When we returned home from Zimbabwe after three glorious months, I shared stories of our adventures with Paul Tymann, a close friend and co-author with me of a computer science text entitled Modern Software Development Using Java. Paul is professor and computer science department chair at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York. Like Ruthie and me, he had long dreamed of going on an African safari but believed it was a dream well beyond his reach.
Paul had never considered, in fact was not even aware of, the idea of a working vacation until I related our work experiences in Kenya and Zimbabwe and described how I was able to plan and finance these trips. After listening to my stories and determining that this was something he truly wanted to try for himself, he contacted Dr. Rob Borland at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) and carefully followed the steps I laid out for him during our talks. He was soon rewarded with a teaching invitation, and the following summer Paul was comfortably ensconced at the UZ Visitor’s Lodge reliving many of the same African adventures Ruth and I had experienced only twelve months earlier, including that amazing walking safari at Mana Pools described in my previous post. This is yet additional proof that there is absolutely nothing unique about me or my background when it come to living and working overseas, and it clearly demonstrates that a working vacation to some exotic locale is a dream that can come true for virtually any professional with the drive and ambition to follow the recommendations contained in this blog.
This story also highlights an excellent way to locate your own working vacation and exemplifies a strategy that often works far better than random cold calls to unfamiliar places. If you know of a friend or colleague who has recently been on a working vacation talk with them about the living accommodations, workload, colleagues, and the school, agency, or institute where they were posted. If they speak glowingly about their experience then get the name and address of a contact person and send that individual e-mail asking about the possibility of working there in the near future, being sure to include your friend’s name.
It would also be a good idea for your colleague to send an enthusiastic letter of recommendation directly to the institution or give you a copy to attach to your e-mail. If the people at the host site were pleased with your friend’s work, they might also be amenable to a visit from someone recommended by that individual, just as I had personally recommended Paul. This approach does not qualify as a “blind cold call,” like those described in earlier chapters, since the institution has already demonstrated an interest in hosting overseas visitors, resulting in a greater likelihood of success. In essence you are no longer scattering your working vacation seeds randomly but planting them in ground already well watered and nurtured by the work of others.