Monthly Archives: April 2011

A Working Vacation?! OK, What’s In It For Me?

Fair question!  It certainly isn’t trivial to plan and pull off a working vacation:  It takes time to apply for a sabbatical or leave of absence, rent out your home, find housing and transportation in the host country, arrange schooling for your children.  It would certainly be easier to sit back, open up a cold one, and watch a Vikings game on TV. Well, let me offer up some reasons why planning a working vacation is definitely time well spent.

When we were twenty-something many of us relished the idea of living and working abroad. We dreamed of heading off to Europe after graduation to experience a new culture and mature as young adults and global citizens. We were not interested in a one-week “Highlights Tour” of major tourist attractions. Instead, we wanted to settle down, find work, make friends, and become part of the local community.  We wanted not only to see a country but experience it as well.

Why should this love of overseas adventure fade as we grow older? Why should we abandon our idealism and wanderlust because we are well past college years and have a spouse, kids, mortgage, and a “regular” job?  Why aren’t we still excited about the prospect of becoming, even for a brief time, part of a new and different culture?

When you live in a community, rather than visit for a few days, there is time to meet neighbors, attend social, cultural, and religious events, and participate in life cycle activities. Everyday tasks like shopping and laundry require you to learn about the neighborhood and the people who live and work there. A working vacation affords you the time to take those unusual but informative off-the-beaten-path excursions not possible in the jam-packed schedule of a typical one- or two-week family holiday. You learn about a culture not by observing it from a distance but by becoming an integral part of it.

One’s own social and political orientation can be profoundly influenced by a working vacation as you not only expand your understanding of the world but also gain insights into what is happening here at home.  Travel to countries with deep-seated religious strife makes you more aware of the damage caused by our own homegrown zealots. Living in the midst of a culture struggling with 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 our society’s tolerance of poverty amidst widespread wealth.

And, best of all, long-term overseas work and travel is a wonderful way to invigorate our  own daily existence which can all too easily slip into repetition and boredom–go to work, eat dinner, watch TV, fall asleep.  The Roman philosopher Seneca wrote that “Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind,” and for many professionals a short-term working vacation is far more rewarding than going to Disneyland or spending a week at the beach. A working vacation can be a wonderful way to combine the relaxation of a holiday with the intellectual growth that comes from interacting with and learning from local residents and professionals.  And all this on the other guy’s dime!

How To Turn Your Holiday Into A Recruiting Trip

Hello dear readers.  I just returned from a lovely three-week holiday in sunny Spain.   I will not bore you with the details since I traveled on my own dime, thus violating the spirit of this blog.  However, there is one thing I do wish to share as it has great relevance to what I am espousing in my posts.

The most common question I am asked is “How do I find overseas postings?”  That is a complex question, and one that I spend literally dozens of pages answering in my book. I located my working vacations via professional conferences, newspaper articles, federal grants, and cold calls, as well as a recent technique proving to be quite successful–visiting potential hosts while on family holiday. A personal meeting can demonstrate to a potential suitor that you would be an ideal candidate to invite for a working vacation.   A face-to-face exchange gives you the chance to describe your professional skills and enumerate the helpful services you could provide to their institution.  It also shows you are interested in them and eager to come for a  short-term visit.

Whenever I go on holiday I  identify a couple of institutions that could use my skills  and let them know I will be in town.  I throw some resumes in the suitcase, and when I arrive I stop by for a brief visit.  This is not a formal interview; simply an opportunity to meet the chair/dean/director, let them know I am interested in visiting their institution, and leave them a copy of my credentials.  I obviously do not expect an offer then and there; I simply want to “plant a seed” that might, if I am lucky, sprout into a working vacation.  If I plant enough of these seeds, there is a chance one of them will turn into an invitation. On this trip I dropped off resumes at the Universities of Barcelona and Seville, both of which are in cities where I would certainly enjoy spending a couple of months.  I had a nice chat with the department chairs, and both promised to keep my resume on file.

Now, will either of these meetings result in a working vacation for me and my family?  Realistically I have no idea, and if I was a betting man I would likely put my money on the side of “no.”  However, what I do know is that if I had not made this effort the probability of an offer to live and work in Spain drops to zero.

Good things don’t happen by chance or blind luck; they happen because you proactively go out there and make them happen.