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By Ken Barnes on October 8, 2019

As an international student, traveling to a foreign country and succeeding at a large, world-renowned university can seem daunting. Learning to thrive in such an environment presents challenges some students may not be ready for. Add to that the need to prepare for a career, and the workload can overwhelm even the steadiest student.

We’ve put together some tips to help international students not only succeed at UC Davis, but also thrive and prepare for the career they desire.

1. Know your job strengths as an international student

Zidong Li, a PhD candiate, speaks to the students during the International Student Graduation Celebration on June 14. 2018. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)
Zidong Li, a PhD candiate, speaks to the students during the 2018 International Student Graduation Celebration. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis) 

International students bring unique skills. Often included among them are communication talents. The ability to speak multiple languages and understand various cultures is a marketable career skill in fields such as business, diplomacy, counseling and education. Highlighting those skills on resumes and during interviews increases the probability of being selected for internship and career opportunities. Also, highlighting activities such as international travel can showcase attributes like adaptability, following steps and procedures, networking, individuality and global perspective.

2. International students can develop key professional areas  

Titcho Farima Kone Kito of Burkino Faso laughs for Zidong Li's speech during the International Student Graduation Celebration on June 14. 2018. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)
Titcho Farima Kone Kito of Burkino Faso laughs for Zidong Li's speech during the 2018 International Student Graduation Celebration. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Take an inventory of the eight NACE career competencies and identify areas you need to address. Career readiness is the attainment and demonstration of requisite competencies that broadly prepare college graduates for successful transition into the workplace.

Of the eight competencies, the four that employers seek out above all are:

  • critical thinking/problem solving
  • teamwork/collaboration
  • professionalism/work ethic
  • oral/written communications 

To develop proficiency in these areas, international students are uniquely qualified to lead or create a student organization that helps other international students transition to and successfully navigate college. They could also perform community service or international projects to cultivate critical thinking, teamwork and communication. Many internships make use of international students’ linguistic skills, making them more competitive in the job hunt.

3. Take a career assessment 

Recent graduate, Daisy He photographed at the "Eye on Mrak" egghead near Mrak Hall. He is a former Student Assistant to the Chancellor. She is an international student from China who majored in Psychology and Econmics. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)
Recent graduate Daisy He photographed at the "Eye on Mrak" egghead near Mrak Hall. A former student assistant to the chancellor, she is an international student from China who majored in psychology and economics. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

College exposes students to many options, and taking a career assessment such as the Strong Interest Inventory can help narrow down some of those career options through a person’s interests, values and skills. The Strong Interest Inventory is a favorite among career centers, but there are others. Assessments at the California Career Zone can be quite helpful (click on “Explore”) as they give insight into fields of study and occupations.

Taking these assessments during your first year will help you figure out the best major for you as well as which internships you may want to try. If you are set on your major and have already finished your first or second year, assessments can still be useful in narrowing down which jobs you want to apply to. A good assessment not only offers you career options, but also teaches you why those options are appropriate for you. Knowing why can be as important as knowing what to seek.

4. Know your resources

 Ashley Jess, a Forensics Graduate Student chats with career advisor Marjannie Akintunde, in her office in South Hall. Akintunde earned her PhD from UC Davis and now works as a career advisor for master's, Ph.D. and postdoctoral scholars. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)
Left to right: Ashley Jess, a Forensics Graduate Student chats with career advisor Marjannie Akintunde, in her office in South Hall. Akintunde earned her Ph.D. from UC Davis and now works as a career advisor for master's, Ph.D. and postdoctoral scholars. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

UC Davis offers numerous resources to help you succeed. To become career ready, you would benefit from two stand-out services:

  • Services for International Students (SISS) is where international students register for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT). SISS is an excellent resource for getting answers to your questions about visas. Specialists can assist you in applying for and obtaining work permissions such as CPT and OPT. CPT temporarily allows international students with F-1 visas to gain practical experience related to their major through employment, internships or cooperative (co-op) education. CPT must be completed before graduating. OPT temporarily allows international students with F-1 visas to work up to 12 months in a position related to their major (extensions can be granted for certain fields). F-1 visa students are eligible for OPT after completing their first academic year.

  • Internship and Career Center (ICC) is where students learn about opportunities, participate in workshops to prepare for their job search, and receive valuable advice to achieve their goals and objectives. The ICC’s Career advisors are direct links to employers. International students gain valuable insights into the skills employers seek by talking with them. Career advisors can also help international students highlight their global skills and experiences.

5. Take advantage of research on campus

The 1st annual Feminist Research Institute Open House on October 1, 2019. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)
The first annual Feminist Research Institute Open House on October 1, 2019. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

As a tier-one research university, UC Davis offers an overwhelming amount of undergraduate research opportunities. The campus an ideal location for conducting research with some of the world’s top scientists. Start with the Undergraduate Research Center.

6. Do an internship

Jennifer Taylor, a PhD candidate, is an intern with Kaiser Permanente on August 16, 2018 in Oakland, CA. Graduate internships help graduate students determine career direction. Jennifer Taylor is a recently graduated doctoral student in nutrition biology who is interning doing health analytics for Kaiser Permanente. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)
Jennifer Taylor, a Ph.D. candidate, was an intern with Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, CA. Graduate internships help graduate students determine their career direction. Taylor is a recently graduated doctoral student in nutrition biology who interned in health analytics at Kaiser Permanente. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Internships not only offer experience, but also allow you to network and develop tools to help launch your career. Some majors require internships, but everyone is encouraged to participate in multiple internship experiences before they leave Davis. A good place to start looking for internships is Handshake, though it’s not the only resource. For example, state opportunities can be found at CalCareersInternSource and University Enterprises. International students can participate in all of these activities.

International students may also want to participate in the University of California Center Sacramento and the Washington Program. Both programs develop leadership skills and offer internships for many industries and majors. Visit the Internship and Career Center to learn about the most valuable resources for your chosen field. Also, stay in touch with SISS to make sure all of your necessary paperwork has been completed for your visa. Their experts know which forms are needed for each experience.

For more information, please visit the Internship and Career Center between the hours of 10 AM – 4 PM or set up and appointment with an advisor through Handshake.


Ken Barnes is the program coordinator for government, law, legal, and for-profit companies at the UC Davis Internship and Career Center, as well as the manager of the Community Service Resource Center (CSRC). He graduated from UC Davis with a bachelor of arts degree in political science and a minor in managerial economics. 

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