I’ll Give You a Topic …

“Everyone should try working abroad at least once in their lives.  Discuss …”

Pretty bold statement, I’d say.  Afterall, not all people in this world have the resources, or even the desire, to pick up and move to a relatively unknown land.  To most people it sounds like an utterly absurd, if not at least logistically implausible suggestion for the future.  The “cons” list comes naturally to most, but the “pros” are so rarely heard – afterall, most of us who’ve reaped the benefits are probably still abroad :o)

So before you write off the idea completely, check out this week’s top ten:

Top Ten Myths About Working Abroad: BUSTED!

1.      “It’s just never crossed my mind.”  Oh come on, really?  Not even once, in the way far back regions of your brain?  Let’s face it. You’ve been to Mexico, maybe Europe or Asia.  You’ve checked out beautiful beaches, amazing architecture, fabulous food, and at some point on the trip, you’ve thought to yourself, “How can I do this for longer?  Could I actually live here?”  The answer is yes!

2.      “I’d feel really alone.”  Au contraire, mon frere!  Whilst abroad, you’ll meet such a range of people to share and connect with.  They’ll come from intriguing lands, and have stories and points of reference you’d never imagined possible.  Some of my best friends I met while teaching in Japan and Thailand.  We’re still in touch, rendezvousing in clever places, reminiscing about the times we shared in the petrie dish abroad.  But the beauty of it is, we would never have met in our respective countries, even if we were from the same place!  In some cases, our backgrounds couldn’t be more different – but we found more than just common ground while we explored the nether regions of the world together.  We found truly golden friendships I treasure everyday.  (Of course, you’re bound to meet some freaks while you’re abroad too!  Coming up: “The Stereotyped Expat.”)

3.      “I can always go on holiday there.”  True.  When you take a vacation somewhere exciting, sometimes you get more of a cultural learning than the locals will ever bother exploring!  Coming from Hawaii, I hardly batted an eye lash at the luaus, hula and history until I left the islands and fully began to appreciate the power of my homelands.  But when you actually move to a new country, for at least six months, you get so much more from the locals – every day, even the most minute detail can be a fascinating experience.  Jump feet first into a new language, art, social scene, shopping, music world, sport or religion – whatever gets you going!  Living abroad constantly pushes your boundaries, giving you a broader perspective everyday.  You may try a new food wonder how you ever lived without this in your life!  The next day, a television program, not even in your language, makes you giggle to the point where you’re watching it every day.

4.      “Working abroad is for crazy people.  I’m just a normal guy.”  Many of the English teachers I met in Japan were taking a year off from their stressful professional lives.  I met lawyers, accountants, marketing managers, all mixed in with the wild young travelers and weirdo writers looking for creative input.  When you’re living abroad, everyday is an adventure.  Tasks as monotonous as going to the supermarket or postoffice become a real experience.  What is “normal” becomes foreign, and your definition of “cool” takes on a whole new dimension.  Suddenly, all the rules are different, and you begin to realize your real priorities, in the context of an international community.  Working abroad isn’t just for the madmen and wild ladies – it’s for anyone with an open mind and even a mild curiosity for the unknown.

5.      “If I live abroad, I’ll lose my friends back home.  Life will have moved on without me.”  It’s totally natural to be afraid of a big move, even if it is temporary.  Our genes have survived this long based on some very healthy fears.  But if your friends are truly your friends, you’ll never lose them to a few thousand miles’ distance.  And besides, you’ll have some fabulous stories to tell whoever’s interested. Universal street cred ;o)

6.     “I’m too bloody old to live abroad.”  Any age, any experience – the world is your oyster.  I met teachers between the ages of 21 and 61 abroad, some who decided to make the great leap with their husbands or wives.  Some even met their partners abroad.  Age ain’t nothin’ but a number, especially when you cut the umbilical cord from your home country and witness the possibilities abroad.

7.      “Working abroad is professional suicide.”  Not quite.  Granted, when you make your way back to your home country, you’ll likely notice promotions in places where you once sat.  But don’t underestimate the power of international work experience.  At least according to the employment websites and recruiters I’ve spoken to, international employment is one of the least common and most impressive extra-curricular CV-bolsters you could invest in.  More and more, employers are looking to experience as the true reflection of a candidate’s potential.  If you prefer to work abroad in your previous career (instead of making a switch to teaching English), there are opportunities in every corner of the world.  You just need to look for them.

8.      “Going abroad right now is dangerous!”  It’s safe, no really, it is!  Just as safe, if not safer, than living in your home country.  When I was living in Berkeley I met a guy who’d been held up by gunpoint walking home from work.  For a few moments, his life was on the line, all over a few bucks the assailant decided was more important than this dude’s life.  Never once did I feel threatened or in danger living as a single woman in Thailand or Japan – and here in the UAE I get the same feeling.  Granted, you need to know your rights before you board that plane.  The way governments deal with crime is very difference, country to country, and it’s much better to be in the know before you go.

9.      “It’s just too hard to find a job.”  No matter where you’re considering, there’s a teaching job – or otherwise! – for you.   So long as you have a Bachelor’s degree, and English is your first language, getting a job teaching English abroad is easy like a Sunday morning. Europe is more competitive, since the language is already so prevalent, but if you’re flexible, there is a job for you there.  Japan is the most competitive market in Asia, but a simple weekend TEFL course will already put you a head above the rest when applying.  Schools like AEON, where I got my start, are a lot more corporate: organized and well-paid, though they expect more from you.

There are hundreds of other options, teaching young kids, at private language schools or even private schools.  China and Korea are the latest big employers on the scene, Thailand, Vietnam, Saudi Arabi, the UAE, the list goes on and on.  And that’s not even counting South America or Africa!  Basically, there’s an English school in most every country, so if you want it, go and get it.

10.      “I have a house/significant other/dog/child.  I can’t work abroad.”  It may seem like you have too many responsibilities to board the next flight to Greece or China, but kids and mortgages don’t have to be deal breakers.  Consider renting your property out and hire a management company to keep an eye on the details.  Got kids?  Why not take them with you?  I’ve met quite a few single women and couples who’ve taken their babies with them on the journey.  A host of international schools and expat support systems make all this possible – believe me, you wouldn’t be the first to take a family abroad.  Need to store a few things?  No problem.  Most cities and even some rural spots will have ample storage facilities at reasonable prices.  Just get a few friends to help you on the big  move day and celebrate with some dinner afterward.

The point is: don’t let stuff bog you down.  “Stuff” is supposed to make our lives better – a stove for warming food, a TV for entertainment – but try not to let your stuff rule your world.  You probably don’t need half the stuff you have, and a seasonal Goodwill donation will probably feel really good, at the end of the day.  Believe me, you’ll be lighter and brighter for it!

Without a doubt, preparing to work abroad is like a full time job.  It’ll take months to get everything in order, from mailing addresses to weighing out your luggage.  But believe me, if you just approach it with a bucket-fulla patience, it’s really not that bad!

So there you have it.  Working abroad lends a host of measurable benefits, not to mention the joys of travel and the realization we’re all part of a vast international community.  There are the downsides: logistical challenges, separation from friends and family, and the fear of the great unknown.  It may not be for everyone, but don’t write it off before entertaining the idea!

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