The most frequent question I get from blog readers is “OK, I’m convinced of the professional and cultural benefits of short-term working vacations, but where do I find them? How do I locate opportunities to live and work overseas?” I can’t provide a short answer to that question; indeed, a hundred pages of my book, On The Other Guy’s Dime, is devoted to answering that one query in great detail.
However, there is one technique that is easy to describe–be sensitive to the many opportunities appearing in print and electronic media, on television and radio, or discussed with friends and colleagues over a cup of coffee. In Chapter 3 of my book I write “Every newspaper article, TV show, radio program, and professional interaction has the potential to turn into a working vacation. A magazine story about a new university in Africa could, with the appropriate inquiries, lead to an invitation to work with local faculty. A TV feature about a primary care clinic in Southeast Asia could be a clarion call to health professionals in pediatrics, epidemiology, or tropical medicine, and that exchange teacher from South America could be the source of a future invitation to visit his or her home country. Whenever you read or hear about an overseas opportunity that is relevant to your field initiate a phone or e-mail conversation to determine if there is any way for you and your family to take advantage of it.”
Simply put, I am saying keep your “working vacation radar” attuned to the clues that are all around you. And they are there. For example, on 12/6/2011 (only two days ago) the Science section of the New York Times ran a feature article entitled “Vast and Fertile Ground in Africa for Science to Take Root.” The story tells of a new computer science/engineering center being established at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. This new institute, one of the best in East Africa, is growing rapidly and initiating research in areas ranging from wireless communications to artificial intelligence. It has acquired initial funding from Microsoft and Google and attracted some excellent faculty such as Dr. John Quinn, a researcher with a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh, one of the best computing schools in Europe.
For most Times readers this will simply be a “feel good” story about the work of some visionary scholars and the creation of a high-quality educational institution in a region with precious few of them. But for professionals in computer science, computer engineering, management information systems, and telecommunications this article could turn into an opportunity to spend a few months (or more) in a fascinating region of the world doing some good work, living in a new and different culture, and having the adventure of a life time.
Of course, there is no guarantee that Makerere University will hire you as a paid, short-term member of the faculty. However, the cost of an email inquiry–including resume, classes you could teach, talks you could present, and references–is $0.00, so there is absolutely no risk in giving it your best shot. If they respond “No” nothing has been lost, and you can settle back and wait until the next working vacation clue appears, unexpected and unannounced. But if things happily turn in your favor, as they have for my wife and me 14 times in the last 30 years, then you (and spouse and children) will have a transformative cultural, social, and professional experience like no other. And, best of all, it will be on the other guy’s dime.