Get to know NEXSTEP regional director Aaron Clark and his journey from military to education

Using the NEXSTEP experience as a career jumping-off point, there are so many different directions you can go in after you’ve completed your internship. At NEXSTEP, our programs are designed to give each student a diverse, realistic experience within their chosen field. And our goal is to create a safe, encouraging experience that is personalized to an individual level.

One of our team’s regional directors, Aaron Clark, is someone who has a fascinating career. He joined NEXSTEP a few years ago, looking to become a part of a close-knit team that put a lot of personalization and care into students’ experiences. Moving from military service into the field of education, Aaron has chosen a complete career transition, and he’s helped mold our organization in the process.

Joining the American military at 25 years old so that he could see more of the world (and to make him more hire-able as a firefighter), Aaron was eventually assigned a post in Thailand. As soon as he got there, he knew that this was where he wanted to spend the rest of his life. “Within five days of landing in Thailand, I knew there was not another place in the world I wanted to be. […] It was this real dynamic shift. I had gotten kind of bored in America, and all of a sudden… every day, I was learning. Every day, I was exposed to something that was challenging and interesting.” 

After a year in the middle east in operation Iraqi freedom Aaron’s 5 years of service was up. He took the opportunity to find a way back to Thailand. On top of this, and due to the impact the war had on him he was also looking for a way to make more positive impacts in his life and career. He decided to go back to school, and ended up majoring in Asian Studies. “Going back to school was like a dream job after going to war,” he tells us. And, even though Aaron wasn’t too interested in his education before going into the military, he found fresh motivation and ambition after he’d completed that part of his life.

He studied abroad for two years in Thailand. After getting his bachelor’s degree, Aaron decided to pursue a master’s degree in hospitality at Thailand’s Mahidol University. From there, he began working with a study abroad agency based in the United States that was sending students to Asia. While working with this organization, Aaron met NEXSTEP’s founder and CEO, Jérôme Le Carrou.

After a few more years working with different study abroad programs, Aaron was looking to work with a more unique, individualized experiential learning organization. He was drawn to NEXSTEP, adding, “I was quite nervous about the idea of shifting from years specializing in study abroad to internships at first.” But, Jérôme was able to take him under his wing. “His background, and his experience, and his knowledge made the transition quite easy.”

And, just like with Thailand, Aaron fell in love with NEXSTEP. 

As he began working with us, Aaron really grasped what we’re trying to do for our students. He says, “I was always aware of how international experience helps young people grow as individuals, but how about their professional future and career. 

All of a sudden you graduate and… ‘it’s time to get a job, but young people are still lacking readiness and confidence. I am so proud of how we help them overcome the gap between education and the real world.

Now, he’s been with us for three years, really helping to mold what NEXSTEP looks like today. Becoming a part of the team right before COVID hit in 2020, Aaron has been instrumental in working with the virtual NEXSTEP experiences and internships. He has been a key player in launching our internal program support services for students. Aaron says, “Now we have students asking to do a virtual program. Asking, specifically, for a hybrid program.” We are clearly witnessing a shift in the workplace paradigm.

As an American himself, and with such a distinct, uncommon career path, Aaron can provide exclusive insight for North American students who find themselves drawn to Asia for its culture and industry. When it comes to traditional study abroad initiatives like the one that Aaron had previously worked with, Aaron explains, “True immersion and true connection between the cultures was limited. And often there was a lack of focus on the true cross-cultural engagement between the local students [and] the expat students.” 

That’s part of the reason he believes the mission of NEXSTEP is so important. 

“Study abroad didn’t really prep a student for the next step, which was work.” Of course, that’s the appeal of internships abroad. It’s invaluable to become empowered through engagement with the field that you will one day be entering.

“This is what an internship opportunity can bring,” he says, “it might be testing waters of areas and interests that [students have] never had the opportunity to engage in. It might be shifting from that thing that their family has guided them in their initial path.” Aaron knows what it’s like to be unsure of how, exactly, to move forward in a career while being unsure of what it is you want to do. He knows the importance of real-world experimentation, of getting out there and having experiences that will inform you of which path is right for you.

“One thing that I really appreciate about NEXSTEP is that we treat everyone with respect. It doesn’t matter, where you come from, what your background [is]. We want to respect you for who you are and how you see yourself.”

He stresses, though, how safety is still the ultimate priority here. 

When giving information about different programs in different countries and when answering specific questions, Aaron tells us, “We want to be honest and give [students] the information that they need to know to make the best decision for them[selves]. We can’t always make the decision for a student, but we can try to provide background.”

Connect with Aaron on LinkedIn here!

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