Courtney Joline was in my sorority at George Washington University. It’s so interesting to see where people end up after college. I love hearing her stories about her time abroad and thought that she would be a perfect person to feature on The Preppy Post Grad. I hope that you find her career path as interesting as I do!
What was your career and academic background? I’d love to hear about how you got where you are now.
I graduated from The George Washington University in 2013, and I majored in Middle East Studies. The spring semester of my junior year I studied abroad in Tunisia, a year and a half after the revolution, which was a significant turning point in my life. As a result, in September I moved back to Tunisia to work and continue studying Arabic. I originally wanted to work in journalism, but realized I was more interested in learning about start-ups. Currently, I work with an entrepreneur who has developed a variety of initiatives to support Tunisia at this critical time: Wasabi, a project management and communications company; TEDxCarthage; and Cogite, Tunisia’s first co-working space. I am a project manager with Wasabi, focusing on youth engagement initiatives, as well as a member of the organizing team of TEDxCarthage. I manage communication, outreach, and some programming at Cogite, including a 6-month entrepreneurial development series. In addition to that, I am also working with Da’era, a handicrafts export company, focusing on content, marketing strategy, and outreach.
What advice do you have for other people who hope to work abroad after graduating?
I would say talk to as many people as you can- they will give you insight that no guidebook or Lonely Planet could give. Find groups on Facebook and Twitter- more and more people are deciding to move abroad for a time, so its great to reach out to people who have been in a place for a while. They will definitely give you a fresh perspective! I would also say have a semblance of a plan, but be open to new opportunities that you are faced with. A lot changes when you arrive, so be prepared for that! And most importantly, have fun with this exciting new stage in your life.
Did you intern in college?
During college, I had a variety of internships. Being in a sorority at school helped me find great opportunities, including the Department of Justice, the Institute for the Study of War, the Salvation Army, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the Middle East Institute. When I studied abroad, I interned with the Centre for Maghreb Studies in Tunis (CEMAT), and was a journalist with Tunisia Live. These internships were really varied, and gave me insight into a lot of different industries, helped me develop new skills, and allowed me to meet truly inspiring people! My former colleagues also helped me chart a career path and introduced me to people that have helped me abroad!
Did you find that your major helped you prepare for your career?
My major provided a good background for my work here. My major was pretty broad, but I gained great insight into the language, culture, religions, politics, and history of the Middle East and North Africa. What really helped me, however, was making connections on the ground, talking to people involved in politics, business, and civil society here. Books and the classroom will only get you so far—it’s really important to experience all of this firsthand. Connections are really important, so going abroad previously helped me navigate my post-grad experience.
What is one thing that you wish you had known when you were starting out your career?
Something that I have to learn during this experience is creating a work-life balance. That was something that I had never encountered before as an intern; because of school and extracurricular commitments there was a very clear schedule. Through this experience, I learned how to manage time better and be sure that I am fully living out this amazing experience! This has made me more focused, and an even better employee!
What has been the biggest challenge and, on the flip side, the biggest reward of your career path?
For me the biggest challenge and reward are two sides of the same coin. Working for start-ups has given me a lot of responsibility so I wear a lot of different hats during the day, including social media, reporting, and analysis, so that was definitely an adjustment! This has also been a great experience, however, and a great perk of my job, allowing me to learn more about how to manage a small start-up and gain a lot of skills that I may not have gotten elsewhere. I feel like I have grown my skills exponentially in this year alone!
What is a typical day like for you?
Because of my fast-paced work environment, I don’t have a normal schedule. I usually get up around 6:30 AM each morning, for my dialect class at 7:30 in my office. I start my workday at 8:45 by planning out my day. Today, my goals were to finalize a list of workshop leaders for an Entrepreneurial Development Program I am running out of Cogite, and writing blog posts for Da’era, overseeing social media for Cogite and Da’era, and finally coming up with a communications strategy for a program Wasabi is running in September. I usually grab lunch with my team around noon and continue working until around 6:30. I use the last half hour to check my progress on what I wanted to accomplish for the day, answer any last minute emails, and head to the gym (conveniently located right across the street so I have no excuses for skipping!). Usually, I come home and cook dinner with my roommates, work on some homework, read for a bit, check my email one last time, and bed by 11:00!
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
In the next five years, I see myself adapting the skills I learned here to a position back in the US. I really want to continue learning more about entrepreneurial development and finding a job that can facilitate stronger political, social, and economic partnerships between businesses and civil society in the United States and the rest of the Middle East and North Africa. Whether that is with an NGO in the US, with the government, or even in my own start-up, remains to be seen!
What advice would you give to someone who is about to graduate from college and enter “the real world?”
Talk to your professors! They are a great resource and can give you a lot of background based on their own journeys, and serve as a great sounding board. Its also really important to find a mentor, someone that you speak to on a fairly consistent basis and can help guide you through this really exciting transition.
What is on your desk right now?
I’m obsessed with Vera Bradley’s patterns, so I have a couple of different notebooks in different designs spread over my shared desk with my colleagues. Each notebook is for a different position and really helps me keep organized. My agenda is always next to my computer and I always make sure to have a full cup of coffee and water (and snacks!) within grabbing distance!
Where do you turn for inspiration?
The nature of my work is based on my own personal interest. My inspiration comes from the people I work with, who are some of the most amazing people I have ever met and want to use their skills to make Tunisia a better place. The young people across the country who want to create and influence positive change on a local, national, and even international, level inspire me. The creativity, openness to new ideas, and passion that surrounds me everyday keeps me going and has really made what I do more than a job.
Who is your mentor?
I can’t say that I have one specific mentor; instead the people that I have studied with and worked with have all led me to this point. My thesis adviser was really supportive as I made my decision to come back to Tunisia and my former boss at CEMAT has given me great advice for networking with different people and has been a sounding board for my ideas, projects that I am interested in managing, and helping me think about my future.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
My boss has taught me a lot and I think the most important piece of advice is to not be afraid of failure. For me, the idea of failure in college was ludicrous! Working in a startup, I see the benefits of little failures and challenges that help you regroup, re-evaluate, and grow your ideas. The fear of failure should never prevent action, and it is this piece of advice that has helped me make some of the best decisions of my life.
What advice do you have for other young professional women?
Don’t be afraid to take a risk, especially at this time in your life. Don’t be afraid of taking a chance on a job, or country, or other experience that doesn’t follow a traditional path. In my experience, taking a chance on the unexpected leads to great results. Also, take advantage of this time to develop that hobby or learn that language that you never had time to take on during college—this is a time for growth, so take advantage.
Thank you, Courtney!
Images via Courtney Joline.