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Work Abroad

Why Work Abroad?

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.

What Kind of Work Do Students Find Abroad?

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 and other temporary paid jobs
  • internships (paid and unpaid)
  • regular professional employment (usually rare for students)
  • teaching internships or jobs
  • public service and volunteer positions.

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.

How Do I Find Work Abroad?

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:

  1. your legal status in another country (defined by your visa status and your ability to get a work permit)
    To work in a country in which you do not have citizenship or residency status, you must obtain permission from the government of that county to take employment there; more correctly in many cases, your employer must obtain permission from that government to hire a foreign worker. This takes the form of a special visa, commonly called a work permit, which allows you to enter the country for the purpose of taking a specific job. In most cases this must be applied for and approved before you enter the country and is a process which must be initiated by your proposed employer; it is usually not a process which you can initiate directly by yourself through a consulate or embassy. Regulations governing work permits and the exact process which you must undertake to obtain it will vary from country to country. Information on visa regulations may be obtained from that country's consulates or embassy in the U.S. CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange) offers a Student Work Exchange Program which offers temporary work permits for U.S. students in a limited number of countries (currently including Ireland, France, Germany, Spain in a limited capacity, Australia, New Zealand, Costa Rica, and Jamaica), while BUNAC (British Univerisities North American Club) offers U.S. students the opportunity to obtain a work permit for the U.K. for up to six months. CDS International offers several work permit and placement options for Germany. Information on these programs is available from the Center for International Education and may be linked to from relevant areas below. There may be other organizations which can also help in obtaining visas for certain countries or types of work.
  2. your language abilities
    Reasonable proficiency in the language of the country in which you are planning to work is generally a basic expectation. How much is enough? This may vary according to the job and the environment in which you will be living and working. Many programs require a minimum of two years of college level language training or its equivalent. In some cases, even this will be less than sufficient to meet the needs of a job. Finding yourself in a position where your language skills do not meet the requirements of the job can be uncomfortable and frustrating -- both for you and your employer. It is a good idea to test yourself by talking with a fluent speaker (perhaps someone in the appropriate language department at W&L) to see how well you can communicate. In some cases, it may be possible to obtain employment where your language skills may not be as important. This is sometimes true in scientific and research work, or in a job where you are being hired specifically because of your English language skills, such as an editor or writer.
  3. the financial realities of traveling, living, and working abroad.
    Working overseas is always rewarding culturally but not always financially. If you have the skills and experience to obtain a professional-level position, you may find that an overseas salary can equal or even surpass the salary you would expect at home. For many students, however, especially those without citizenship or residency status in another country, such positions may not be easy to obtain. Most overseas positions should pay at least sufficiently to meet your immediate, local living expenses; at times, however, you may need a supplement from your own savings. Do some basic research into the economic conditions and cost of living in the country in which you are planning to work. Overseas alumni, local newspapers from your intended destination, and students or faculty from that country are all possible sources of information. Can you realistically expect to meet your financial requirements from jobs which may be available to you in that country? If not, consider spending some extra time working at home before you go to help support your needs while abroad.

But just like looking for a job at home, your job hunt will likely involve several key steps, including:

  • research on the industry and employers in which you are interested
  • networking with people in the field who may be able to help you (both here and abroad)
  • preparing the actual applications and resumes you will be sending out.

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:

  • Identify as many possible employers as you can.;
  • Do your research on which employers operate in which countries;
  • Think creatively and actively about what information might be important to you and where you might look to find it;
  • Network with people in the field or country in which you are interested to help you to get some of this information; start with personal connections and expand this circle to include other students, faculty members and other members of the W & L community both here and abroad.

How do I submit an application to an overseas employer?

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:

  • a job?
  • other contacts?
  • information about a particular field of work?
  • basic tips on conducting a job hunt in that city or country?

Be sure to quickly cover any points you feel they should know up front, such as your:

  • college status
  • your work permit, visa status, or citizenship status
  • how long you plan to spend working in the country
  • whether you need a paid job or can accept an unpaid internship
  • any other potentially important points.

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.