In May, 1980 I took my first working vacation to London, England–an experience described in London Epiphany and Living and Learning in Chiswick. At the time I was an inexperienced traveler who had barely laid eyes on other regions of the U.S., let alone the world. However, in spite of all my doubts and fears, the posting ended up being a professional, financial, and personal success. In those three-plus months I started the transformation from someone far too insular, closed-minded, and comfortable with his surroundings into, if not yet an experienced world traveler, at least someone open to new experiences and no longer afraid to venture beyond self-imposed boundaries.
I realized this was not a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that came about because of miraculous good fortune, and it did not happen because I am a world-class scholar with one-of-a-kind skills. It occurred simply because I was willing to take a risk and experience something new and different in my life. I came to understand that, even though I was an unheralded and little known academic from a small Midwestern liberal-arts college, my skills could be of use to not only Imperial College (where I worked) but other schools around the world. This realization was a travel epiphany that changed my life forever. With a little bit of planning and effort I was able to locate other opportunities to combine work and travel, mix professional, personal, and cultural growth, and contribute to and learn from others, all at no cost to me or my family. What is so stunningly obvious today—that I possess skills of sufficient interest to overseas institutions that they would pay me to temporarily live and work in their country—struck like a thunderbolt thirty years ago.
Since that initial posting my wife and I have lived overseas fifteen separate times, for periods ranging from one to eight months, never quitting our day jobs and never once reaching too deeply into our wallets. We have gazed at Everest, traveled the Gobi by camel, lived among indigenous tribes of Borneo, viewed the wildlife of Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Kenya, frolicked on the beaches of Mauritius, and shared the hospitality of Buddhist monks in Bhutan, with all expenses happily and willingly paid for by others.
My goal in this blog is for you to have that same epiphany–to realize that living and working overseas is a doable, affordable, and intellectually exhilarating experience whether for a month or a year; whether teaching, engaging in research, or consulting; whether in Asia, Africa, Europe, or the Americas; with or without family. You don’t need to be a superstar, and you don’t have to be in one specific area. Institutions around the world are eager to host professionals for short-term stays in fields such as business, IT, infrastructure development, education, economics, women’s rights, law, family medicine, urban planning, community theater, and conflict resolution, to name but a few.
You need to discard the incorrect belief that the only way to work overseas is to quit your job, kiss friends good-bye, and head out for an extended, multi-year stay. You need to discard the mistaken belief that you have neither the résumé nor the reputation to apply for and secure a short-term international position. What is important is not your wealth, pedigree, or specialization but a sense of adventure and a willingness to open your mind to the possibility of a temporary sojourn in a new and exotic locale.
(Read about our fifteen working adventures and learn how to do the same for yourself and family in my travel “how-to” book: On The Other Guy’s Dime: A Professional’s Guide To Traveling Without Paying.)