Fair question! It isn’t trivial to plan and pull off a working vacation. It takes time and effort to apply for a sabbatical or leave of absence; it takes time to rent your home; it takes time to find housing and transportation in the host country. In terms of effort it would be far easier to relax, open a cold one, sit back and watch a Twins game. Therefore, before I delve into the minutia of how to find a working vacation, let’s talk a little bit about the why.
When we were twenty-something many of us relished the idea of living, not just traveling, abroad. We dreamed of heading off to Europe after graduation (and a good number actually did) to experience a new culture, make new friends, and mature as young adults and global citizens. We were not interested in the one-week “Highlights Tour” or a whirlwind dash past a few major tourist attractions. Instead, we wanted to settle down, learn the language, find employment, and become part of the local community. Why should this taste for adventure fade as we grow older? Why should we abandon our idealism and wanderlust because we are a few years past our college days? Why aren’t we still equally as passionate about the joy and excitement that comes from living and working abroad?
When you live in a community, rather than drop in for a few days, you have time to meet neighbors, attend social, cultural, and religious events, and participate in local activities. Everyday tasks like shopping, laundry, even getting a haircut require you to learn about the neighborhood and the people who live and work there. A long-term working vacation allows you to take those unusual but informative off-the-beaten-path excursions not possible in the jam-packed prearranged schedule of a one- or two-week family holiday. You learn about a culture not by observing it from a distance but by becoming part of it.
One’s own social and political orientation can be profoundly influenced by working vacations as you not only expand your understanding of the world but also gain insights into what is happening right here at home. Travel to countries with deep-seated religious strife makes you acutely aware of the terrible damage caused by our own homegrown zealots. Living in the midst of a culture struggling with racial or tribal hatreds sensitizes you to the hurt arising from intolerance, bigotry, and segregation. Working in a developing nation whose economic policies exacerbate the gap between rich and poor opens one’s eyes to the ugliness of greed and the shame of society’s tolerance of poverty amidst widespread wealth.
And, best of all, long-term overseas work and travel is a wonderful way to invigorate one’s own daily life which, for many, can too easily slip into repetition and boredom–go to work, mow the lawn, eat dinner, fall asleep. As the Roman philosopher Seneca said “Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” For many professionals this type of transformative living experience can be far more rewarding than a Caribbean cruise or a week in some expensive beachfront hotel. A long-term working vacation is a wonderful way to combine the relaxation of a holiday with the intellectual growth and excitement of interacting with and learning from local residents and professionals. And all this on the other guy’s dime! Keep reading this blog (or check out my book) to learn how.