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Finding Work Abroad

Posted on 22 August 2008

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 study abroad in 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 internship. 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 parents (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 volunteer 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 freelance writing.
  • Get yourself there. Meet people. Make connections. Do odd jobs. Tutor foreigners in English. Sing in the subway. Be creative, flexible and optimistic.

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4 Comments For This Post

  1. Alex Case says:

    Some nice advice, upbeat and yet honest about some of the difficulties. One thing I think is understated is:

    “This will eliminate the hassle of having to obtain working papers.”, which could be rewritten as “This might be your only option as most places will not be willing or able to get you working papers”

  2. Cindy King says:

    thanks for submitting this post to my blog carnival, I linked to it today and did the Discover submission on StumbleUpon.

    Since I left the Bahamas over 20 years ago I have lived in Switzerland, France, the UK, France (again), Canada, and France (yet again). I know what it is like to have to find work while living abroad.

  3. golden bay says:

    I personally consider that the finest city in New Zealand is Nelson, not only that, it is the sunniest. Plus, for business, commerce and living standards it is in the top 3.

  4. Justin L says:

    One of the most fun and culturally eye-opening ways to find work abroad is by becoming TEFL certified and teaching English abroad. Back in 2009, I was working, saving some money, and living with my parents in my suburban Pennsylvania home town. I, like a lot of us in our early 20′s, wanted something new and exciting, and I wanted to see the world. A few months later I moved to Prague, Czech Republic and took a very challenging, yet rewarding course with TEFL Worldwide Prague, earned my TEFL Certificate, and have been living and working in Prague ever since! I’ve traveled to Budapest, Bratislava, and Munich as well as small Czech towns, and have met so many amazing people from all over the world. I’d highly recommend doing something like this if you want to work abroad and immerse yourself in a new culture

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