From Rwanda to Harvard. Meet Yvonne

The International Advantage program landed in beautiful Boston, Massachusetts this past February. It was cold there at the time but I had a great time working with the international students from Harvard University. Unlike some of my previous workshops, this one had plenty of undergraduate international students, who all seemed eager to understand how they can beat the odds and achieve their job search goals.  After my session I had a conversation with an international sophomore student from Rwanda. I thought her insights were great and I wanted to share them with you. Everyone: please meet Yvonne Mussime.



Marcelo: Hi Yvonne. Thank you so much for speaking with me today. First of all, what made you want to take time away from your busy schedule to come to the International Advantage program?

Yvonne: From observing international friends who have recently graduated and experiencing what their job search was like, I realize there is a lot I need to learn ahead of time, before I become a senior. I thought it’d be smart to start working on key aspects of the job search process early, hence coming to the session to learn how to best prepare to secure a great job as an international student.

Marcelo: What did you think you were going to learn about when you decided to attend the training?

Yvonne: Coming into the session, I thought I’d learn techniques on how to find specific jobs. Now I have a better grasp on why it is important to sometimes develop a backdoor type of job search approach, sort of speak, when looking for jobs as an international student. We can’t just be applying on-line.

Marcelo: What do you recall learning that you think was most valuable to you?

Yvonne: I gained a lot of information from this session, such as the advantages of looking for jobs as an international student – it’s definitely not all bad news – the different job search obstacles international students normally need to overcome, and the different opportunities to look out for as an international job seeker. What I found most valuable was to critically look at my *ISEL profile, and intentionally work to build each aspect of it so I can become a competitive job seeker. In the past I wasn’t giving much thought to this. It’s not just enough to network. This is such a key concept for international student to internalize. You have to be a competitive job seeker so a U.S employer will want to hire you and deal with possible visa matters that they would not have to worry about if they hired a U.S citizen. I think the ISEL models gives international students some structure on how to do this.

Marcelo: I could not agree more. For the benefit of our readers, the ISEL model Yvonne mentioned looks like this:

I = interest

S = skills

E = experience

L = language

Marcelo: Do you recall learning something that was surprising to you, perhaps something that was a real eye opener for you as an international student?

Yvonne: Until this session, I hadn’t realized that not all employers apply for the H-1B visa for their international employees. I can now see how this adds a level of complication when applying for jobs.

Marcelo: What kind of experiences have you had job-searching in the U.S. so far?

Yvonne: So far I have only had unpaid internships over winter and summer breaks, and only had jobs on campus. 

Marcelo: This is so good to hear. How smart to consider unpaid internships, particularly early in your college career. Some students are not open-minded about that. For your own protection – and as a reminder to any international student reading this article – remember to always check with the right resources at your school before accepting any type of employment in the U.S as an international student. 

Marcelo: Looking back at what we discussed, what job search methods do you feel you can most confidently apply going forward?

Yvonne: I feel most confident tapping into the connections that I have made, and reaching out to alumni, especially those who are working in the fields that I am interested in. I also want to apply the techniques we discussed to make contacts with any professional. We don’t only need to consider reaching out to alumni. 

Marcelo: I know it’s early in your college career, but if you had to guess, what do you feel will be your international advantage when job searching in the U.S as an international student?

Yvonne: At the end of my four years in college here in the United States – which is a very diverse country – I will have an even stronger global perspective, given my background as a Rwandan and African. Such in-depth global perspective will be the result of my experience working both in the U.S and in some African countries. The fact that these are very different places, both from a cultural and resource perspective, will sharpen my thinking. I believe this combination of experiences will give me a very unique thought process, which I hope will be of value to U.S employers. Additionally, I speak three internationally known languages, and hopefully a fourth one by the end of my college career, in addition to my mother languages.

Marcelo: For sure savvy employers will be interested in how distinctive your thinking is. This could be a huge competitive advantage for you for sure, I agree. Don’t be afraid to own this differentiated and global thinking you are talking about because that gets you noticed.

Marcelo: Any final messages you want to share with other undergraduate international students across the U.S?

Yvonne: As an undergraduate international student I can’t fully stress how important it is to start thinking about the job search marathon as early in your college career as possible. Effective job searching requires a lot of thought and planning in order for you to get the job you want, the job that is the best fit for you. Preparation includes focusing on the skills you want to have at the point you start the job application process, for example. Think carefully about your ISEL profile, and take action to make it stronger. It is also important to know that if you are planning on working here in the U.S, you will most likely need the H-1B visa or other documents that not all employers apply for. Aim to be in a great position as a job seeker job before you graduate. Don’t wait until your senior year to prepare. International students don’t have this luxury. And of course, use your university career center.  

Marcelo: I wish you the best of luck moving forward Yvonne. I can’ thank you enough for sharing your views with me. Career driven international undergraduate students will benefit from your insights.


Marcelo Barros is the author of the The International Advantage Get Noticed. Get Hired! He travels across the United States, partnering with university career centers, to help international students achieve their job search goals.

book cover Marcelo

Good luck international students. I’m rooting for you! Don’t forget to connect with me on LinkedIn

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