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!


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