Monthly Archives: May 2010

Oops, My Age Is Showing!

My last post described a simple strategy for finding overseas housing–contact a realtor and arrange for them to show you rental accommodations when you arrive. Sounds reasonable, right?

Well Cara sent a comment in response to that post saying “I had a similar experience trying to find housing when I arrived in Germany. I had a reservation at a hostel for 3 nights and planned to find more permanent housing within that time, although I had no idea how it would work out. After I got there, some locals pointed me to a couple of housing sites on the Internet and with a few emails and phone calls, then visits, I found a place to live.”

My Israel working vacation took place in 1983, well before the explosion of that vast sea of information called the Web. Today, in addition to recommending that you call or email realtors to make arrangements, it would have been far more “current” and “up-to-date” for me to say that you should also check out rental Web sites for the destination city where you will be working. Certainly the best known is craigslist.org which contains rental listings for hundreds of international cities from Amsterdam to Zürich, and everything in between. Another possibility is sabbaticalhomes.com which helps professionals find rental homes and apartments worldwide, set up housing swaps, or list their own home for rent or exchange. There are other sites specific to particular cities and countries, just as Cara found one for Germany. Today you can make housing arrangements and finalize details before ever setting foot on the airplane. It’s even easier than I had described!

However, one word of advice: Be wary of scammers and con artists who troll these sites for easy pickings. A few years ago, when I put an ad on craigslist looking for a place in New York, I had dozens of offers of “free” rentals if I would just send a bank account number where they could remit the balance of my security deposit! Before placing or responding to any blind ad first read http://www.craigslist.org/about/scams which provides helpful, common sense information about both personal safety and avoiding scams.

O well, my bad. Just chalk it up to having evolved my working vacation strategies well before the advent of the Internet. I guess that also explains why I still don’t have an IPhone!

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It Really Wasn’t All That Difficult

With teaching contract in hand and air tickets tucked firmly into my pocket the Schneider family made its way to the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport for the first time in three years and boarded a plane for Tel Aviv. We took a jitney to Jerusalem and booked a room at a local hotel until we found a place to live—the immediate task at hand.

Housing arrangements will usually be made by your hosts, as was the case in London. However, if it is left up to you how do you find accommodations in an unfamiliar city? How do you look for an apartment in a place that you have never been and in a country where you do not speak the language (Hebrew)? This is the type of agonizing question that can stop people in their tracks and keep professionals, myself included, from taking full advantage of attractive offers. During the long twenty hour flight I worried incessantly about finding a place to live. My fitful sleep was filled with visions of homeless shelters and cardboard boxes. Well let me reassure you that finding housing overseas is really not that difficult and more often than not you will find extremely pleasant accommodations.

Scuba Diving In The Red Sea Near Elath. One of the Many Wonderful Side Trips We Took While Working In Israel For Three Months

Sometimes your hosts will arrange with a local realtor to come to your hotel on the first or second day in town, drive you around, and show you what is available. If this service has not been proffered, then simply make those arrangements yourself. Send email to your host asking them to contact a local real estate agent, one fluent in English, to arrange showings on your behalf. Then send email to the agent with rental dates, desired price range, and type of unit needed–which is exactly what we did. On our second day we found a lovely, and reasonably priced, two-bedroom apartment not far from campus for exactly the dates we needed–not a coincidence since the owners were Israeli faculty making the reverse commute—traveling to the U.S. for a three-month summer working vacation.

This phenomena–believing something will be difficult, time-consuming, and stressful only to discover that it was actually quite simple, has repeated itself over and over during our travels. Those nagging doubts about being able to “pull off” this kind of working vacation usually turn out to be totally unfounded. Just as it was easy for our family to find a lovely place to live, those deep-seated fears about your house, paying bills, finding accommodations, leasing a car, or finding a school for your children often turn out to be far less onerous than imagined.

A little bit of helpful advice (such as this blog) and a good deal of common sense will usually turn what appears to be a daunting task into a simple errand. Just as my unpleasant dreams about homeless shelters turned out to be foolish and baseless, don’t let your own specious nightmares stop you from enjoying that trip of a lifetime.

Following Those Clues

After two months and fifteen posts I hope one idea is becoming clear to my readers: Locating a short-term working vacation is not like following a recipe or solving a mathematical problem–step 1, step 2, step 3, … . It is much more like a murder mystery in which you uncover clues that eventually lead to the guilty party.

It would be so convenient if overseas employment were as simple as double clicking a link but that’s not the case. Given the range of work environments–classroom, medical lab, business office, concert hall–and the diversity of professional skills–engineer, teacher, pharmacist, architect–it would be impossible to devise a single list or single set of guidelines that works for all. However, a technique that will work for everyone is to have your personal “antennae” tuned in to every possibility and have a willingness and enthusiasm to go after whatever opportunities present themselves.

A friend of mine, a highly experienced educator, recently sent me email saying “When we were in Bhutan I had a conversation with a woman who just completed a consulting job with a school in Kathmandu advising them on setting up a special education program…I had forgotten about that until I read your blog entry about seeking out opportunities.” Now if Nepal is high on my friend’s “100 places to see” list, then this serendipitous conversation is just the kind of hidden opportunity to which she should respond. The question though is “How?” Here is one approach:

The City of Jerusalem At Night. My Family Spent Three Months Here In The Summer of 1983

First, determine if the school where this individual consulted was a safe place and if her colleagues were good people–you don’t want to go somewhere unpleasant or work with unfriendly staff. If the response is encouraging then get 1) the name and email of a contact person, 2) details of the work she did, and 3) the kind of consulting they may need in the future. Next, send an email inquiring about short-term employment possibilities, being sure to include your credentials, employment history, and the professional services you could offer. In addition describe your reasons for wanting to live and work in Nepal–not just employment but cultural, personal, and professional growth as well. Finish with the dates you are available and the approximate length of stay–stressing, of course, that all dates and times are negotiable. I would not address salary, transportation, or housing; those discussions become necessary only if the school expresses an interest. Then sit back and wait for a response.

Now cynics may scoff at this strategy since the success rate for “shot in the dark” employment inquiries is generally quite small. I agree but would remind everyone that the ultimate goal of these letters is not a positive response rate of 75%, 50%, 25%, or even 2%. You are trolling for a single “Yes”; just one invitation like the one I was fortunate enough to receive from Hebrew University. (My blogs don’t say anything about all the inquiries that led nowhere!)

On the Internet it takes only a few minutes to send an email, and the cost is zero. Therefore, the number of rejections you receive is immaterial; all that matters is getting a single acceptance, an acceptance that, if it happens, will send you and your family on a transformative personal, professional, and cultural odyssey. That result seems to be worth the effort.