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Posted on by Vicky Lewis

A trip down memory lane

Sri Lanka memories

I’ve had cause to reflect this year on what led me to embark on a career in international higher education 30 years ago.

In part, that’s because – much to my surprise – it really has been 30 years, which is enough on its own to make you stop and think! Where did the time go? It’s also because, since the start of the year, I’ve been asked to contribute to two publications which have made me ponder on how it all started.

The first was my ‘5 minutes with’ interview with Sophie Hogan for The PIE News. One of Sophie’s questions was ‘How did you find yourself working in international education?’.

My ‘in a nutshell’ response was:

After a degree in modern languages, two years as a freelance travel writer and another two working for a charitable foundation in Hamburg, Germany, I found myself looking for a job in rural Wales and ended up as International Officer at what was then University of Wales Lampeter. It was a new role and covered everything from managing Erasmus exchanges and devising marketing communications to organising the international student orientation programme.

What happened next?

Like so many people in our sector, I had stumbled by chance into my first International Office role. It was only a nine-month contract, after which I moved to Scotland and – having discovered this new world of the university International Office – made it my mission to wheedle my way into another one.

My plan (inasmuch as I had one) was to find a role (any role) at a university and take it from there. I secured another short-term contract (as a Courses Administrator) at Edinburgh Napier University and, just as I was wondering about my next move, I spotted an internal advert for a post to cover the International Recruitment Officer’s (there was only one) maternity leave. I was in there like a shot and never looked back!

Going back even further

The second contribution which gave me pause for thought was for a forthcoming book in a series by Professor Chris Hill and Professor Judith Lamie (this will be their third). The most recent one was on The Evolving Nature of Universities.

I’d been a guest on Chris and Judith’s Think Education podcast last year, wittering on about language learning. We got talking about the time I spent on a term’s exchange in Germany when I was 16 and just starting my A-level German course, which was my first experience spending a significant period in another country.

They contacted me again this year because they were interested in ‘the second time’. Where was my second extended period abroad and what was it like? Could I write a reflective case study piece on this for their next book?

That sent me scurrying to the loft to dig out the spiral-bound red notebook I used as a diary when I was 18 and spent three months as a volunteer carer at a children’s home in Sri Lanka. What a nostalgia trip that was!

One of the ‘lessons learned’ which I included at the end of my case study for Judith and Chris was:

Write a diary. It captures first impressions and is a snapshot of the person you were when it all started.

In my case, re-reading the diary several decades on was alarming, amusing and illuminating in equal measure. Alarming, because I would be horrified if my own teenage kids took some of the risks I did! Amusing, because it reminded me of funny incidents that had faded in my memory. And illuminating, because – with the benefit of hindsight – I could clearly see how the experiences I had when I was 18 shaped me as a person and informed my career path.

So, thank you to Sophie, Judith and Chris for prompting my trip down memory lane.

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