Austin Barkley

Year of Graduation: 2015

Major(s): Hispanic Studies

Previous Position:  English Teaching Assistant, Amecamea de Juarez, Mexico (COMEXUS Fulbright Award)

Current Position:  Product Specialist at Tesla


Please provide a brief description of your current position and what your work entails.
I currently work for Tesla in Minneapolis as a Product Specialist. I educate customers and work on marketing our vehicles and energy products in the Midwest region.

What path did you take to your current position?
I wish I had a better story, but I simply sent Tesla an application. I’ve been a huge fan of theirs for years (I even asked for a share of their stock one year for my birthday…), so I crafted a cover letter and tailored my resume, and I was fortunate to have applied at a time when there was a position open in the Minneapolis area.

How did you decide on your major and career path?
I knew I wanted to develop skills that would give me the opportunity to work abroad, so Hispanic Studies seemed like a good fit. I thought that my major coupled with some classes and internships in business would open some doors.

What were some of the resources that you utilized at CSB/SJU for your career preparation?
The resources that were most helpful to me were my professors. They have connections and experience, and they generally know what it takes to get you where you want to go. Asking for help or guidance is a great idea. I also used a mentorship program to seek some guidance from people in the business/policy world, which was helpful. In short: ask people who know what they’re doing, how to do things.

What were some experiences and skills that you gained as a Fulbright Scholar in Mexico?
Aside from language skills, I developed my ability to seek out experience. Finding stuff to do in college is easy; you talk with a professor or apply for something for which you have lots of information. In Mexico, I had to carve out my own niche in the community. I showed up unannounced at a few non-profits before finding a volunteer opportunity, and I hung around just enough at the sports complex in town until someone finally worked up the courage to ask me, the gringo, to come play.

One of my favorite and most challenging ongoing experiences was navigating the much different work culture that Mexico has. Mexicans place high importance on getting to know each other personally, and I found this was often a prerequisite to getting along professionally. This meant that I spent time at my co-worker’s daughter’s birthday party smashing piñatas and felt that it was the best “career advancement” I could do for myself at that time. You can learn all the hard skills you want, but if you can’t develop meaningful relationships with your co-workers, you won’t find much success. Learning how to navigate unique professional environments can certainly come in handy.

What are the rewards and challenges of living and working abroad?
Ninety five percent of the time, living and working abroad does not feel glamorous and exciting. During a study abroad experience, most of us do quite a bit of travel and have an established network of people to share experiences. I lived as the only foreigner in my town, and it was lonely sometimes. I was there long enough to have to learn how to be happy in the daily grind, a point I never really got to while studying abroad.

It’s also really easy to curl up and get into a comfort zone while abroad. Initially, I felt guilty about watching Netflix in my room alone on a Saturday night. I learned not to beat myself up about wanting to stay in and be comfortable, but I also did this only in moderation. Most of my best moments abroad were things I felt nervous about doing before I did them.

What activities/experiences were you involved with while at CSB/SJU and how have they been helpful in your career?
One of CSB/SJU’s strongest assets is the amount of opportunities you have to do something that will stand out to employers. This can be working on a project alongside a professor, studying abroad, doing research, or being a part of the many different fellowships on campus. There are also great opportunities to find a mentor who can give you advice from the real working world. In particular, The McCarthy Center’s mentor program and the Jackson Fellows program were two that really were a big help. Each was just as beneficial in terms of development, than any one of my classes. Both programs helped me develop a solid network that opened some doors for me.

What advice do you have for students who want to work abroad after graduation?
To students who want to work abroad after graduation, I highly recommend looking to gain experience close to home first. If you have an idea of what you’d like to do abroad, it’s likely you can find something similar here. It’s also important to remember you can have immersive experiences here, too. One of my most rewarding jobs was working in a battered women’s shelter one summer. I’d say I learned more about culture in those few months than I did during my semesters abroad.

Lastly, do something now. I’m so happy I did a year abroad right after school. Once you start working, it’s a lot harder to take a year off. If you’re not sure whether you should, do it.

(April 2017)