Early intercultural experiences and careers in international education

International education professionals in Australia are recruiting, supporting and graduating more international students than ever before. The complexity of delivering services to ever diversifying stakeholders is intensifying and specialist roles and new operating models are emerging. Yet very little is known about the profession and what motivates those who join this large and growing sector.

Careers in Australian international education are not defined by clear professional frameworks. Occupational categories are diverse and qualifications held by those working in international education are varied, reflecting a lack rather than an abundance, of career development pathways and specific training. This contrasts with other large service-based industries in Australia – such as tourism – for which numerous specialised undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, graduate recruitment programs, professional bodies and qualifications exist.

Anecdotally, many international education professionals have had an intercultural experience during their secondary or tertiary studies, or early in their professional careers. While it is well established that learning in an intercultural context is transformative, there is a paucity of research about how intercultural experiences influence the career trajectories of international education professionals working in the Australian context. By focusing on this previously unexplored subset of international education professionals, we hope to contribute to the development of stronger professionalisation of the broader international education sector.

Headline findings

  • 55% of respondents had an intercultural experience in high school, 67% during post-secondary education, and 74% in their early careers.
  • 71% of respondents said their intercultural experience influenced their decision to work in international education.
  • 81% of respondents said the skills they learnt during their intercultural experiences gave them the tools to work in international education.

Using personas to understand international education professionals

The research demonstrates that Australia’s international education sector is represented by a diverse range of professionals. The research team were able, however, to extract four personas from the data, which illustrate the experiences, motivations and needs of international education professionals. These personas may also assist in targeting professional development and learning frameworks to build sector capability.

Suggested Citation

Daly, A. Hall, E., Hall, R. Hughes, K. (2019). ‘Early intercultural experiences and careers in international education’, International Education Association of Australia (IEAA). Retrieved from www.ieaa.org.au


  • Dr Amanda Daly – Program Director, Griffith Business School, Griffith University
  • Emi Hall – Study Abroad and Exchange Officer, Bond University
  • Rebecca Hall – Global Education Lead, Austrade
  • Dr Kirrilee Hughes – CEO and Partner Director, AFS Intercultural Programs Australia

This paper was published by the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) in May 2019.

Published: May 2019