Monthly Archives: May 2011

A Great Web Site For Working Vacation Planners

There are numerous Web sites to help you locate and plan a working vacation.  I mentioned some in earlier posts–Great Blogs to Check Out and Working Vacations for (Almost) Everyone–with another dozen or so in Chapter 14 of my book.   Now  I want to point out a site that may be the single most important working vacation Web portal of all– Transitions Abroad.  For the last 34 years it has been a pioneering travel resource for anyone thinking of working, living, or studying abroad.

Transitions Abroad is a veritable smörgåsbord of helpful hints regarding overseas work.  Within its pages can be found a wealth of information on paid jobs, internships, and volunteer work; short- and long-term postings; professional, semi-skilled, and unskilled work.  For example, under the link “International Jobs” are tips for finding overseas careers, books and articles on international work, pointers to worldwide job portals sorted by profession, and links to websites to help you manage the complex task of relocating to another culture.  If you click on “International Careers and Jobs by Profession” you will find individual listings for Teaching, Business, Arts, Engineering, Health, Law, Public Policy, and the Environment, to name just a few.

For younger job seekers who may not be as far along in the educational pipeline, Transitions Abroad includes information on study abroad opportunities as well as entry-level jobs ideally suited for college students and/or recent graduates, such as being an au pair, working on a farm, teaching English, or summer jobs in the hospitality industry. For those who wish to combine a traditional vacation with short-term, unpaid work in a developing country there are links to meaningful volunteer postings in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Central America, South America, and Oceania.  And, even after listing all these features, I have probably described (like the proverbial iceberg) about 10% of what is available on this site.

So, if you are interested in planning a working vacation–from one week to one year, paid/unpaid, professional or entry-level, with or without family–you should do the following:  1) learn about the joys, benefits, and potential pitfalls of working vacations from my book On The Other Guy’s Dime: A Professional’s Guide to Traveling Without Paying, and then 2) log on to the Transitions Abroad website to browse the wide range of working vacation opportunities just waiting for you to apply.

Why Should I Close The House, Pack Up The Kids, and Head Halfway Around The World?

(The following was originally posted on April 1, 2010)

Fair question!  It isn’t trivial to plan and pull off a short-term, overseas working vacation.  It takes time to apply for a sabbatical or leave of absence; it takes time to rent your home; it takes time to find housing and transportation in the host country.  In terms of effort it would be far easier to relax, open a cold one, and watch a Twins game.   Therefore, before I  delve into the minutia of how to find a working vacation, let’s talk a little bit about the why.

When we were twenty-something many of us relished the idea of living, not just traveling, abroad. We dreamed of heading off to Europe after graduation (and a good number actually did) to experience a new culture, make new friends, and mature as young adults and global citizens. We were not interested in a whirlwind dash past a few major tourist attractions. Instead, we wanted to settle down, learn the language, find employment, and become part of the local community. Why should this taste for adventure fade as we grow older? Why should we abandon our idealism and wanderlust because we are a few years past our college days? Why aren’t we still equally as passionate about the joy and excitement that comes from living and working abroad?

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

The Beach at Flic en Flac, Mauritius Where We Lived For Six Glorious Months While I Taught at the University of Mauritius

One’s own social and political views can be profoundly influenced by working vacations 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 acutely aware of the terrible damage caused by our own homegrown zealots. Living in the midst of a culture struggling with racial or 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 reinvigorate one’s  own daily life which, for many, can too easily slip into repetition and boredom–go to work, mow the lawn, eat dinner, fall asleep.  As the Roman philosopher Seneca once said “Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.”   For many professionals these transformative work experiences can be far more rewarding than a Caribbean cruise or a one-week stay in some expensive beachfront hotel. A long-term working vacation is a wonderful way to combine the relaxation of a holiday with the intellectual growth and excitement of interacting with and learning from local residents and professionals.  And all this on the other guy’s dime!  Keep reading this blog (or check out my book) to learn how.

I Can Do This!

I recently received a comment that reflects a common belief among many skilled professionals. Debra, a public school teacher from North Carolina, posted the following on this blog:  “I heard you on the radio yesterday and was so excited to look up your book. This is something I ponder every day. I am in awe of those who have figured out how to do this.”

The fact that anyone could be “in awe” of me and what I have done leaves me speechless!  I am an rather ordinary teacher at a small college in Minnesota.  Although I have good classroom skills and have written a couple of textbooks, I am certainly not what anyone (even my mother) would call an academic superstar.  No one would mistake me for a supernova from Harvard, Yale, or Princeton; I have never won a prestigious award; no one ever asked me to appear on their TV talk show to express an expert mathematical opinion.  (Although, ironically, I have been on more than a dozen radio and TV shows to chat about working vacations!)  In short, there is nothing special about me that couldn’t be said of thousands of other teachers toiling away in the academic trenches.

In that case why was I the one who ended up traveling the world from Australia to Zimbabwe? Why did I get to live on a tropical island paradise and walk with wild game in the Serengeti? How did I get to visit indigenous tribes in Borneo, stay in a Buddhist monastery in Bhutan, and hike the high Himalayas, all at no cost to myself or to my family?  The short answer–I applied for it and did it!

For the past year I have been arguing, convincingly I hope, that professionals like you and I can apply for and obtain no-cost short-term working vacations. You needn’t be a partner in a Wall Street law firm, don’t have to be Chief of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic, and don’t need a Pulitzer, Oscar, or Tony on the mantel to spend time abroad. What you do need is the belief that there is a realistic chance for you and your family to leave home for a few months, live overseas, and experience a different culture. You must believe this is not just something “others” do; not something only “a lucky few” get to achieve; not something you see in National Geographic but can only dream about. You must honestly think “I can do this.”

Once you understand this the rest of the process is simply details, none of which are onerous and all of which are explained at length in my book.  There is absolutely no reason why you and your family cannot have the same type of exotic adventures my wife and I have experienced for the past three decades. My goal in writing On The Other Guy’s Dime is for you (not me) to be the one who other people look at and say “I am in awe of what you have been able to accomplish!”

Out Of The Blue

The most common question I get when speaking to groups is “How do I locate a working vacation?”   I spend a good deal of time on this topic in my book and have an entire chapter devoted to search strategies and Web sites to help you in that quest.

In reality, though, half of my working vacations came via unexpected, out-of-the-blue announcements informing me of an opportunity waiting to be plucked–like the unforeseen phone call from Morris at Imperial College inviting me to England; like the story in the Chronicle of Higher Education that took me to Israel for three months; like the surprise email from Royal Thimphu College that brought me to the lovely Himalayan nation of Bhutan.  What I have learned from 30+ years living and working overseas is that there is no lack of working vacation opportunities, only the lack of enthusiasm and commitment needed to aggressively go after them.

I write this post because today I received an “out of the blue” announcement from a colleague at Gustavus Adolphus College.  The notice was posted to a mailing list of 1,200 computer science faculty and said (in abridged form):

FPT University in Hanoi, Vietnam is seeking visiting lecturers in Software Design or IT project management.  FPT delivers a Bachelor of Software Engineering programme in collaboration with the University of Greenwich in the U.K.  We are seeking lecturers who would be interested in spending a semester or two living and working in a fascinating new culture.

Classroom Building at FPT University in Hanoi, Vietnam

It went on to say the school would provide airfare, housing, living allowance and a salary for the candidate and his family, enough to cover one’s expenses while overseas.  What an opportunity–a chance to spend 4-5 months in Hanoi, Vietnam, one of the most beautiful and charming cities in Asia, without having to lay out any money.  If I were not contractually committed to teaching at Columbia University in New York I would most certainly apply. (My wife and I spent one week in Hanoi while I was working in Kuala Lumpur.  We had a great time and were sorry to leave.)

That said,  if I were a gambling man I would bet that of the 1,200 faculty members receiving this announcement only 3 or 4 will complete the application process.  (I hope I am wrong, but check out the post Getting Out Of That Rut to read about the dismal response of my own school’s faculty to a similar offer in Japan.)  I know there are good reasons why some of these 1,200 skilled professionals cannot drop everything and jet off to Asia–working for tenure, young children at home, a family member suffering serious illness. However, while that could explain why 800, 900, or even 1,000 of these individuals choose not to apply, there should still be at least a few dozen senior faculty excited about taking a one-semester leave of absence to have the cultural and intellectual adventure of their lives, all at no cost. In reality, I doubt the application count will reach double digits.  (It might even be zero.)

So, remember this the next time something exciting crosses your desk:  Having a life-changing working vacation is not so much a question of how to find it as much as knowing how to respond when a unique opportunity falls into your lap, completely out of the blue.