Thursday, March 19, 2009

Working Abroad

There was an interesting post on Get Rich Slowly recently about finding a good job in a bad economy.

The question that prompted the post is one that a lot of people around my age are facing: a recent graduate accepted full time employment at a job that makes her unhappy and isn't in the field she wants to be in. She's sticking it out for the time being because it's a full time job.

I understand where she is coming from: I've certainly had my share of jobs that were less than ideal. I do think, though, that sticking with a job merely because you have it won't get you much in the long term and is also hard on your mind and body in the short term.

Even in an uncertain economy, there is no point in staying at a job that really does make you unhappy.
Yes, everyone who has a job is lucky to have it; but people staying in unhappy situations won't have good experiences to show for their next job. I have to be pretty happy at a job to give it my all, to work above and beyond expectations. If I dislike a job, I'll do the minimum required, which is fine for maintaining but not for advancing.

Other people recommended going to graduate school to ride out the economic downturn. The idea of going to school to get additional qualifications to ride out the downturn is not a bad one - but there are so many caveats to this plan it's hard to list them all. For starters: school is expensive; an additional degree may not result in salary increases; scholarship funding for schools are going down; tuition prices are rising; it's difficult to commit to work and school at the same time; and degrees might not advance your professional skills as much as a few year's experience can.

As someone who left their country for an opportunity for steady employment, I am obviously less tied down to my location than some other people. However, one option that I think too many people miss is this: An easy, lucrative way to ride out an economic downturn is to get a job abroad.

● It's easy to get a job teaching English in most of the world - and with most countries having pretty low costs of living, even if you have debts to pay off it's a viable option. Student loans can be deferred if necessary.

● If you don't want to be an English teacher, it's not difficult to find a comparably, or higher, paying job in another field. Most large businesses need someone who is an expert at English to work with documents, reports, public interactions, and so on. These jobs can be found in the country you want to work in or even as a transfer if your company has international offices.

● Leaving open the option of moving to another country opens up literally millions of jobs that you would not otherwise have access to.

● Living abroad can give you an incredibly valuable skill: the ability to communicate, and with effort, work, in another language. No matter what your field, there will be more options for a primary job and for freelancing if you can work in two languages.

● Working abroad gives you an easy resume talking point. An unrelated, but analogous example is that I have a cousin who applied to medical school, didn't get in, and became a mechanic in the year he had off. When he applied to medical schools the next year, with no other changes in his resume, he always had something to talk about: not many mechanics apply to med school! Now, there are probably more people living abroad than there are mechanic doctors, but the point is the same - having a truly unique experience on your resume will never hurt you in interviews.

In short, if you can't find a job or find yourself in a situation you hate, it's worth it to look beyond the confines of your town, region, state, and even country for a better fitting job that will open up more doors for your future career choices.

Photo by Balakov


  1. Hi,

    I came across your blog and your articles about working in Istanbul, and I have come questions. Unfortunately, I can't find your contact info, so I'll have to post my intended email as a comment. I've included my email if you want to take the comment down and email me back. Thanks so much!

    My name is Matt Chwierut, and I’m part of an IPTV adventure-travel show called Jet Set Zero ( In brief, the show follows the lives of a small group of 20-somethings as they travel and work abroad. We’ve filmed in Vietnam, Japan, and Korea, and we’re scouting locations for Season 4. Istanbul is on the list.
    I wanted to email asking about how easily our cast will be able to get local jobs. We want the job-seeking experience to be as authentic as possible for the cast BUT we don’t want to set them up to fail. At the moment, the show is slated to land in our next country in July, and the cast (1 guy, 2 girls, all in their 20’s) will need to find ways to support themselves. How easy is it to find jobs in Istanbul? I can’t seem to get a straight answer online, though I have read that it’s a lot easier once you’re in the country. It was the same in Vietnam, but when we tried that approach in Tokyo, it led swiftly to poverty.
    Realistically, would a young college-educated American or Canadian be able to find a job – probably teaching – to at least support themselves while they’re in Istanbul? Would 3 be able to? We really appreciate your help and insight. As we’ve found doing this research, personal advice from helpful expats on the ground is much more accurate than the hodgepodge of information floating around on the internet.
    Thanks so much for the help! If we end up Istanbul, we’ll have to connect to say thank you – beers will be on us =)
    Matt Chwierut

  2. matt, so sorry I just saw this comment. I'm not sure why the blog never notified me of it. but, i did see your posts on couchsurfing when you were here so i'm assuming y'all did pretty okay :) good luck with the continued travels!