Jessica Soto Smith
I graduated in August 2011 with a degree in international relations and minor in Latin American studies. During my time at Grand Valley, I spent my senior year abroad with the STAIR exchange program in Hungary and Poland.
My first year after graduation was actually really hard. I had just come back from Europe and was underemployed as a waitress. It felt like I was the only person on earth who had a degree and wasn't using it (not true), so I started volunteering with refugee resettlement while I looked for opportunities abroad. I ended up in Bogota, Colombia, teaching English. After 6 months in Colombia, I came back to the U.S. and interned at the Organization of American States (OAS). I stayed on doing some freelance consulting, and moved to Chicago to work with a start-up for a year and a half. I continued looking for work in study abroad and higher education, and eventually, almost four years after graduation, got the job I wanted.
Currently I work at the Buffett Institute for Global Studies at Northwestern University. Specifically, I work with the Global Engagement team with the Global Engagement Studies Institute (GESI). The GESI program is a service-based study abroad program in which undergrad students work in communities in Uganda, Ghana, India, Kenya, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Guatemala or the Dominican Republic.
If I could say anything to my old self graduating or to any recent/future grads, it would be that your career path takes time. It happens differently for everyone, and sometimes the strangest experiences lead you to somewhere you wanted to be all along. It's always easier to connect the dots in retrospect!