Such a Big, Big World

If I have been doing my job I will by now have convinced you of the benefits of a short-term working vacation and demonstrated the relative ease with which it can be accomplished. Now the question becomes “Where should I go?” Let me offer some helpful advice.

When it comes to planning an overseas posting, many people think only about such popular spots as England, France, or Italy. While certainly enjoyable I would caution against working vacations in such well-known locales for three reasons:

1) These countries have a highly educated cadre of professionals so their needs are far less. France has many talented physicians; England is well stocked with engineers and programmers; Italy has numerous business and financial specialists. Unless you are truly outstanding in your field why would a first-world country like this need you? When trying to market your skills, you want a locale that is growing economically, so it needs trained personnel, but one in which the college educated workforce may be too small to fill their employment needs. This might include countries like Thailand, South Africa, Brazil, Russia, Iceland, Jordan, Fiji, Peru, and Sri Lanka. Institutions in developing countries like this are far more likely to need the skills you bring to the table and far more excited to have you come for a short-term visit.

2. Even if an attractive destination like Switzerland or Australia does have some openings the competition for these spots will be intense. For example, the Fulbright Foundation publishes annual statistics on the number of student applications by country. In the European region there were 340 applications to Germany, 200 to France, 9 for Bulgaria, and one lone seeker of a position in Albania. This ratio of 50, 100, or 200 to 1 between the most and least popular destinations is typical of what you will encounter. While it might be fun to spend a few months consulting in Aix-en-Provence or giving lectures in Venice, please keep in mind the enormous difficulty of obtaining these highly desirable postings. My four Fulbright Grants were to Mauritius, Malaysia, Nepal, and Mongolia, all of which were fascinating trips as well as being far less competitive.

3. Finally, remember why you are applying for a working vacation in the first place–to have a transformative social, professional, and cultural experience. While you would certainly have a great time eating and sightseeing in London, Barcelona, or Paris, it probably will not change your life or open you up to different ways of seeing the world. However, six months teaching in the Buddhist nation of Bhutan, three months living in the steppes of Mongolia, or a summer in the mountains of Nepal, all working vacations I have taken, will open your eyes and your mind to totally new societies, cultures, and religions. Believe me, this can be a far more adventurous and exciting way for you and your family to spend some time.

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