overseas work, travel and volunteer program. The program offers students an affordable alternative to package tourism, according to the BUNAC website.

When Burress graduated from college he got a visa through BUNAC to work in Scotland. Several people who worked through the BUNAC program worked as waitresses or bartenders, he said. Burress worked in the city government in the Department of Health and Social Care.

BUNAC provides assistance in getting a visa and finding a place to live in the country of choice and orientation.

“It’s definitely not a job placement organization,” Burress said. “It provides a home base, but you do it all on your own.”

Working abroad may not be as romantic as it seems, Burress said. He told students not to expect to make much money and to lower their expectations, but still encouraged students to pursue an international opportunity.

His experiences abroad with BUNAC are the reason he works with international study abroad, he said.

The confidence gained from experiences working abroad is important, Burress said.

Teaching abroad

White teaches a one-credit transition strategies that focuses on global job and volunteer opportunities. She discussed several opportunities for teaching abroad.

Finding out the purpose for teaching abroad is important, she said.

“A lot of people just want to get abroad and travel and teaching doesn’t always offer this,” she said. “Find a school with a lot of vacation time if you want to travel.”

Make sure an organization is real and “not sketchy,” White said. Ask for alumni contacts and if the organization refuses to give them out, that might be a bad sign, she said.

Volunteering with Peace Corps

Romm focused on his experience in the Peace Corps from 2002-2005. Romm is the program coordinator for North Carolina Campus Compact, an organization that encourages civically-engaged students and graduates. The organization, hosted at Elon, provides resources, training and opportunities to universities, according to the organization’s website.

The Peace Corps usually take volunteers for 27 months for service work in foreign countries, often in rural villages.

“I wanted to travel,” he said. “I wanted to have an adventure.”

Romm encouraged students to have some kind of cultural exchange.

Romm was sent to the South Pacific, which was not a place he listed as his top three on the Peace Corps application. But that often happens, he said. Applicants can decline the country they’ve been assigned and re-enter the pool, if they want, he said.

“Sometimes you’re set up with a broad job description, like youth development,” Romm said. “What does that mean? You have to figure it out.”

The Peace Corps entails varying degrees of comfort. Romm lived in a hut and other volunteers lived in cities with warm water and Internet access.

“An American education and common sense can help you thrive in any environment and any culture,” Romm said.

The Career Services website has an online resource called Going Global which offers etiquette tips for different countries, job searches, training videos and other information.


Professors discuss experiences abroad

  • Romm discusses why students should study abroad or volunteer abroad.
  • Romm explains difficulties that can occur during volunteering abroad. 
  • Burress describes the job he acquired through BUNAC.