Monthly Archives: January 2011

Listen To My Latest Interview

On Sunday, January 23rd, I was interviewed about my book On The Other Guy’s Dime by Lizz Sommars of KMTT radio, 103.7 FM, in Seattle.  Lizz, a veteran reporter with 25 years experience in radio, is host of the weekly public affairs show Conversations that discusses issues affecting individuals, families, local communities, and the nation.  The theme of the show I was on was “Saving Money.”

I invite you to listen to a podcast of that interview on the station’s website.  To access it go to http://www.kmtt.com/pages/3953960.php.  Scroll down to the box labeled Previous Show Topics and Guests, select  ‘Conversations – 1/23/11,’ click the play button, and the podcast will begin.  There were three guests that day, and I was the second.  You can listen to the entire show or simply move the scroll bar forward to the 12 minute 30 second mark where my interview begins.

I hope you enjoy it, and please let me know what you think.

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The Moral of the Story

In the last three posts I described my failure landing a working vacation on the South Pacific island nation of Palau.  This type of dream-shattering disappointment is well-known to first-time authors, newly minted playwrights, and novice actors. Unfortunately, it is an occupational hazard of aspiring working vacation seekers as well.  I did not want stories of my no-cost career breaks in England, Israel, Australia, Kenya, Turkey, and Zimbabwe to blind you to the real-world fact that locating a working vacation is neither guaranteed nor automatic.  However, if you know what to do and how to respond, it is also not an unattainable dream.

The moral of the story is to expect rejection, not let it get you down, and have a follow-up response at the ready, exactly as described in Plan A, then Plan B, then Plan C. First, consider other institutions in the same city, country, or region that meet your language, program, and location requirements. If that does not work consider alternate countries or regions that might offer you and your family a similar cultural experience. The cost of these inquiries is insignificant—perhaps an hour of on-line research and a few minutes at the keyboard. In the “olden days” (pre-Internet) each attempt at contacting an overseas institution involved waiting weeks for a snail-mail inquiry to arrive on the other side of the globe and a response to trickle back home. In that environment contacting a large number of places was unrealistic.  However, e-mail and the Web have changed all that, and it is now quick and easy, not to mention free, to contact a number of schools, agencies, or research centers.

For example, when I was seeking a working vacation in Nairobi, I sent email to a half-dozen institutions asking if they would be interested in hosting me for a short-term paid sabbatical–I did not rely on the employment whims of a single school.  The nice thing about this “scatter shot” approach is that you only need to receive a single positive response, so the more places you contact the greater the probability of getting that hoped-for “Yes, we want you” response.  And, remember, the payoff for that single success is a glorious overseas work experience on someone else’s dime.

Failure Is Not An Option

OK, neither plan A nor plan B worked, and I was batting 0 for 3 in my attempt to live and work on a tropical island paradise. However, it is not yet time to throw in the towel as there is also a plan C.

If all of the original contacts have turned you down, broaden your horizons to include institutions in countries that might provide you and your family with a similar, although not identical, professional, social, and cultural experience. All too often we focus so intently on that one perfect working vacation in that one perfect place that we overlook other regions of the world that could provide an equally enjoyable, not to mention rewarding and no-cost, career break.

For example, if your dream is to work in Singapore, but that carefully crafted e-mail to the National University of Singapore is a bust, consider contacting schools in Malaysia, its next-door neighbor with a closely related culture and history. If you are dying to live and work in France but that did not work out, what about nearby Francophone Belgium as an interesting alternative? Are those letters to schools in Mainland China going nowhere? Consider applying to colleges and universities in Taiwan. What about a working vacation in Iceland or Finland when the Scandinavian nations of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, have all said no?   India a non-starter for you–how about Sri Lanka?   When exploring potential sites for a working vacation it is important to be creative, flexible, and inclusive. The smaller the candidate pool the less likely your chance of success.  When it comes to working vacations, treat the entire world as your sample space.

The Beach at Flic en Flac, Mauritius, One of the Most Beautiful Places in the World

In my case, I decided to consider not just locations in the South Pacific but the Indian Ocean as well. Americans don’t usually think of the Indian Ocean in terms of glorious tropical getaways, but island nations such as the Seychelles and the Maldives could easily hold their own in any tropical beauty contest with their better-known Pacific cousins Tahiti, Fiji, and Hawaii.  I searched the Web for schools in countries rimming the Indian Ocean, and a few years later, after much time and effort, as well as further rejection, success arrived.  Ruth and I spent six glorious months living and working on the island of Mauritius, a spectacularly beautiful coral-rimmed paradise 500 miles east of Madagascar.  I had fulfilled my goal to live in the tropics, and I had done it, as this blog advertises, on the other guy’s dime!

Our Lovely Apartment in Mauritius Overlooking the Ocean. It Was Provided To Us at No Cost.

The moral of this story is that for me, and I hope for you, when it comes to locating a working vacation, delays and rejections may be unavoidable, and success may not come quickly, but total failure should never be an acceptable option

Plan A, then Plan B, then Plan C

As described in my last post, I dreamed of living and working on the island paradise of Palau.  So with a cocky swagger, I sent an email off to the head of IT at Palau Community College (PCC) and waited for his eager response. Like clockwork, a “You have mail” icon appeared within the week, but this time its contents were not at all what I wanted to see:

Dear Dr. Schneider,   Thank you for your letter but we have no need for a visiting teacher at this time. Best of luck.

Terse and direct. It certainly exuded a tone of “don’t bother following this up. We don’t have anything.”   This type of response is familiar to any struggling artist, dancer, or writer who has submitted an unsolicited manuscript, answered a cattle call audition, or pitched a movie script. It is also a response that will become familiar to anyone who uses cold calls to locate a working vacation. Much of the time you will get either a polite rejection or no response at all.

Beachcomber Island in Fiji. This is Why I Wanted to Live and Work in the South Pacific

The trick now is not to give up hope as there is a plan B.  However, before starting down that path first send a polite thank-you note saying you are sorry things did not work out but if anything comes up to please keep you in mind. The majority of time this courtesy leads nowhere, but you never know when, against all odds, someone will dig out your letter from the detritus of their inbox and give you a call.  (This is how I got to Bhutan, but that’s a story for another day.)

OK, what now? What is plan B?  Simple—when searching the Web to locate candidate institutions don’t limit yourself to just a single site. Instead, get the name of every place in the country or region that could benefit from your skills because they 1) use English, 2) have a department in your field, and 3) are in a place where you would enjoy living. Then prioritize this list and contact them in order. In a previous posting entitled A Little Mathematics, Maestro, I showed how dramatically cold calling chances improve when you increase the number of institutions contacted. Never use a “one and done” philosophy–think in terms of “the more the merrier.”

In my case I used the Web to identify two other possibilities:  the College of Micronesia and the University of the South Pacific. Both institutions had IT programs, taught in English, and were in luscious tropical locations that would certainly satisfy my idyllic fantasies. Upon receiving that initial rejection I tried again, first sending e-mail to the College of Micronesia in the Federated States of Micronesia, and then to the University of the South Pacific on the island nation of Fiji.  I wish I could say that plan B worked, but sadly, no dice. I was now zero for three. In fact, these two schools never even sent a formal rejection—not a rare occurrence. If you haven’t received a response in two or three weeks double-check that the names and e-mail addresses are correct and resend your inquiry. If you don’t hear a second time, forget it–they aren’t interested.

But, it’s still not time to give up on that dream.  There is a Plan C.

Happy 2011!

I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year, a year that I hope will include some adventurous and culturally rewarding travel to places far and wide.  Your loyalty and continued readership have made this first year of “OtherGuysDime” a rousing success.  Its 73 posts were viewed almost ten thousand times–the equivalent of thirty fully loaded Boeing 747s–and over 100 people have contributed comments, thoughts, and opinions. These numbers far exceeded my wildest expectations when I first began posting last March.

In the coming days and weeks I will offer up more travel stories and helpful advice on planning your working vacations, short-term sabbaticals, and career breaks, and I invite you to continue reading, commenting, and sharing your ideas.  Happy and safe travels–and please send some email when you arrive.