International Experience Benefits Alumna | School of Information | Kent State University

International Experience Benefits Alumna

Studying and working abroad offer the unique opportunity of immersing yourself in another country and its culture, as well as providing a competitive edge in the job market. Powell, Ohio, native Celia Emmelhainz, a 2014 graduate of Kent State’s School of Library and Information Science, discovered that for herself in Kazakhstan.

Emmelhainz first visited Central Asia when she was 16. After coming back to the United States, she was so interested in the region she decided to major in Russian area studies at Ohio Dominican University for her undergraduate degree.

Later, Emmelhainz did fieldwork projects in Kazakhstan and Mongolia while studying anthropology in grad school at Texas A&M University. Her studies focused on how people live and how culture, environment, history and economics all mix.

“It was great preparation for working in libraries internationally, because it taught me to step back, observe, try to understand how people are thinking and not just react based out of my own American ways of thinking — although I still did that sometimes,” said Emmelhainz.

After receiving her master’s degree in anthropology, Emmelhainz went back to Kazakhstan to work in a new university library in Astana, the country’s capital. The Nazarbayev University library wanted to provide a Western-style education for local students and brought in faculty and staff from abroad.

“It was a really great opportunity for me. I got the opportunity to do professional librarian work even before getting my M.L.I.S., thanks to my existing cultural and research experience in the region,” said Emmelhainz.

Emmelhainz was later recruited to an international school in Astana to serve as its head school librarian. For two years there she ran two libraries at Haileybury Astana, set a long-term strategic plan, wrote new policies and structured new programs.

“In both cases, working with an international startup was really exciting as a young librarian, because there was a lot of scope for building new things and sharing aspects of librarianship across cultures,” said Emmelhainz.

How can other librarians and information professionals get abroad, too?

Before going to Kazahkstan, Emmelhainz read Getting Ahead By Going Abroad by C. Perry Yeatman and Stacie Nevadomski Berdan. The book highlighted benefits of working overseas and how it allows women to show leadership in ways they might not otherwise be given.

A survey from the book states that 85 percent of women agree their international experience accelerated their careers; 78 percent agree it had a significant, positive impact on compensation; and 71 percent agree they were given greater responsibility earlier in their careers.

Emmelhainz said this has proven true for her. “Working in Kazakhstan jumpstarted my professional career as a librarian. It had me making key decisions, managing staff, juggling all different aspects of the work and developing new collaborations far earlier than I would otherwise have done.”

Emmelhainz worked in professional roles while still a student in the M.L.I.S. program. She said she could directly apply what she was learning in classes to her work, and vice versa — using her work experience to address the readings and coursework with a perspective many other students didn't have. 

Based on her work and studies, Emmelhainz recently had a scholarly article published on expatriate faculty members and how they do research in Kazakhstan.

After working in Kazakhstan for three years, Emmelhainz returned to the United States in the summer of 2014 in time for graduation from Kent State. That same week, she accepted a social science data librarian position at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

“It's a big change for me, from a capital city in Asia to a small town in Maine, but I'm really enjoying it,” said Emmelhainz. She now helps students find and use social science datasets at Colby’s academic library.

There are many paths in librarianship, and Emmelhainz said she encourages students and professionals to go abroad, especially as the United States becomes increasingly diverse.

Emmelhainz has also started a collaborative blog to help other data librarians gain the resources they need to be successful as a way of giving back to the profession she has found so rewarding.

Note: Celia Emmelhainz received the 2015 August Alpers award from the School of Library and Information Science. The award is presented to a library and information science graduate who contributed the most to the school as a student while maintaining a good grade point average.