Category Archives: Target Audience

Having Your Own Travel Epiphany

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.

My Wife Teaching Young Buddhist Monks During Our Working Vacation At Thimphu College in Thimphu, Bhutan

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.

On Our Drive From Kathmandu, Nepal to Lhasa, Tibet During My Working Vacation At The University of Kathmandu.

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.)

It’s Not Either-Or. It’s Both.

Important decisions don’t have to be “either-or” affairs: black-and-white with no middle ground.  We don’t tell women they must choose between children or working outside the home–many do both by going part-time, hiring outside help, or having a spouse take on the duties of child rearing.  Following graduation we don’t tell our children they must go to college or find full-time work.  Many young people spend a “gap year” seeing the world while others opt for short-term stints in the military, Peace Corps, or with charitable groups.

The same is true about living and working overseas.  It isn’t a black-and-white choice between blindly remaining in your day job or having amazing travel adventures.  People mistakenly assume the only possible way to live overseas is to sell the house, kiss friends and family good-bye, and head out with no set return date.  This is fueled by books and movies that describe what I call the “Wandering Nomad” mode of travel.  Most of us have read stories like Under the Tuscan Sun and A Year in Provence, or have seen movies like Eat, Pray, Love that glorify the ex-pat who leaves the cubicle behind for exotic adventures across the ocean.

I just finished a popular travel book that fits perfectly into this genre–Wondrous Journeys: The World is Waiting for You by Dean Jacobs.  Dean was a marketing specialist who, after a decade of success at his chosen occupation, gave it all up to see the world.  He bought a travel hat and a world map, spread the map out and said, “I can go anywhere I want.  Where do I begin?  What have I always wanted to see?”   His dreams resulted in a two-year journey to 28 countries.  Today he is still traveling and giving talks to audiences around the U.S.   Sounds great, right?  Yes, but let’s be brutally honest.  Many of us enjoy the jobs we have and the financial security they afford.  We love the communities we live in, and the friends and family near us.  We have important commitments we will not throw under the bus.  We can’t simply chuck everything we have, but we would love to add something new and exciting to our daily routine.

There is a solution to this conundrum, and it is based on the original premise of my post:  Living and working overseas does NOT have to be an either-or proposition.  You don’t have to choose between 40-years and a gold watch vs. pulling a Dean Jacobs, selling everything, and sailing a 36-footer around the world.  In short, you don’t have to become a wandering nomad.  There is a reasonable middle ground–a middle ground that I call a working vacation–a short-term job (typically 2-6 months) that affords you the cultural and social benefits of a typical overseas posting without having to burn bridges behind you.  It allows you to refresh and renew your daily routine and your professional career while allowing you to return to your home, job, and regular paycheck when finished.  Working vacations are a realistic option for any skilled professional with the desire to see the world and become a more informed global citizen.  I know from what I speak as my wife and I have been on 15 of these amazing adventures in the past 30 years–Mauritius to Mongolia, Turkey to Tibet, Borneo to Bhutan–without ever having to open up my wallet or quit my day job.  No matter how much you enjoy your current position a working vacation can be a truly transformative personal experience, and it is something you should seriously consider.  Please let me teach you how.

(Read about Michael and Ruth Schneider’s working vacations around the world, and learn how to have these amazing adventures for yourself in his travel “how-to” book: On The Other Guy’s Dime: A Professional’s Guide to Traveling Without Paying.)

The Clues Are All Around You

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.

Photograph of Makerere University on Facebook

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.

How NOT To See The World

A big thank you to Adele for sending the following quote from the book Dream, Save, Do by Betsy and Warren Talbot:  “The longer you invest in your current reality–with your time, attention, money, and habits–the harder it will be to pull up stakes and make the changes necessary to live your dream. Don’t kid yourself that you’ll do it later. A dream deferred is a dream denied, and a smarter person than me coined that phrase.”  (It was Langston Hughes.)

This is a wonderful quote, and I just had to go to their Web site, Married With Luggage, to read about their experiences.  However, what I found was your typical “wandering nomad” travel blog describing a lifestyle that few, if any, of my readers would care to emulate.  They describe a lifestyle unrelated to the goals of  those who don’t want to throw everything away and start anew but simply want to add a dash of curry to a not-very-spicy lifestyle.

Betsy and Warren Talbot are two 30-somethings who got tired of chasing the big paycheck, quit their jobs, and sold all their worldly possessions.  They put a pack on their back and left home to see the world and have been doing just that for more than a year.  They are not sure when (or if) they will return, and their answer to the question “What will you do for work when you get back?” is a not too comforting “We really don’t know.”

This may sound exhilarating, but the reality is that many professionals, myself included, like our jobs and our life.  We might want to make some short-term changes, and we are not averse to adding a bit of adventure to a daily routine that is getting too predictable, but we are not ready to pull up stakes and leave everything behind.  When the excitement and hoopla of an overseas posting is done, we want to return to our home, friends, family, job, and paycheck.  For most of us, the response “we don’t know what we’ll do when we get back” is totally unacceptable.

This is the reason for creating this blog and my book.  Although my wife and I have lived and worked in dozens of countries we are most definitely NOT wandering nomads roaming the world aimlessly without a financial safety net.  Instead, my writings describe how to take working vacations–overseas postings for those who want to work and play in an exotic locale but have neither the ability nor the desire to leave everything behind.  I blog for people who would love to take a short-term sabbatical but do not want to quit their current position. I write for professionals who want travel options that do not require permanently kissing family and friends good-bye.

My wife and I have seen and done as much, if not more, than the Talbot’s–we have lived and worked from Bhutan to Borneo, Mongolia to Mauritius, Turkey to Tibet.  The difference is that I accomplished this without having to sell my home or quit my job, a job that I love and cherish.  I think that it is I, not the Talbot’s, who drew the long end of the travel straw.

Working Vacations and The Book of Mormon

In previous posts I offered reasons why you should consider living and working overseas:  intellectual excitement, international friendships, low-cost (sometimes even no-cost) travel, and a learning opportunity for young children, to name just a few.  Well in this post I want to add another reason, possibly the most important one of all:  Do it for yourself!  Do it to bring deeper and more meaningful social, cultural, political, and spiritual values into your everyday life.  Do it to become a better person.

Last week my wife and I saw the most popular show now running on Broadway:  The Book of Mormon.  It is a riotous, raucous, and hilarious musical comedy written by the team that created South Park.  It tells the story of two young Mormon acolytes who go on a “working vacation” mission to Uganda to convert the locals.  They arrive in Africa with an air of arrogance and cultural superiority so common to those who are certain they possess the truth. However, in addition to great music and outrageous humor, the play has a lot to say about how we can change and grow as individuals by living in a  different culture and experiencing new ways of doing things.  At the conclusion of the play the missionaries are learning from as well as teaching the villagers, and each group is sharing their unique customs and traditions with the other.

Well, similar change can happen to anyone who takes a working vacation, and it is one of the most important reasons to escape, however briefly, that comfortable “cocoon” we have created in our daily lives.   One’s social and political outlook can be profoundly influenced as you not only expand your understanding of the world around you but also gain greater insight and empathy into what is happening right here at home.

For example, travel to countries with deep-seated religious strife makes you more aware of the terrible societal 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—both physical and spiritual—arising from intolerance, bigotry, and segregation. Working in a developing nation whose economic policies exacerbate the gap between rich and poor can open one’s eyes to the ugliness of greed and the shame of our own society’s tolerance of abject poverty amidst widespread wealth.

One of the most common characteristics I have observed among individuals who fear differences–racial, religious, sexual–is that they rarely travel to places with a unique culture or experience distinct spiritual and religious practices.   Simply put, they rarely venture outside that safe and often highly homogeneous cocoon.  If they did they would come to understand, like those young Mormons, that there is no one “absolute religious truth” but rather many truths that we might want to experience, understand, and respect.  They would learn, like those young Mormons, that the differences between people are far less important than the similarities.  As Mark Twain wrote in Innocents Abroad, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely.”  Indeed, they do.

What is Travel? What is Work?

One of the most oft-repeated arguments I get for not taking working vacations was voiced by a young woman named Sabrina in a letter on Travel For Free, a blog mentioned in my previous post.  In her commentary, she states, with apologies for the language and grammar:

“When I travel, I don’t want to work. Many people work while they travel, they get none or a shitty salary but they offer free rooms and sometimes free (crappy) food. And in the end these people didn’t really travel, they just worked around the world for free and didn’t see much. Traveling is traveling, its vacation time.”

In spite of the poorly worded sentences her argument is clear:  She does not  want to cover the cost of travel through paid work.  I hear this a lot from people who imagine an overseas experiences saddled with back-breaking physical labor, like harvesting crops, or with mind-numbing tasks such as chasing after rambunctious children 24/7.  Well, let me quickly put your concerns (and Sabrina’s) to rest about the pleasures of a working vacation.

My posts are not written for the 18-25 year old crowd heading off to Europe or Asia before starting college, graduate school, or their first job.  For these young travelers, low paid positions such as clearing tables or being a nanny may be all that is available, and these jobs do indeed pay a shitty salary.  Instead, my book and blog are for individuals with one (or more) college degrees, work experience, and, most importantly, professional skills of interest to overseas institutions.  For such people (e.g., doctors, teachers, nurses, business people, engineers, social workers, clergy, artists) there are many short-term postings that, unlike what Sabrina suggests, pay a reasonable salary–certainly enough to live on–and provide both comfortable housing and sufficient free time to enjoy the pleasures and promises of the host country.

However, the most misleading part of Sabrina’s letter is her assertion that  ” … in the end these people didn’t really travel, they just worked around the world for free and didn’t see much… ”   In fact, I would argue that professionals on a short-term working vacation do more and see more than those whose idea of travel is a week or two at the beach, on a cruise ship, or ensconced in some comfy European B&B.   I don’t learn a great deal about a culture, its people, and traditions by talking with my tour guide or peering through the windows of a bus.  Instead,  I settle into an interesting locale, make friends with neighbors and colleagues, shop at the local merchants, and participate in social, cultural, and religious events.  I learn about a culture not by observing it by become a part of it. To me that is the very definition of exciting and rewarding travel.

So, Sabrina, I am sorry to say that I could not disagree more with your argument that those who worked while they traveled “… didn’t see much.”   If by “seeing” you mean ticking off the biggies of the local tourist scene (art museums, temples, waterfalls, big game animals) then maybe you are right. But if you define “seeing” as learning, interacting, and growing intellectually and culturally, then I think that a working vacation has it all over more traditional travel.  In the words of the author Miriam Beard “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is the change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”  Couldn’t have said it better myself!

No Reason Not To

When first given the opportunity to live and work overseas I was rather reluctant.  After receiving an offer of a paid three-month visiting position at Imperial College I thought of dozens of reasons why this absurd idea would never work.  (These fears and doubts are described in “My London Epiphany.”) Fortunately, my wife Ruth is far more willing to consider new things and was able to convince me to give it a try.  (I think her exact words were “Dammit, this will be fun. Let’s do it!)  She was right, very right, and for the past 30 years we have lived all over the world happily letting others pick up the tab!

One of the goals of this blog is to play a role for you similar to the one my wife played for me–refuter of those “ready-made” arguments against the adventure of a lifetime; debunker of the beliefs that convinced you that living and working overseas is something only “others” do, not you or your family.  So, for those of you reading my posts but certain that I am not talking to you, please read on:

Argument #1)   Michael, you are a college professor, someone of high intellectual achievement.  I don’t have either the resume or reputation to do what you did.

Response:  “Negative Vibes”, “I Can Do This”

Argument #2)  Michael, I am far too busy at work to think about taking a month or two away from my desk.  No can do.

Response:  “It’s About The Time, Not Just The Dime”, “What The Heck Is A Working Vacation (Part II)”

Argument #3)  What would I ever do with our house while living overseas for a few months?

Response: “Don’t Be Afraid” , “How To Rent Out Your House”

Argument #4)  OK, but even if I do rent out my home, how will I ever find a place to live overseas?

Response:  “It Really Wasn’t All That Difficult”

Argument #5)  I don’t know anyone over there.

Response:  “Making Friends, Meeting Locals.”

Argument #6)  Mike, I am really worried about what to do my wife or one of my kids got sick while we were living overseas.

Response:  “Staying Healthy, Staying Solvent”

Argument #7)   Excuse me, Michael, I have young kids at home. What would you propose I do with them!

Response:  “Do It For the Kids”

Now I am sure you can come up with additional excuses I have not anticipated and not yet written about, especially if your goal is avoiding an exotic, no cost, overseas adventure with your family.  However, since you are reading my blog I can only assume that this is not what you want, and that you, like me, will eventually heed my wife’s sage advice given to me all those many years ago:  “Dammit, it was fun.  Go do it!”