GoAbroad Interview

Emily Merson - Co-Founder & CEO

Morning Run in Shanghai- our new 2014 internship program location

Emily is the co-founder and CEO of Global Experiences and has led the development of its international internship programs since 2001. Global Experiences has provided life changing global internship experiences to over 4,000 young professionals in 10 cities since its inception. Emily has developed an expertise in international experiential education and is passionate about encouraging college students to gain international experience as part of their academic education. In the capacity of CEO, Emily spends her time developing unique partnerships with higher education institutions and developing the strategic vision for the organization.

Runner in Shanghai, China

Morning Run in Shanghai- our new 2014 internship program location.

You founded Global Experiences in partnership with Stephen Reilly in 2001, what was your impetus for creating this new organization focused on customized international internships?

We wanted to develop a program that would provide students and graduates to the type of experiences that we had found so influential ourselves, but had to organize totally on our own. When we launched Global Experiences we were the only ones online offering the type of full time international internship placements, and lots of people thought we were crazy. Our goal has always been to help students intern abroad and gain the confidence and career edge you get from having this type of experience. Most people don’t have global connections and the ability to open their own doors to these sorts of placements, we remove this obstacle and make the process easier.

What sets Global Experiences apart from all the other international internship program providers out there?

We are the most experienced international internship provider, you can’t beat 14 years of placing thousands of students in eight countries! We are student focused, our strengths based career development starts with individual coaching and matches them to an experience, rather than putting people into existing placements. Our personal approach and award winning career development is unique in the market, there is no other organization, company, or university that spends as much one on one time with each participant, and we think that makes all the difference in the quality of the program.

You’re originally from Sydney, Australia, but have worked, interned, and traveled all over four different continents. What made you select Annapolis, MD as your home and headquarters for Global Experiences?

Love. My husband is from Annapolis and we met while studying in Sweden, and we moved here in 2000 while I was doing my PhD. It was my first real adult home and I totally fell in love with the town, I think it is wonderful. Growing up I always expected and wanted to live overseas, so it is no great surprise, and now I have three passports which is pretty cool (Australian, UK, and U.S.). We have a wonderful office and team at the Global Experiences HQ, and I Iove going to work everyday. Come and visit Annapolis and meet our team anytime!

Global Experiences with the Career Development Award at NAFSA 2014

Sharing the career development award with GE program Alumna Lexi Bourdon at NAFSA 2014.

Your academic background is in Political Science as well as International Relations and Affairs. How do you apply the knowledge and skills you have gained to your work in the field of internships, and international education?

My masters degree is in International Peace and Conflict studies, and I went to Sweden specifically because of my interest in peace negotiations. Starting a global business required enormous amounts of intercultural understanding and appreciation for the business culture of our program locations. We started in Italy, and although it is my favorite country, it isn’t an easy place to do business, so I used a lot of the fundamentals from my studies, like trust-building and negotiations to develop good relationships that have endured for more than 10 years now. I have always wanted to make the world a better place, and I think encouraging more international mobility and immersive experiences, especially U.S. college students, makes the world smaller and more peaceful as a result.

You had an international internship with the United Nations in Indonesia, what impact did this have on you wanting to create an organization that provides international internships?

My internship at the United Nations was life changing, for both the professional and the personal. Before I started my internship in Jakarta, it was my goal to work at the UN. But, once I experienced what it was like to work for such a large bureaucracy I realized that I needed a faster paced and more entrepreneurial career. Personally, I lived in Indonesia during the revolution that overthrew Soeharto in ‘98, so as a young blonde woman living alone for the first time, it was a challenging experience, filled with security alerts and pending evacuation. I have been able to handle a lot more adversity because I pushed myself at a young age to do things others wouldn’t.

Now, having watched so many young people go through our international  internships I find that it is often the personal growth and the confidence that is gained from the experience that is the biggest benefit.

Interns meeting Hillary Clinton at the 2013 Fulbright Event in Washington D.C.

Washington D.C. Interns meeting Hillary Clinton at Fulbright Event 2013.

What was your biggest takeaway from your time as an intern abroad?

Learning about what you don’t want in your career is as useful as finding out what you do. Be open-minded, flexible, and self aware, and you will gain the most from every aspect of your time abroad.

You’re very active, competing in races and triathlons, what are some different ways interns can stay fit while busy interning abroad?

I developed a love for running when I turned 30, and whenever I travel I love to explore a new city or area by running. You can cover so much more ground and I love seeing a new place wake up as I run in the morning. It is the easiest way to stay fit while interning or studying abroad and I have seen people who vowed to not be able to run to take it up and love it. It is also the best therapy, you sort out a lot of things when you run. We actually have running lunch breaks at Global Experiences, everyone should get out from behind their desks as much as possible.

You have three kids, what would you tell them the value of an international internship is?

You find out about who you really are and what you love. I want my kids to be adventurous and find something they love in life and use their strengths. My 14 year old will be going to Europe with a school group in a few months and studying abroad in France in high school. I think kids need to have a chance to do bold things and grow up through international experiences. I always encourage parents to trust the parenting and values of their family and push their kids to go abroad and you will be proud of what they find and of the people they become.

What is the most fulfilling aspect of serving as the Co-Founder and CEO of Global Experiences?

I love sharing the success stories from our interns with my team, and it is often those who really have a lot of challenges to overcome and those we took the extra time with, that we are all so invested in, that are the ones you remember the most.

Woman in London, England

London is one of my favorite cities and our largest program location, I try to visit at least once a year.

What has been your biggest accomplishment as CEO of Global Experiences?

Building a global organization that provides the highest quality experiences. Every year we reinvest in improving our customer experience and making our programs better and better. Receiving the GoAbroad Innovation Award in 2014 for our strengths based career development program was a great acknowledgement of that hard work.

Global Experiences has been around 14 years, what is on the horizon for the organization?

I always feel like we are at the beginning of something new, and right now I am very excited by our growing collaborations with universities and colleges around the world. There is an increasing enthusiasm about integrating international internships into academic degrees, and I think this will be the biggest factor in enabling a larger diverse group to experience interning abroad.