We’ve all heard the unemployment numbers, and we know that the job market in the States is a trial by fire for even the most accomplished professionals. And, according to President Obama, things are likely to get worse before they begin to get better.
International unemployment rates are also expected to rise as part of a struggling global economy, but American workers may still have better luck finding jobs overseas. Many Americans are already outsourcing themselves to countries where they can afford to live on the strength of the dollar, where they can find satisfying work, and where they can reap the benefits of living in another culture.
For decades, college students have been taking a year abroad to increase their understanding of the world, not to mention their joy at being a part of it. But why should this wonderful experience be limited to the beer-pong-in-the-hostel crowd? If you find yourself hurting for work, and ready to pack it all in, why not pack up and head abroad?
Get by on a Smile …
… and an open mind. College students are encouraged to take a year abroad because doing so advertises to potential employees that these young people possess a skill set that will make them successful anywhere in the world. Yes, it helps if you know the language, but you’ll learn that by being immersed in it once you’re there. What you’ll really need, both in and outside the good ol’ U.S. of A, are strong social skills that include the ability to work effectively with others and embrace diversity, and enough flexibility and adaptability to keep you thinking on your feet.
They don’t teach this stuff in any classroom, which is why foreign travel has become a de facto resume requirement for the twenty-something set. Going abroad hones problem-solving and creativity, but also exposes the brain to new possibilities and scenarios. Remember that you’re competing with these recent college grads in the job market, so consider your time outside the U.S. as 21st century professional development; it’s what will keep you in the game, especially when the other players are twenty-somethings.
If You’re Looking for a Career Move …
If, for whatever reason you’re considering a permanent move, but you don’t want to interrupt your career track to go abroad, there are ways to take your job with you. You might not have the exact job you have right now, and it might take a couple of years of planning, but it is doable to accomplish your career goals overseas, especially if you’re in particularly international fields like business or communications.
The first step is to do your research. Are jobs in your field outsourced? Do you know which companies send workers abroad? Investigate trade publications for leads and chase them down. That way, when you propose a move to your boss, you’ll be armed with information.
Also remember that certain areas in the United States outsource more jobs to specific areas. Debra Peters-Behrens, a career counselor at the University of California in Santa Barbara, encourages those who want to work abroad to build a strong starting point stateside. If you want to work in the Asian Pacific Rim, for example, you’ll have a better chance of doing so from Seattle, Portland, or San Francisco. For Latin America, consider relocating to Miami, Houston, or San Diego. And major cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. do business all over the world. Sure, this is a little more complicated than simply packing your bag and jetting off, but it will really strengthen your chances of finding a steady job overseas.
If You Just Need a Break …
Of course, you may not be able to find a job in the States as a starting point—that was the whole point of going abroad, right? If you need to get away fast, and make money doing it, you’ve got options. Again, take a lesson from the undergrads; there are plenty of opportunities to get them abroad for a year or so and keep them in cheap, local wine. Why not you, too?
If you like kids, or if you’re not that into striking out totally on your own, consider finding a position as an au pair. Au pairs (literally, “living on equal terms”) are usually single women (sometimes men) between the ages of eighteen and thirty (or older!), who want a chance to study a foreign culture and language while living cheaply with an overseas family. Au pairs typically work in France, especially Paris, but they’re in huge demand all over the globe, thanks to parents who want their kids to learn English at a young age. The cons: you may have to put up with difficult kids, and you’re on call 24/7. The pros: the immersion will have you speaking fluently in no time, and living with a family will do a lot to combat the ex-pat loneliness.
Teaching English abroad is also a great way to see the world, and there are tons of opportunities to do so with minimal training. Most programs require only a bachelor’s degree in any major, although candidates with TEFL or TESOL experience are usually allowed more flexibility in choosing their destination, and are paid more, too. The Peace Corps and Fulbright programs are also options, although you don’t need to be a part of these organizations to go abroad. The great thing about most teach-abroad programs is that they’ll usually take care of visa issues for you and offer you plenty of support while you’re out of the States. This is a better option for those who don’t have a particular destination in mind, however, since you can’t always have control over where in the world the program places you. (The greatest demand for English teachers is in Asia and Eastern Europe.)
If You Need to Be Reminded That You Don’t Have It so Bad …
Frankly, you’re not going to make a mint by going abroad. You may have better luck finding a job and covering your basic expenses there than here, but unless you’re being sent over as an executive in a million-dollar company, living outside the United States is more about having a priceless experience than chasing cash. Why not help others as you gain your new, worldly perspective? Not only will you rack up those karma points, but you’ll remind yourself that, even if the job market is hard for you, other people in the world have things much harder.
Though there are many eco- and volun-tourism groups that wealthy travelers pay big bucks to arm themselves with dinner party stories about feeding cows in Guatemala, there are also plenty of reputable organizations, like Volunteer Abroad, that will provide you with room and board while you work. Several even offer you the possibility of deferring your student loans while with them (assuming you still have student loans). These programs vary from the summer work-camp style, for which you should apply in March through May, to the longer-term commitment of the Peace Corps and its fellows, for which you’ll need six to nine months to get through the application process. They require a little more planning and a lot more work, but in terms of having a structure and purpose abroad, as well as a chance to make a difference, overseas volunteer programs are the way to go.
Build Your Resume, Build Your Life
Even if the whole recession thing blows over in a few months, going abroad now will give you a huge boost when employers do start hiring again. Not only will you have a resume greater than the Wall of China, but you’ll have gained a new outlook on why you’re even working in the first place. Regardless of whether you spend your time abroad harvesting organic produce in a third-world country or cutting the crusts off of little Maurice and Gigi’s croques monsieurs, you’ll still see far more of the world than you ever would from an unemployment office.