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.
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.