Working abroad can be one of the most interesting and challenging experiences of your life. It often allows you, even requires you to become an immediate and integral part of the society in which you are living. It also frequently develops and demands a level of personal and professional responsibility many students have not yet known.
Have you ever thought about what it would be like to rent an apartment in a foreign city, all of the negotiation being handled in the local language? Or going to work on the bus or subway with everyone else who is 'off to the office' for the day, listening to their conversations (and joining in), seeing what they're reading, watching the way they interact and and how they behave towards each other? Your language skills, of course, will develop exponentially if you are in a non-English speaking country. And there will be many opportunities to make lasting friendships, and also to establish contacts that may be of benefit to you in your future career. You will learn new skills and new ways of doing things -- whether you're working in a pub, an investment bank, or an orphanage. There are few other experiences that can so intimately reveal to you the basic fabric of another culture, allowing you to understand it -- and perhaps even your own -- from a very new perspective.
Students find all kinds of jobs overseas, some offering valuable professional training, others perhaps just a paycheck and a chance to relax and experience life in another culture. The positions that students find, through whatever agency or route, generally fall into one of the following categories:
Summer or temporary jobs may often rely upon the travel industry, either directly or indirectly. Positions open up, of course, in industries catering to an influx of visitors -- hotels, restaurants, stores -- but also to fill in for other more permanent workers who are taking their own holidays from offices or professional firms. In some countries, such as the U.K., temp agencies are frequently relied upon to fill these voids and may be one of your best resources. Otherwise, you are forced to go 'door-to-door, ' whether in person or before hand through the mail. You may also find (although more rarely) that there are special summer jobs set aside for training students, although these may often (and logically) be reserved for students from the host country or its immediate neighbors.
Internships, although growing in popularity in Europe and parts of East Asia, are still often unknown in other parts of the world. Don't be surprised if you get a puzzled silence when inquiring about internship positions in many countries -- an employer may simply not really know you are asking for. You can certainly take it upon yourself to explain what you mean by an internship -- and then try to sell the idea to a possibly skeptical employer. You may find this easier to do if you're not asking to get paid (at least initially) as a true internship is often as much for your own education as for the employer's benefit -- but it doesn't hurt to try, especially if you're interning in the for-profit sector.
Professional employment on such a temporary basis as generally undertaken by students is understandably rare. If you have special skills or a particularly appropriate background for such a position, and if you are available for a longer period of time (up to a year), you may find that there are some opportunities. Graduating seniors will certainly be better placed to explore such options than undergraduates. U.S. based firms who have an active overseas market and global offices are obvious targets fro your search as are foreign firms with a significant U.S. presence.. You may find it easier to be employed by firms here in the U.S. to begin with, seeking a transfer to an overseas posting after you have gained some experience (and demonstrated your value ) to the firm. If you have or can gain residency rights in another country in which you'd like to work, this will also greatly ease your path towards professional employment there.
Teaching remains one of the easier routes to international employment for many young Americans. You are already qualified in some basic sense to serve as a native English language instructor and also may be well-suited to teach or intern in an overseas American or International school. Most teaching positions will look for a college degree (often the discipline in which your degree was taken is less crucial) and contracts will generally be for at least a year. Shorter term and summer options may be available on a more ad hoc, less structured basis.
Public service projects may be available to you, although usually on a strictly volunteer basis. Even 'volunteer' positions can be difficult to find as supervising a volunteer can require considerable time and effort on the part of the staff and they may be reluctant to give this up unless they are sure of a positive return. To offset this problem, a number of groups have established 'volunteer programs' in which you actually pay a tuition-like fee to participate. Despite the cost, this is often an excellent way to begin to develop experience in this exciting area of international work.
No matter what type of overseas job you are looking for, chances are you will have to initiate a fairly traditional job search unless you are already connected to an employer who is willing and able to place you abroad or unless you are interested in participating in a fee-based program that can place you in a position. Be wary of advertisements or agencies which say that they can find you the perfect international job! Many such claims, with application fees attached to them, will advance your cause but very little. Always check with the International Education or Career Development offices before you pursue such avenues.
It can take time and hard work to find an overseas job and you may discover, even after you've decided that this is what you really want to do, that there are obstacles in your way -- most of them surmountable. On the other hand, you may know someone including the vast network of W&L alums who can help you walk into a great overseas job. As you begin the process of looking for an overseas job, it is important to note both the similarities and the differences between a job search at home and one abroad. For an overseas job search, you must be concerned with a number of important issues which will probably not effect you in your job hunt here at home. These include:
But just like looking for a job at home, your job hunt will likely involve several key steps, including:
Unfortunately, programs designed to place U.S. students directly into paid overseas jobs or internships are few and far between except for those that have an often significant tuition-like fee attached to them. Similarly, there is still little direct recruiting on American campuses by international employers for graduating students to work overseas. It is certainly worth your while, however, to use the recruiting process available through Career Services and job fairs, You can use the interview to learn more about a company and its overseas operations, to develop contacts, and (hopefully) to get a company interested in you. If no immediately, they may be willing to send you overseas after a year or two of working in the firm in the U.S.
Most importantly, you must be the active party in the overseas job search process, aggressively looking for opportunities for yourself! Follow these basic guidelines as you begin your search:
Whenever possible, resumes and cover letters should be written in the commonly spoken language of the country or region to which they are directed, unless you are certain you are communicating with a fluent English speaker. Reseearch the type of resume or CV required; often overseas positions require a specific CV. In your letter or other contacts (fax, phone, or e-mail) be brief and to the point, clearly stating exactly why it is you are contacting this person and what you hope to receive from them. Are you asking for:
Be sure to quickly cover any points you feel they should know up front, such as your:
Do not neglect to send a thank-you note to each and every person who responds to you; if you don't thank them for their help now, they may not want to help you (or another W & L student) in the future.
Generally speaking, the more specific you are about the type of job you want and the location you want to be in, the easier it will be to structure your search. It is important to be adequately prepared for the type of international work you want to pursue, to be focused in your search for the right opportunity, but also to allow as much flexibility as possible in the options you are willing to consider.
The keys to success in this undertaking are motivation and persistence. It may take some time and a good deal of work, but it can be done if you follow your strategy and keep at it with diligence. Whether your interests are in finance, law, or medicine, whether you want to work in publishing, in a pub, or in public service, the opportunities to pursue your ambitions in an international setting are out there.