- Alicia Sigmon
eduFair Employee Spotlight: Derrik Karst – Empowering Students and Expanding International Horizons
At eduFair, we strive to help students connect with their best-fit school and learn about all aspects of studying abroad. But who are the people behind the scenes? With our Employee Spotlight series, we’ll introduce you to the people carrying out our mission. For this spotlight, we’ll introduce you to Derrik Karst, our Director of International Engagement.
Derrik is passionate about technology and international education. At eduFair, he leads the international department and helps schools connect with Chinese students. He says his passions fuel his work: “Since my first experience abroad, I’ve always been interested in helping students expand their international horizons. I think a global mindset is critical for overcoming the challenges we face in the 21st century. And at eduFair, I’m excited to use technology to bridge students, schools, and opportunities all around the world.”
Derrik joined eduFair in 2015. He now leads the international team from Madrid, Spain.
About Derrik: A Student Experience that Launched an International Career
About Derrik: A Student Experience that Launched an International Career
Derrik grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah in the United States. Growing up in the mountains of Utah, Derrik developed a love for all sorts of outdoor activities, like mountain biking, snowboarding, and rafting. This adventurous spirit has carried over into other areas of his life. When Derrik was 15, he got his first taste of international travel when he joined a group of young students for a summer tour of Italy.
This experience left a lasting impression on Derrik. He explains, “For me, that first trip to Italy was truly eye-opening. It was my first time out of the US, and it was a thrill to see, smell, and experience a foreign country. It changed how I viewed the world.”
Derrik studying abroad in Siena, Italy, an experience that changed his academic and professional outlook.
While a student at Westminster College of Utah, Derrik returned to Europe several times, studying abroad in Italy, Turkey, and Greece. These international experiences had an impact on his academic path. He started college as a pre-med student. He knew he wanted to pursue a career helping people. However, after working in a medical clinic, he became disillusioned with medicine. He started exploring different courses that would allow him to help people in an international context.
He found himself drawn to two fields: economics and education. Derrik explains, “I was really interested in international development and understanding why some countries were so rich while others were so poor. Economics answered many questions I had about the world, and I was interested in education as a means of economically empowering people.”
Derrik continued his education by earning a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University. He held various business roles in the U.S., including what he calls a “very adult job” leading teams at American Express. However, he always found himself wondering about to long-term roles abroad. In 2010, he moved to Italy working for an education non-profit helping train hundreds of young volunteers from around the world with the goal of energizing the Italian scholastic system.
Then in 2011, Derrik took a job in China as an economics professor at a university in Shaoxing, Zhejiang. He says, “China was a country that came up again and again in class discussions, so I wanted to see in on a ground-level. And it was fascinating. I arrived at a time when China was transforming. When I first got to Shaoxing, the only foreign restaurants were Starbucks and Pizza Hut. And when I would ride the bus, people would want to take photos with the foreigner.”
Derrik arriving in eastern China in 2011.
After teaching several years, he studied Chinese at Zhejiang University before returning to the business-world and joining eduFair. “I loved education but didn’t necessarily want to be a teacher. I wanted to explore careers in technology and find ways to combine my interests in business, China, and international education,” says Derrik. “I was fortunate to be connected to this startup [eduFair] that was building a platform to make it more accessible and more affordable for students all over China to go overseas.”
Q&A: Reflections on International Education and eduFair
1. Why is international education important to you?
For an American, I was fortunate to travel abroad at a relatively young age. And for me, that first trip overseas was a complete revelation. In the US, we study things like foreign languages, humanities, and history, but they always seem so distant. Then, walking the streets of Rome, the language, the art, and thousands of years of history suddenly became tangible.
I really believe that international education is a powerful eye-opener and it sets students up for successful lives and careers. Studying abroad builds adaptability, self-awareness, and a global mindset that are very valuable in the 21st century.
Moreover, when students go abroad, they begin an adventure that opens new perspectives and encourages an open mindset. This is critical for bridging gaps between people, cultures, and countries – especially now. Looking at the world, we are increasingly more connected yet, at the same time, very divided.
And importantly, when students study abroad, they bring their perspectives and experiences back home. Learning about other cultures also helps us see our own selves more clearly. I think this is especially important in countries like the US and China. Our decisions have far-reaching impact around the globe, and as citizens, we have a responsibility to be informed about the world.
Derrik taught economics at a university in Shaoxing, China for three years where he advised students going abroad.
2. What benefits does an international education have for Chinese students? Are there any unique considerations?
I think China is unique from other large countries. Its citizens have really embraced globalization, and Chinese people are very curious about foreigners and life outside of China. Virtually all young Chinese have studied some level of English, and more and more have traveled overseas.
China has long been the number-one source of international students, and this is expected to continue well into the next decade. However, the trends and demographics are changing.
Previously, typically rich, upper-class students would primarily attend well-ranked universities in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia to study business or engineering.
Nowadays, this stereotype is fading. More and more middle-class families are sending their children abroad, and they’re considering countries all over the globe, including Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. And the students are choosing a diverse mix of majors– things like film studies, fashion design, and Spanish literature.
We see that families’ attention is moving towards factors like affordability, graduate outcomes, campus safety, and student life. We also see that the format of studying abroad is changing: short-term travel, 2+2 programs, and community colleges are all rising in popularity.
3. How does eduFair help students in their international journey?
I have first-hand experience in China as both a student and educator, so I’m familiar with the Chinese education system and the factors to go into students’ decisions.
The idea for eduFair is really to give students better information so that they can navigate every step of studying abroad on their own, for free.
Chinese students have a lot of preconceived notions about studying abroad – they tend to focus a lot of rankings. Also, it can be difficult to access information. When we investigated foreign universities’ websites, we found that almost eight out of ten had admissions content that couldn’t be accessed in China. That’s why the majority of Chinese students apply through agents who charge tens of thousands of dollars.
We also want applicants to focus on the ideas of student fit and successful outcomes. Rankings don’t paint the whole portrait of what it’s like to live on campus or how graduates are supported when they start their careers. That’s why we allow real students that are already on campus to share their experiences. Also, that’s why we want schools and universities to get involved – so applicants can get official, up-to-date information directly from the institution.
4. What is the most rewarding aspect of working for eduFair?
I love eduFair because I get to work with really cool people building an all-new idea. We are doing small things that make a big impact in international education.
Watching interaction on our platform, I get to see the impact on individual students heading to countries all over the world. They’re discovering new aspects about schools that can’t be found in rankings – things like the vibe on campus and ways that schools support international students. And it doesn’t just start or end with their university search. Even after students go abroad, they keep posting to eduFair to share their experiences at their campus and inform the next wave of students.
I also think it's incredibly neat to see our ideas take off as we introduce new features. We start with an interesting idea, and after months of iterating and designing, we get to see the first user try it out… and then a dozen users, and then a hundred users. It’s quite thrilling to see that immediate impact. And all together, I love to know that we’re helping millions of students to discover international opportunities at schools all over the world.
Thanks for reading our Spotlight!
Stay tuned for the next article in our series: an interview with eduFair’s Project Director, Luying Chen, who studied in New Zealand and the United Kingdom before her role coordinating the development of our platform.
ABOUT EDUFAIR CHINA
eduFair China is a free website and app connecting Chinese students with international institutions and first-hand resources about studying abroad. We aim to give students a more empowered approach to international education so that they can succeed during their journey abroad.
Our platform features more than 1,200 organizations and reaches millions of students across China.
Click here to learn more about getting your institution online and how eduFair can help you reach students in China.