Tag Archives: Mauritius

The Why and the Wherefore

I have argued, rather vociferously, for skilled professionals to take working vacations–short-term, overseas postings which pay enough to cover most or all your expenses and do not require you to quit your day job.  Well, a reader wrote me asking a rather simple question:  “Why the heck should I close my house, pack up the kids, and schlep halfway around the world just to work for a couple of months? I am quite comfortable where I am!”

Fair question.  In fact its a question that gets to the heart of this blog and its 112 posts!  It isn’t trivial to plan and pull off a working vacation–it takes time to apply for a sabbatical or leave of absence; it takes time to rent a home; it takes time to find housing and transportation in the host country; it takes time to plan activities and schooling for young children.  It is far easier to simply open a cold beer and enjoy a Twins game.   Therefore, to answer this straightforward question, let’s talk a bit about the whys and wherefores of working vacations.

When we were teens or twenty-somethings many of us relished the idea of living, not just traveling, abroad. We dreamed of heading off to Europe after graduation (and a good number actually did) to experience a new culture, make new friends, and mature as young adults and global citizens. We were not interested in a one week “Highlights Tour” or dashing past a few major tourist attractions. Instead, we wanted to settle down, learn the language, find employment, and become part of the local community, even if only for a few months. Why should this love of cultural adventure fade as we grow older? Why should we abandon our idealism and wanderlust because we have added a few years, a few pounds, and a few dependents? Why aren’t we still as passionate about the joy and excitement that accrues from living and working abroad?

The Beach at Flic en Flac on Mauritius Where We Lived For Six Glorious Months While on a Working Vacation

When you live in a community, rather than drop in for a few days, you have time to meet neighbors, attend social, cultural, and religious events, and participate in local activities. Everyday tasks like shopping, laundry, even getting a haircut, require you to learn about the neighborhood and the people who live and work there. A short-term working vacation affords you time to take those off-the-beaten-path excursions not possible in the jam-packed schedule of a one- or two-week family holiday. You learn about a culture not by observing it from a distance but by becoming part of it.

One’s own social and political philosophy can be profoundly changed on working vacations as you not only expand your understanding of the world but also gain insight into what is happening right here at home.   Travel to countries with deep-seated religious strife makes you acutely aware of the 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 arising from intolerance, bigotry, and segregation. Working in a developing nation whose economic policies exacerbate the gap between rich and poor opens one’s eyes to the ugliness of greed and the shame of our society’s tolerance of poverty amidst widespread wealth. As Mark Twain once said, “Travel is fatal to bigotry, prejudice, and narrow-mindedness … .”

And, best of all, short-term overseas work is a wonderful way to invigorate one’s  own life which can, no matter how much you love what you do, slip into a pattern of repetition and boredom–go to work, eat dinner, watch TV, fall asleep.  As the Roman philosopher Seneca said “Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.”   For many skilled professionals this type of transformative work experience is far more rewarding than a Caribbean cruise or a couple of weeks at a B&B.  A short-term working vacation is a wonderful way to combine the relaxation of a holiday with the intellectual growth and excitement of interacting with and learning from local residents and professionals.  And all this on the other guy’s dime!

(Read about our adventures living and working in Mauritius in my book, On The Other Guy’s Dime.)


Failure Is Not An Option

OK, neither plan A nor plan B worked, and I was batting 0 for 3 in my attempt to live and work on a tropical island paradise. However, it is not yet time to throw in the towel as there is also a plan C.

If all of the original contacts have turned you down, broaden your horizons to include institutions in countries that might provide you and your family with a similar, although not identical, professional, social, and cultural experience. All too often we focus so intently on that one perfect working vacation in that one perfect place that we overlook other regions of the world that could provide an equally enjoyable, not to mention rewarding and no-cost, career break.

For example, if your dream is to work in Singapore, but that carefully crafted e-mail to the National University of Singapore is a bust, consider contacting schools in Malaysia, its next-door neighbor with a closely related culture and history. If you are dying to live and work in France but that did not work out, what about nearby Francophone Belgium as an interesting alternative? Are those letters to schools in Mainland China going nowhere? Consider applying to colleges and universities in Taiwan. What about a working vacation in Iceland or Finland when the Scandinavian nations of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, have all said no?   India a non-starter for you–how about Sri Lanka?   When exploring potential sites for a working vacation it is important to be creative, flexible, and inclusive. The smaller the candidate pool the less likely your chance of success.  When it comes to working vacations, treat the entire world as your sample space.

The Beach at Flic en Flac, Mauritius, One of the Most Beautiful Places in the World

In my case, I decided to consider not just locations in the South Pacific but the Indian Ocean as well. Americans don’t usually think of the Indian Ocean in terms of glorious tropical getaways, but island nations such as the Seychelles and the Maldives could easily hold their own in any tropical beauty contest with their better-known Pacific cousins Tahiti, Fiji, and Hawaii.  I searched the Web for schools in countries rimming the Indian Ocean, and a few years later, after much time and effort, as well as further rejection, success arrived.  Ruth and I spent six glorious months living and working on the island of Mauritius, a spectacularly beautiful coral-rimmed paradise 500 miles east of Madagascar.  I had fulfilled my goal to live in the tropics, and I had done it, as this blog advertises, on the other guy’s dime!

Our Lovely Apartment in Mauritius Overlooking the Ocean. It Was Provided To Us at No Cost.

The moral of this story is that for me, and I hope for you, when it comes to locating a working vacation, delays and rejections may be unavoidable, and success may not come quickly, but total failure should never be an acceptable option