Lessons from My Career Journey as an International Student in the U.S.

By Olga Kingsbury, Undergraduate Career Coach

July 2014. I had just gotten off my 11-hour Moscow-Washington DC flight, took a breath of fresh air, and could hardly believe I was standing on American soil. It suddenly struck me that I did not know anyone on this continent – it was both liberating and frightening at the same time. Because it was a lifelong dream of mine to study at an American university, I felt a huge sense of responsibility, mixed with ambitious plans and hopes for a better future, while walking down the airplane ramp that day.

6 years later, I am now a Career Coach pursuing my dream career at the University of Utah. The transition from being an international student to becoming a working professional in the U.S. was not an easy one. So today, I want to support fellow international students by sharing some of the lessons I learned along my challenging, yet transformational, career journey.

    1. Campus resources will help you succeed
      When I arrived at West Virginia University, I was overwhelmed by the number of resources available to me. I decided to make it a part of my routine to explore each department. I attended International Student Services OPT/CPT workshops and connected with an advisor to educate myself on the legal implications of my F1 status. I consistently met with a Career Coach from the Career Center to prepare for my job search process. These resources helped me navigate a new academic and professional environment.


    1. Find support in the community
      There are people out there who walked your path. They are your biggest resource of emotional support and information. Grow your personal and professional networks by joining on- and off-campus organizations that bring together international professionals. Seek out mentors who can relate to your experience.


    1. Be patient with yourself
      Even after 6 years of studying and working in the US, I don’t always understand jokes or cultural references to famous movie or book characters. English is still my second language, and I am not always as funny or eloquent in English as I can be in my native language. And that’s okay. While trying to assimilate into a new professional culture, it is important to honor your identity and focus on the unique perspective and strengths you bring with your international background.


  1. Find an employer that truly values diversity
    Working on a team, like the Career & Professional Development Center (CPDC), where diversity and inclusion are the core values is going to set you up for success. Surround yourself with professionals who genuinely value your unique background and give you an opportunity to shine your strengths. While it took me years to find a team where I never feel isolated, “alien”, or out of place, it was worth it.

Please know that the CPDC is always here for you, no matter what your immigration status is. If you are an international student and would like to discuss your career, make an appointment with Olga or any other Career Coach.