If you think your job prospects look grim, then you might want to follow the example of thousands of younger workers—and some older ones—who are finding short-term work opportunities abroad. According to the career services office at the University of Pennsylvania's College of Arts and Sciences, almost twice as many 2009 grads found employment overseas compared with the class of 2008. For these young alums, working a year abroad can provide more time to settle on a career path or decide on graduate school. It can also allow them to immerse themselves in a new culture, brush up on language skills, and generate an international Rolodex.
Websites such as www.transitionsabroad.com and www.goabroad.com offer travel guides and employment listings ranging from international business internships and teaching positions to nursing posts (if you have your certificate) and au pair situations. Placement agencies like InterExchange and the Council on International Educational Exchange can also help you navigate overseas openings and can provide counseling services if you're struggling with cultural differences. Bill Nolting, assistant director for education abroad at the University of Michigan International Center, recommends looking for programs with strong support networks and track records of satisfied alumni.
Many jobs offer a modest salary or stipend and some (like au pair jobs) cover room, board, and airfare. The government-sponsored Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme pays English instructors 3.6 million yen (or about $44,000) a year.
Boston College graduate Greg Schafer, 22, of Brooklyn, N.Y., took a job teaching at an English institute in Yilan City, Taiwan. Schafer turned down a summer workshop in publishing (the field where he eventually hopes to work) to try his hand instead at supervising international students. In an E-mail, he noted that the challenges of adjusting to a Taiwanese classroom make the prospect of moving on to a future job in America "seem like going back down to tee-ball after a year in the majors."
Though 18-to-30-year-olds represent most of the work-abroad pool, some older adults are venturing forth to jump-start new careers, often by taking overseas volunteer posts, like building community schools or helping various humanitarian efforts. To find the best opportunity for yourself, experts offer a few tips.
Identify your goals. Knowing where you want to go, what your financial or housing expectations are, and what you hope to gain from a work-abroad experience can make the whole process go more smoothly, says Katharine Brooks, director of Liberal Arts Career Services at the University of Texas–Austin.
But when unexpected opportunities pop up, be flexible. After he lost his job as an accountant in Kansas City, Mo., Titus Williams, now 30, accepted a teaching job in the former Soviet republic of Georgia because he believed it would give him valuable overseas work experience as he explores an interest in international relations.
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Research, research. Make sure you are clear on what your job responsibilities will be. In 2007, Dallas native Meg Dowdy, then 22, accepted a job as an English-language marketing assistant at a Buenos Aires dental office. She had earned her degree in Spanish from UT–Austin and had always dreamed of working in Argentina. Although Dowdy had communicated with her employer via video chats and E-mails, she was stunned on her first day when her new bosses gave her a handbook of dental procedures and told her to be ready to help operate the next day. Dowdy quit and later found a job in a bar. Now working toward her Ph.D. in Hispanic literature, she says that if you don't have the money to visit a potential employer, "get as much detail as possible" about job responsibilities "in as clear language as possible."
Tap your network. If you’ve previously traveled or studied abroad, tap into that network to generate job leads, says Patrick Mullane, head of the career center at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. In 2008, Elliott Hoel used his contacts from a two-year Peace Corps stint in Zambia to get hired as a consultant by a global research firm operating in that country. Hoel, 27, a 2005 graduate of Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., now works for an international health research organization, Measure DHS, in Washington, D.C.