I must have been Spanish in a past life — or an alternate dimension. I can’t think of any other way to explain the passion I have for the country, and its culture and language. Hoping to sate this passion by experiencing it first hand, I made the decision to studyin Madrid, Spain, my junior year of college. My instincts told me before I’d even left the United States that a year wouldn’t be enough. My gut was right — I felt entirely at home in Spain.
I left Spain optimistic about returning after my college graduation. Yet research proved that working abroad as a recent grad is not an easy thing, especially if you need to repay college loans.
The obvious options often have catches: State department internships are only available to those who plan on returning to school after the. Many popular fellowships require recipients to return to their home countries after completion of their research, studies, or projects. American companies abroad often do not want to hire Americans for their foreign offices, or they require you to work for two years in the States before even considering transferring you abroad. My optimism was rapidly fading.
But thankfully my pride and sense of reason prevailed. I reassessed my situation and began answering the questions I should have asked sooner: What do I enjoy doing? What skills do I have that are needed abroad? What skills can I acquire that would help me get a job abroad? What are my options realistically, financially, and logistically? Answering these questions gave me the focus I needed to narrow down my job search and focus my efforts.
I had always enjoyed tutoring and teaching, so I started volunteering stateside as an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) tutor and classroom aide. I found an ESOL certification course on the web and enrolled. I bought a plane ticket to Spain. I talked with people that taught English in Spain about their experiences.
Most importantly, though, I stopped worrying about planning every detail. I devised a basic plan, and resolved to let things develop from there. I worked like a fiend at my term-time jobs and saved as much money as possible. I stopped worrying about paying my loans off right away, about getting insurance, and about finding a job that I would stick with for the rest of my life. Oftentimes, knowing where you want to work can be just as important as knowing what you want to do. Get that down and the rest will follow.
Suggestions for Working Abroad
- If your (or you) were born in the EU, you may be able to obtain a European Union passport. This will eliminate the hassle of having to obtain working papers.
- If you are flexible as to your location and purpose, your chances of finding a job, internship, or fellowship increase dramatically. Japan, Germany, and the UK in particular offer ample teaching, internship, and study opportunities. China and Latin America offer ample opportunities through organized programs.
- Talk to anyone and everyone you know about your plans. You never know where and how people have connections.
- If you plan on attending graduate school in the future, consider a State Department internship in an American consulate or embassy abroad. However many internships are unpaid.
- American and international schools are everywhere. Find them. Research them. Write to them. Many schools abroad hire American interns. This is a particularly good option if you are interested in teaching, but don’t necessarily want to teach English.
- If you are a recent grad looking for relatively low-paying work that will allow you to mix with a foreign culture (i.e. waiting tables), visa exchange programs such as BUNAC (Britain) and CIEE’s Work Abroad Program (Australia, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Ireland, and New Zealand) will get you a work visa — for a fee.
- Consider looking for a job that you can do over the Internet. For example: editing, translating, or writing.
- Get yourself there. Meet people. Make connections. Do odd jobs. Tutor foreigners in English. Sing in the subway. Be creative, flexible and optimistic.