Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

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ABOUT MyWorldAbroad

What is MyWorldAbroad and how does it work?

Dear Jean-Marc,

Your site looks interesting, but I haven’t had a chance to explore it. How does the site work and what is on it?

–Greg, 25, Washington, DC

Hi Greg.

I’m glad you’re interested in the site.

MyWorldAbroad is a huge online resource with over 300 articles and 4,000 resources. Our focus is to help you build cross-cultural skills, develop an International IQ, and start your global career. People of any international skill level can use the site; but the comprehensive content is designed to take users from zero to international expert over an extended period of time. Here you will find advice, and also links to thousands of international opportunities depending on your area of interest.

The site will have the most value if you check out all the elements of it. The more times you visit, the more you learn!

Depending on your current level of experience, I recommend that you start on the homepage. On the top menu you’ll see a few links: “What do you want to do?” and “The 4 BIG Things.” “What do you want to do?” is for those who are in a rush, and just want the essentials. While “The 4 BIG Things” gives you access to all our content in the most comprehensive way possible.

You might also choose to start by scanning some of our Quick Guides, or taking the Self-Assessment Quizzes (for registered users) to figure out your current experience level. I hope you get the chance to explore the site in detail!

-Jean-Marc

Do I need to keep coming back to MyWorldAbroad?

Hi there,

My school has a subscription to MyWorldAbroad. Is there a fast way to get all the important information? Or is it like a course? Do I have to come back to the site a lot to get the benefit?

-Karen, 20, Des Moines, IA

Hi Karen,

MyWorldAbroad is a big site. And building high-level international skills is a big undertaking. But to answer your question: We have options for users who are in a rush and just want the essentials, and we also have options for those who are able to invest slightly more time in order to get the comprehensive experience of our full range of advice and resources.

From our perspective, the ideal approach to MyWorldAbroad is to learn with the guide over an extended period of time, revisiting topics, re-evaluating your skills as you build experience. For this, you would visit “The 4 BIG Things” menu item on the top line of our homepage. This will guide you to the most comprehensive version of the site.

It’s also possible to access crucial information in a shorter amount of time. For this, you’ll visit the “What do you want to do?” menu item from the top bar of the homepage. This version of the site allows you to access only the information you absolutely need for your chosen international adventure.

Wishing you success in your international endeavors and we hope you visit us often! You can also check out the articles listed in In a Rush? (for registered users) for the most essential, quick-to-access international advice.

All the best,

Jean-Marc

Is MyWorldAbroad on social media?

I love the site, but can I find MyWorldAbroad on Twitter?

-Brodie, 18, Toronto, ON

Absolutely, Brodie. MyWorldAbroad can be found on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. We have active feeds, sharing stories from the MyWorldBlog, site updates, inspiring quotes, and things we find interesting.

Follow us and say hello! And we also think you can use social media to boost your career! Check out Top Tips: Social Media for Career Success (for registered users) to find out more. 

Cheers,

Jean-Marc

PART ONE: Living Overseas

I just landed an international job, but how do I negotiate a fair relocation package?

I have been offered a mid-level contract management position abroad. They are preparing a relocation package, but what should I be asking for in terms of relocation expenses, accommodation, etc? I don’t want to ask for too much, but I want to make sure that I am comfortable. 

-Male, 29, Seattle, WA

The value of your relocation package is heavily tied to your industry, with NGOs and small firms providing less compensation than multinationals, national governments and international organizations. The best advice I can give you is to speak to others who are currently working in your field in your host country (ideally those working with your prospective employer). Ask your employer for references from their employees posted abroad. Research the norms in your industry by contacting your trade association. Speak to other expats  and research relocation services. See the resource lists Expatriate Networking Sites and Relocating Abroad (for registered users).

Keep in mind that no employer is likely to meet all your expectations. Relocation problems are just part of the process when you move abroad. You are going to run into things that you will not be happy with. Experienced international employees learn to take these relocation problems in stride and remain loyal to their employer (even if the air conditioner has not been working for more than two weeks!).

Best regards,
Jean-Marc 

Is going abroad right for me?

How do I know whether working abroad is right for me? Is there a basic profile for the “ideal candidate”?

-Male, 22, Chicago, IL

There are many characteristics that define a successful international employee, but there is one main trait that stands out as being essential: adaptability.

Ask yourself: “Do I enjoy change?” Your answer to this question will give you an idea of whether you are cut out for work and life abroad. 

People who enjoy international work love the process of adaptation and learning. They can learn to enjoy having soup for breakfast when in India (even though they love bacon and eggs at home) and relish having hot tea in the mid-afternoon sun while in Sri Lanka (even though sweltering heat might seem like the perfect time for a cold drink). Food and drink might be a simple analogy, but they give you the idea: Being open to changes in your daily routine makes you a strong candidate for international work. Communication skills and practical skills associated with your industry will also come in to play, of course, but the quality that ultimately makes international workers different is their love of change, their interest in other cultures, and their love of learning. Check out the Quick Guide The Ideal International Profile (for registered users).

Good luck!
Jean-Marc

Will I be safe if I travel abroad?

I was considering going to another country to volunteer, but I have recently heard a lot of stories about North Americans having awful things happen to them abroad. How can I possibly feel safe?
-Allison, 20, Toronto, ON

Dear Allison

There are always risks associated with being abroad. In my personal opinion, the rewards are generally much greater. When I meet college students, I can quickly tell that some of them are not risk tolerant and they should therefore travel or study only in more Westernized nations, in order to ease in to the process of cultural adaptation. For other students, I know at first glance that they could thrive no matter whether they were in Kenya, India or Hong Kong.

Each individual must assess his or her personal level of risk before traveling. Get up-to-date with the latest areas of major conflict or tension. Maintaining a level of caution is always wise, but I would also suggest not to get caught up in the paranoia created by media sensationalism of bad events abroad. The world has never been more accessible, and there have never been more opportunities to travel, work or volunteer in unusual, challenging and interesting locations. In the end, it is up to you to decide your tolerance for risk, based on careful self-examination and an assessment of your possible destinations.

For more information on coping strategies while living overseas, see The Effective Overseas Employee and Living Overseas (for registered users).

Hope this helps,
Jean-Marc

What does “International IQ” mean?

You talk about “International IQ” in a lot of the public area of the site. What does that term mean?

-Jade, 21, Anchorage, AK

Hi Jade,

Your International IQ is basically your level of intercultural awareness. It is a complex collection of skills that you develop over time when you constantly engage in cross-cultural learning. You will find out about International IQ the more you read the content on the MyWorldAbroad site. Are you adaptable in a foreign environment? Are you knowledgeable about world issues or the particular issues of a specific area of the world? As you will see by reading the guide, building an International IQ takes time, and it involves many different types of learning. It’s about your knowledge, your professional international capabilities, your personal coping skills and your cross-cultural observation skills. Check out the links below (for registered users) for a more in-depth look. And good luck building your International IQ!

Also, check out our quizzes and this related Quick Guide.

Cheers, Jean-Marc

I have never been abroad. What is the hardest part?

I am a 22-year-old university senior. I have never studied or traveled abroad. Now I feel like I missed out and I want to go, but I’m still nervous. What is the hardest part about going abroad?

-Chantal, 22, Atlanta, GA

Hi Chantal,

This is a great question, but the answer really depends on your personal profile. Are you able to be adventurous and a little bit flexible? Do you have a good sense of humor and know how to cheer yourself up when things are tough?

The hardest part about going abroad is staying adaptable, self-reliant, open-minded and prepared for surprises. For you personally, the hardest part might be that you can’t get your favorite food from the grocery store, or it might be the fact that you are many miles from your family members, or it might be that you have trouble learning and pronouncing your new host language. There are always small difficulties when heading abroad, but the personal and professional outcomes are worth your efforts!

Don’t worry about the fact that you haven’t gone abroad yet. It’s never too late to start building your international profile. We know plenty of people who head abroad for the first time at your age, get hooked and build international careers for themselves. Anything is possible! Check out the links below (for registered users) for some more advice:

Good luck with your first adventure!

Jean-Marc

How can a married couple embark on an international work experience?

We are a married couple in our forties and we would like to work overseas and have new life experiences. To be honest, we have no idea where to start. It sounds very simple to send our CVs around the world, but there is probably much more to consider than that. Can you suggest an approach to help us get our minds around the process? 

-Female, 45, Austin, Texas

ANSWER: The way you target your international job search will be determined by your education and areas of expertise. You're correct to assume that finding meaningful international work is not as simple as sending your CV around the globe. You’ll need to prove to international employers that you can function in an international environment, one that may be very different from your home. If you have no previous international experience, I would recommend taking a sabbatical for four or more months. Go abroad to learn a second language, travel or undertake a course of study abroad for a semester. While you are away, make professional contacts and join international professional associations in your field, volunteer abroad and keep your eyes peeled for potential work opportunities. As you build your international experience and networks, you will soon reach a level of cross-cultural competency that can serve as proof of your International IQ for potential employers. There is no doubt that you will need to take a few measured risks on order to make the transition to international work, but with a background of international experiences, there is a good chance that you will be successful. For more advice, scan the sections in International Skills section (for registered users, start with The Effective Overseas Employee), and the Finding Work section (start with The Ideal International Profile & Your Career Path).

Hope this all helps, and good luck with your decisions and preparations.
Jean-Marc

 

Help! I just want to go abroad again!

Hi Jean-Marc,

I just got back from a six-month internship in an Indian NGO. I had an amazing time, of course. I feel like my life changed, but now my old home is boring and depressing. I feel like I just want to go abroad again, but I can’t. Help! Thanks.

-Ariana, 22, Raleigh, NC

Hi Ariana,

Everyone has heard the term “culture shock” but many don’t know about its twin “re-entry shock.” Did you know that the cross-cultural learning experience continues when you get home after your time abroad? We’ve heard from so many students, interns and volunteers who have had the very same experience. Coming home from an enriching and life-altering experience overseas is difficult. You feel like you have changed, but everything at home is still the same. You want to talk about everything you experienced, but people from your home country might get bored of hearing about it. And, as you say, all you want to do is go abroad again, but you just can’t.

But re-entry is a process, just like adapting to your home in India was a process. Now is the time when you learn more about your home culture, build your adaptability skills, and put all that you learned abroad to use.

Did you know that MyWorldAbroad has an entire section dedicated to the experience you are going through? We recommend that you take a look at it. Don’t despair! You will adjust to your new life at home, and what’s more: you’ll find cross-culturally enriching activities and job prospects within your reach.

Good luck!

Jean-Marc

Why should I care about international work and travel?

A number of my friends have gone abroad on study tours, and I'm starting to think that I should go too, but I’m still unsure about the whole thing. Why should I go abroad? What’s in for me?

-Craig, 17, Abilene, Texas

Hi Craig,

Just four months abroad can change your life forever. No matter whether you are living in Sweden, volunteering in Ghana or backpacking in Thailand, a trip abroad will alter your perspective on your home country, and on the world as a whole. Most people only have two chances in life to do exciting things: before or during their 20s, when they have few obligations, and after they turn 55, when their children have left home and loan, mortgage and car payments are starting to get paid off. I highly encourage you to take four months off to travel, learn a language, or volunteer abroad. At the very least, the experience will open your eyes to the world, and it might change the course of your career or even your life. Going abroad is a lot easier than most students assume, and this entire Web site is dedicated to inspiring young people like yourself to take the plunge and head abroad. International experiences have personal value, but they also have huge professional value, and you'll thank yourself later if you begin developing your cross-cultural understanding now. So, what's in it for you? Everything!

Get inspired with some practical and easy-to-implement tips for expanding your International IQ with the Quick Guides and check out Why You Need International Skills (for registered users).

Good luck, 

Jean-Marc

PART TWO: Acquiring International Experience

Do you have advice to help me plan my first short volunteering trip abroad?

I was thinking of volunteering abroad this summer and would like to know which organizations you suggest. I was thinking of going for around four or five weeks. I have been looking online and there are tons of places go and things to do, but I'm kind of skeptical about a lot of the organizations. It is hard to tell if the organizations are interested in the people they are helping or just expanding their organization. 

-Martin, 18, Vancouver, British Columbia 

Dear Martin,

You are right – there are many, many organizations with which you can go abroad. Most have very good intentions and generally do a good job. Don’t ever go abroad expecting a perfect experience; a big part of life abroad is about adapting to unforeseen situations and dealing with uncertainty. Volunteer-sending agencies offer varying levels of service, some being geared more towards the "voluntourist" experience, while others are more geared towards the participants getting their hands dirty. If you are risk tolerant (i.e. if you like adventure and are highly adaptable), the cheapest way to go abroad is to organize your own tour and backpack your way through the experience. If you are less risk tolerant, you can choose an organization that charges higher fees and they will take care of everything (or almost everything) in highly scheduled package. You have lots of organizations to choose from, and they each have a different formula and a different objective. Check out the many resources listed in International Volunteer Opportunities (for registered users). 

One low-risk alternative to the volunteer experience for those who have limited time (and funds) is to go abroad in order to learn a second language. If you choose Latin America, the costs are low, and you can combine your trip with travel. Also consider studying abroad for one semester (this too is low-risk), and extend the study abroad tour with a second experience (before or after study abroad session) to backpack, learn the native language, volunteer or intern.

Hope this all helps. Cheers for now,
Jean-Marc

Do you have advice from young people who have gone abroad?

Hi Jean-Marc,

I am excited to think about going abroad and planning an adventure. Can I find information, advice or stories from students my age on MyWorldAbroad?

–Katie, 19, Montreal, QC

Hi Katie,

Absolutely! Throughout MyWorldAbroad you’ll find quotes and sample applications from students who have successfully lived, worked, interned, volunteered or traveled abroad. And we’ve collected over 70 Q&As with them in our popular Stories from Abroad section. We are sure that you’ll find plenty of inspiration in this section. And when you have your own adventure abroad, we hope you contribute your story to the section! See the full collection here.

Good luck!

Jean-Marc

Should I accept an unpaid internship in France?

I have just been offered a one-month internship in France. I know that it will be a great experience, because I have not traveled much. The problem is that the job is entirely unpaid. Should I take it? Or should I try to find something else that is paid?

-Stefan, 19, Chelmsford, MA

Hello Stefan,

If the French employer is offering an internship in your field, or if this is your first internship abroad, certainly take the internship, even if it is not paid. An internship in France will be like a working vacation, with insights into the work culture, something that a regular traveler or student abroad might not experience. Maximize every possible professional angle that you can during your internship, and socialize as much as you can with work colleagues. If you super charge your un-paid internship with career building experiences, you will return home with enhanced value and certain future payoffs. Make the most of it, and good luck! See Intern Abroad (for registered users) for more. 

All the best, 

Jean-Marc

After volunteering in Africa, how can I return and work as a professional?

Hi. I recently got my undergrad degree and am planning to continue on to law school. Last year I spent my summer volunteering with an NGO in Uganda. I went by myself and had the time of my life. Even though some elements were difficult to adjust to, it was totally worth it. I’ve decided that I definitely want to go back as a professional, even if I have to work at the local wage level. Do you have any tips for me?

-Ali, 23, Saskatoon, SK

Hi Ali,

Sounds like you’re looking to start an international career. That’s great! Trust me, it is an incredibly satisfying way to live and work. International careers are built step-by-step, as you build up your international credentials.

International employers hire people with high International IQs. You need to assure your future international employers that you understand the cross-cultural workplace and that you have the skills to navigate and be successful when working in places that are different from your home.

A word of advice: I strongly suggest that you broaden your horizons in terms of your ideal destination for future international work. By limiting your desired location to Uganda (where you have been before), you may be cutting off extraordinary opportunities in your sector in other areas of the world. I highly recommend that when the time comes to conduct your international job search, you do it based on sector-specific approach, rather than a country-specific one.

By volunteering in Uganda, you are well on your way to gaining strong international skills. Continue building international experience while studying at home by taking every opportunity to work in cross-cultural environments or to go abroad. Take internationally-focused courses. Align yourself with professors who have international interests. In law, you will need to decide if you want to practice private sector law or public international law (PIL).

One key element towards the end of your studies is to land a professional international internship. There are hundreds of internships available for Americans and Canadians alike, start researching them in your first year of law school. I know a number of law students who have created their own internships by writing to well-known international law practitioners (based in Hong Kong and London, for example) and offering their research services in exchange for basic living allowance. You will need this type of experience to crack the market. Be bold (while being diplomatic and gracious) in your pursuits for an international internship. Read International Law Careers (for registered users) for more insights.

All the best,

Jean-Marc

Does teaching English abroad look bad on a resume?

I have been reading MyWorldAbroad on and off for a few years, and following the MyWorldBlog since it started. I've found it to be inspiring and useful. I would like your opinion about teaching English in Asia. I have done several internships abroad that have all been (more or less) related to law and human rights. I have heard that in terms of seeking future employment and continuing on my career path, an experience teaching English abroad could have a negative impact and that some employers might see it as a way of “running away from your life.” Do you believe this to be the case, or do you think it would be perceived as a demonstration of interest in different cultures and languages? 

-Nima, 25, Montreal, QC

Hi Nima,

The answer to your question depends very much on where you are in your experience-building cycle. If you have already demonstrated your international acumen by doing a couple of internships abroad, and if you are finished your degree (preferably a master’s degree), then you should be looking for employment rather than teaching English. On the other hand, if you're still in the middle of your experience-building stage, or if you are launching your international career and using teaching English as a stepping stone to other careers (e.g. teaching English at a law school abroad, or with a human rights umbrella organization abroad), then teaching English abroad is a good choice. You are still under the age of 27, so from my perspective you still have time for one more wonderful experience abroad. When you are over 28, you should really begin thinking about a career path.

If you are looking for inspiration on what types of job may interest you, consult Resources for the International Job Search (for registered users).

All the best,
Jean-Marc

Are there any free volunteer summer programs to go abroad with?

Do you have suggestions for a reputable organization that offers international opportunities for college students to work/volunteer/intern in the summer?  I'd like to know about options for students who want to do good work but can't afford to pay a lot to an organization for the opportunity. I’m guessing that faith-based organizations would fit the bill. Thanks in advance for your suggestions. 

-Male, 26, Pella, Iowa

There are fewer and fewer free volunteer NGO experiences to be had. Students almost always have to pay an NGO or a private company to find a volunteer placement position abroad. Some NGOs (especially faith-based NGOs) require that you fundraise to meet your travel and accommodation expenses. Students can save money if they arrange their own placement directly with a third-world NGO, but this is only recommended for those who are very independent and have a high degree of risk tolerance. Students who do choose this route, however, often have more powerful and meaningful cross-cultural experiences.

If you are short on funds and want a more structured experience (with less risk), consider teaching English abroad to finance your stay and seek out volunteer experiences while living in your host country. If you want to teach abroad during the summer months, consider Chile or another South American country. Think about intensifying your cross-cultural learning by pursuing language learning, travel and professional networking while you are abroad. All of these experiences can help students maximize the “professional value” of their time abroad, and the experiences can be subsidized by teaching English.

A summer abroad usually entails periods of two months or less abroad, and while it can be a great start to building your International IQ, it should be noted that this short amount of time is usually not enough to get the experience of full cultural immersion. Students who wish to gain long-term cross-cultural skills should go abroad for four or more months. Consider working in the US for the first two months of your summer break to save some money, and then go abroad for four full months (i.e. take the fall semester off and create a gap semester abroad for yourself).

Check out Volunteer Abroad and NGOs & International Development (for registered users) for more info. 

Hope this helps.
Jean-Marc

How can I get comfortable studying abroad?

Hi Jean-Marc,

I would like your help. I have been studying abroad in Shanghai for a month so far. When I first arrived it was exciting, now everything seems foreign and I sometimes get angry and irritated. What can I do? I have eight months left!

-Julieta, 24, New Jersey, NJ

Hi Julieta,

First of all: Don’t panic! What you are going through is completely normal. You’re having a classic experience of culture shock. Whether you realized it or not, those first few weeks of euphoria were also part of the culture shock experience. The first thrilling days of an extended trip abroad are thought of as the “honeymoon phase.” This is when you’re full of energy and adrenaline, eager to experience everything about your exotic and exciting new home. But then, the second phase of culture shock kicks in, and thing become more difficult. This is the phase when you realize that you must not only experience the wonders of your new home as a tourist; you must also adapt and build new structures for yourself there. Symptoms of this phase include boredom, anxiety, homesickness, anger irritability and even depression. But keep in mind: This is a completely normal phase of your adjustment and you must simply remain open-minded and positive in order to get through to the next phases, and finally to full adaptation and integration. We have a lot of information about culture shock on MyWorldAbroad. I recommend that you have a look at the following links (for registered users).

I wish you the very best. Stay positive and focused on your goal of cross-cultural integration. You won’t regret it.

All the best,

Jean-Marc

Is preparation really necessary?

I heard that there’s no way to learn about a country from a guide book. And I also heard that it is more exciting and more cross-culturally "useful" to arrive without a plan. My advisor is telling me I need to spend time preparing for my trip. But do I really need to?

-Carl, 21, Ottawa, ON

Hi Colin,

Thanks for your interesting question. You’re right: It’s not possible to learn everything about a country from a guide book. And it’s not possible to fully prepare yourself for all the unexpected experiences you’ll have abroad. But your advisor is right: preparation is a key part of a successful go abroad experience.

From planning your finances to finding out everything you can about the local language and culture of your host country – you will not regret putting in the time to research and learn what you can. Even if your plans and perspectives change in the first days of your journey, you should still invest time and effort into preparing yourself beforehand. (And don’t forget that understanding your own culture and potential biases is also a component of preparing yourself for an international experience.)

From our perspective, the ideal combination for a globetrotter is a mix of preparation, ambition and adaptability. Being prepared and informed before traveling doesn’t close you off from having new or unexpected experiences. In fact, by being better informed and more aware of the social and working cultures of your host country, you may be open the doors to opportunities you would not otherwise have had.

MyWorldAbroad has plenty of information that might inspire you to learn before you leave. Check out the following articles (for registered users), and search through the sections in our guide that are associated with the type of experience you will have abroad (e.g. intern, work or volunteer):

Good luck on your journey.

Jean-Marc

How much international experience is necessary to enter into a graduate program?

Dear Mr. Hachey,
I was recently accepted into a program in Geneva through  SIT Study Abroad , and while I am very excited about the opportunity, I’m having a hard time trying to decide if this program is really going to help me stay on the career path I’ve set out for myself. Through this program, I will have the opportunity to work and research with a specific international multilateral organization during the fall semester. Before graduating from Boston University, I had lived and studied in France and Chile through SIT as well. My original thought was that this program in Geneva could provide me with additional experience abroad that I could then highlight when I re-apply to graduate school for the fall of 2010. At this stage in my career, do you feel that undertaking an additional program with SIT will do anything to increase my chances of either acceptance into a graduate program, or of landing in a career in this area?
Any advice you could offer would be hugely appreciated! MyWorldAbroad has been tremendously helpful to me so far in helping to sort out the next steps in my job search, and I’d welcome any input you might have.

Sincerely,
Nadine, 27, Boston, Massachusetts 

Dear Nadine,

There are so many personal factors involved in career planning that it is difficult to answer your question, except to mention a few important high-level considerations: On the surface, it seems that a third semester abroad with the same organization would add little to your dossier. That said, if you are going for personal reasons, then by all means do so, you will certainly be expanding your international experience by carrying out a project in a new location. I would also recommend taking the opportunity if you have been offered a scholarship to do so. If you are paying your own way, however, I would suggest that you invest in another program or in personal travel and study (perhaps language study), to better enhance your qualifications in your field. Note that getting into a master’s program after recently graduating generally depends more upon grades than work experience, so you may not need to worry so much about expanding your international experience just for the program application. Some schools pay closer attention to experiences than others, so I’d advise you to network directly with a professor at your targeted school and ask his or her advice. You should also target a number of graduate schools so that you have multiple options. Having a look at our self-evaluation questions. THey may help you come to a decision about what you have achieved and what you still wish to achieve: Self-evaluation: Your International Internship (for registered users).

Hope this advice helps! All the best with your decisions.
Jean-Marc

Do I need to learn languages before traveling?

My friend said that in most parts of Europe they can speak English. I am going to volunteer on farms in several European countries next summer. Do I really need to spend time learning languages?

-Chris, 23, New York City, NY

Hi Chris,

You can probably make your way through much of the world by communicating with basic English, or by simply using gestures and other signals to make yourself understood. But it’s much more satisfying when you can go beyond the basics and talk to locals in their own language. And in most European countries, you will find that they appreciate it when visitors make the effort.

Instead of hopping and jumping between many countries in a short period of time, why not get to know one or two countries particularly well? This way, you can plan to learn some of the languages, get to know some of the cultural traits, and make a deeper connection with the local way of life.

In short, it’s not crucial for you to be fluent in the language of your host country, but it can significantly enrich your experience if you plan to spend any length of time there. And it will also mean that you are able to communicate with locals rather than sticking with tourists. And don’t forget to think long-term: More languages means more professional opportunities. Regardless of what your plans are for your first trip abroad, you should have a plan to learn one or more languages for the sake of your future career.

Check out our articles (for registered users):

Best wishes,

Jean-Marc

PART THREE: The International Job Search

Is international experience only important for international business and diplomacy jobs?

My parents can’t figure out why I should go abroad to get international experience when I am majoring in American history and have no intention of working overseas in the future. I would just like to go abroad for the experience, but need to convince my parents that it will help me in my career.

-Ana-Maria, 22, San Francisco, California

Hi Ana-Maria,

A significant proportion of US-based jobs already require international experience, and the trend is only getting bigger. With each year, Internet technologies move us further and further towards a new global economy, and students in all fields are going to have better job prospects if they have international skills when they graduate. Almost every profession will soon require workers to have global career skills.

With the increasing strength and reach of the global economy, every size of business is being transformed – from large international corporations to small local firms. Employers of all sizes are purchasing goods and services from around the world, and they are asking employees to work online with people located in other countries. Whether you work abroad or at home, students will need international skills to succeed in this new world of work. From a career point of view, students in every field should be gaining international experience and embracing international skills so that they can perform their work while based at home or abroad.

Need more proof? Look no further than the White House itself! The US Government has made clear and decisive moves over the past months to ensure that more students are going abroad in order to gain that all-important global perspective. See First Lady Michelle Obama's endorsement here. And check out Why You Need International Skills (for registered users).

Good luck,
Jean-Marc

Can I contact an international employer when they have no job posted?

Can I contact an international employer about work when they have no job posted online?

-Tim, 26, Calgary, AB

Hi Tim,

The short answer is: Yes. The international job hunt is an ongoing process, and in all likelihood, you will find that by building professional networks and connecting with international employers and experts in your field, you will begin opening doors to future success. Did you know that most international jobs are never actually posted to the public? Word of mouth, networks and personal connections are still important for professional success, even in this interconnected, online word.

This is a huge topic, and we deal with it extensively in the MyWorldAbroad site. Building networks, making contacts and inquiring about international positions are all part of a successful job hunt. Check out the articles (for registered users) here:

Good luck!

Jean-Marc

How can I satisfy my career goals abroad when moving from the USA to Germany with my German boyfriend?

I have bar membership in two states and will soon be starting my career as a lawyer. My partner is from Munich and I’d like to move there with him for a period of time. I don’t want to start all over and qualify as a lawyer in Germany, but I’m determined to do something I am passionate about. I don’t like corporate law, so working with a big American firm’s Munich office doesn’t excite me. How would you suggest I explore work possibilities? What can I do besides teach English? I feel that I have more to offer than that at this point in my life. 

-Salima, 30, Austin, TX 

Hi Salima,

First and foremost, even though the prospect of more school seems daunting at this point, if you want to make a career as a lawyer and have the option of living and working in Munich, it may be worth going that extra mile and getting certified in Germany. But, that is a choice you will want to make after you have spent some time there, so here are a few ideas for you in the meantime. Some do involve teaching English, but it may not be in the context you are imagining:

  • Teaching law at a university. English is the language of instruction at many institutions of the world these days, especially at the graduate level.
  • Work online as a contract lawyer with a US employer
  • Take language courses in Munich while teaching English to executives part-time. I have a friend in London, UK who earns $1,200 per day teaching English to executives one-on-one.
  • Alternatively, teach English to German lawyers and use these contacts to make links in your field of work.
  • Specialize and become an international law consultant [in Public International Law (PIL)] or private sector law. Europe is at your doorstep; your client could be any international organization. You could start by pairing yourself up as a junior consultant with an international law expert in your field of work.
  • Law is surely not your only interest. Consider interning, volunteering or working in a field that interests you, but where your skills will come in handy. Consider an NGO or private firm.
  • Consider freelancing ideas listed in The Traveling Spouse: Why Work? and Why 50+ Workers Should Go Abroad (for registered users).
  • Take time off and enjoy Munich!

Good luck,
Jean-Marc

What is different about international interviews?

Why is interviewing for an international job any different than interviewing at home?

-Jason, Honolulu, HI

Hi Jason,

The skill set that’s required to succeed in a cross-cultural or international environment is different, and more extensive than for a regular domestic job. Not only does an employee need to know about their field and the practicalities of their job, they must also have excellent cross-cultural communication skills, knowledge of the international goings-on in their industry, an understanding of the issues particular to the region they will be dealing with in the new international position, be highly personally and professionally adaptable, etc.

The international job interview is therefore more extensive, and often slightly different from a domestic job interview. When interviewing for an international job, for example, an employer has every reason to ask about your personal life, because your personal situation and motivations for going abroad can impact your job success.

Learn more about the differences between domestic and international job searches and interviews in the following MyWorldAbroad articles (for registered users):

We wish you every success in your job search!

Jean-Marc

How much research should I do before traveling to find work in Italy?

I know that I want to work in Italy, but what kinds of things should I know about the country before I travel to work there? How much research should I do?

-Paloma, 20, Jersey City, NJ

Thanks for your question, Paloma. I need to start off with a warning: Don’t limit yourself to one country! It's almost impossible to do a country-specific job search unless you are looking for low-skilled work in the service or retail industries. If you're looking for professional work, you'll need to do a sector-specific job search with North American organizations (private firms, NGOs, or government). When looking for an international job, the most important approach is to stay open and flexible. You may not necessarily end up in Italy, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have a fantastic, enriching and life-changing experience. Eighty-five percent of the international jobs held by North Americans are with US or Canada-based firms that send employees overseas. Once you've been hired by a firm or institution that works internationally, it's the employer who then decides to send you to work in Spain, Burma, Australia or wherever it may be that they need workers. The employer decides on your destination country, and takes care of the Visa. Unless you are prepared to immigrate to a country, it is almost impossible to get a work visa in a specific country on your own. The one major exception to all of the above is the option of teaching English overseas. Because one billion people in the world are trying to learn English, you can choose the country of your choice and find work on your own. 

Now on to the main part of your question: No matter your destination, doing as much cross-cultural research as possible before leaving is wise. Learn the major cities, industries and politicians. Catch up on the latest news stories and follow them. Learn the language, do online research and connect with friends of friends or professional network contacts who have lived or traveled in your destination country. If there are any major cultural or religious differences, make sure you're familiar with important customs. For more on the teaching subject, see Debunking the Myths: The Real Deal on International Work and for country specific information, see Country Guides (for registered users). 
All the best in your job search,
Jean-Marc

Should I go through an agency to find international work?

Hi Jean-Marc! Is it better to find work through an agency than to travel and try and find work on my own? How do I know if an agency will take care of me if I get sick or get into trouble?

-Macey, 22, Halifax, NS

Hi Macey,

There are few recruitment agencies that will find you an international job unless you working in a highly specialized area of expertise such as: senior executive, engineer, health care worker or some types of teaching position. You may be able to find some placement agencies working with casual or manual labor positions, but these aren't going to give you the maximum professional development potential while abroad. You may have to find work on your own by making direct contact with international employers in your line of work. If you head abroad to find work on your own, make sure you plan in advance. Save some money, make some contacts, research your destination. The more you know in advance, the better positioned you will be to make headway when you land on the ground. You will find the suggestions in Landing a Job: The Road to Teaching Abroad  (for registered users) pertinent to your queston.

In terms of your second question, it is your international employer who will be responsible for your health benefits and general well-being when abroad, not the recruitment agency.

Cheers,

Jean-Marc

How do I move towards having a permanent international career?

What advice would you offer for someone fresh out of college and looking to live and work outside the United States within the next five to ten years?  I am a computer science major, have studied abroad for a semester in Italy and have traveled for a month across Europe on my own. I understand this is not the extensive resume encouraged on your site, but I have to believe there are options if only we know the right questions to ask and of whom to ask them! Additionally, I have a wife and two-year-old son. I would thoroughly appreciate any advice or resources you could provide. Thanks!

-Scott, 28, Garden City, New York

Hi Scott,

You already have a good basis for demonstrating your cross-cultural skills: studying abroad for a semester in Italy and a month of travel in Europe. You will also be working in a field (computer science) with a strong track record for international employment. The most important thing you can do now is target the type of international employment you are looking for, and then to seek professionals currently working abroad in your field. Ask their advice and tap into their knowledge of the international aspects of your field. For example, you may target short-term work in Ireland or permanent residency in Australia; both of these countries have a tradition of hiring computer specialists. Similarly, you may decide to target working for an NGO or international organization. Each field requires a different set of approaches for landing an international position.

You've given yourself a workable deadline for this goal. There are a number of things you can do over the next five years to continue building your international credentials. Look for international opportunities at your current place of employment by offering to work on international projects and/or with international work teams. Get experience by managing an outsourcing project (in South-East Asia, for example) and learn to manage a project across cultures and time zones. Join international umbrella organizations in your field of expertise. Start acclimatizing your family to overseas living by going on one or more cross-cultural vacations (if possible, live with a local family and not in a resort), and begin learning the native language/s of your targeted locations. You might also consider going on a job exploration vacation and starting to network internationally. 

The key to all these activities is to position yourself as someone who is skilled in an international work environment. The more experiences you accrue, the better you will be able to demonstrate that you can easily integrate into a cross-cultural work environment. 

In short, start learning how others in your field are working internationally and network with this group while continuing to build your international skill set. Don’t wait too long to get started. Your family is still young, and its tolerance for risk-taking (i.e. moving abroad) is greater today than it may be in later years when you find yourself settled with mortgage payments and children enrolled in school. It is ideal to take children abroad when they are between the ages of three and 13. It is my belief that high school students should be schooled at home with a close, stable network of friends, unless they already have a long history of living overseas. Family life abroad is often rich and full of meaningful family-centered experiences, so take advantage of the opportunity to head abroad sooner rather than later. 

All the best to you and your family as you set out on your international adventures! Also check out Special Concerns for Couples and Families (for registered users).
Jean-Marc

Can I trust this job offer from Spain?

I received an offer of employment from a company in Spain after submitting my resume and completing an application. I never thought I’d get it, because I don’t have much experience, but they told me that I was selected for the job. I was expecting them to interview me, but they haven’t even asked me any questions. I really want to go, but I want to make sure I’m doing the right thing. Help!

-Male, 22, West Haven. CT

You should definitely question this offer. There are similar situations in which unsuspecting new employees are asked to process financial transactions to ensure their position. This, of course, turns out to be fraud. Your offer contains none of the normal parameters expected from an international employer. Even though it looks attractive, you should proceed with much caution and undertake a thorough background check, including references from other recruits. My first reaction would be to ignore this “to good to be true” offer. For more information, consult The International Job Search (for registered users).

Good luck,
Jean-Marc

What types of international professions are available to me with a liberal arts/international affairs degree?

Hi Jean-Marc.

I am finishing a double major in history and international affairs. I have always been interested in becoming a diplomat, but what other career options do I have if this does not work out?

Nick, 21, Chicago, IL

Hi Nick,

I often meet students who are studying international affairs or other liberal arts programs, and many aspire to work as diplomats. The main obstacle for breaking into this field is the incredible amount of competition involved. The good news, however, is that there are literally hundreds of related positions which require the same type of training and education as diplomacy. If you are a keen internationalist with strong grades, consider researching positions within the following related areas: academia, associations, banking/finance, public service (federal & state/provincial), communications & government relations, conflict resolution, environmental policy & management, gender, human rights & human security, intelligence, international development, international law, international organizations & the United Nations, non-governmental organizations, Parliament Hill, private sector & consultancies, research, social policy, trade, etc. 

The first step in finding a job in one of these areas is to target the positions that most interest you and then begin envisioning yourself performing the associated duties. Study individual job descriptions to get an idea of the ins and outs of various positions. I recommend visiting the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, The (NPSIA) Works: Career Futures site. NPSIA is Canada’s leading international affairs school and it has put together a list of approximately 60 job descriptions being performed by its alumni. In reading these jobs descriptions, you’ll discover the wide range of jobs available to those with international affairs training and be able to identify the types of international affairs positions that interest you. This site is highly recommended for both Americans and Canadians. You might also look at Positions in International Development (for registered users) for general ideas.

Best wishes for your international career. You have many options to choose from!
Jean-Marc

Why should I change my North American work habits?

I think North America has a good work culture. If I go abroad, why should I change my habits if they’re more productive?

– Julia, 25, Dayton, OH

Hi Julia,

This is an important question, because a lot of people go abroad with a similar perspective.

To be a successful international individual and cross-cultural worker, you must understand your own biases and put your own cultural baggage in perspective.

North Americans have a particular way of looking at the world, especially the working world. In general, we believe in progress, hierarchies, upward mobility, individual agency and the separation between work and personal lives. These beliefs are not held worldwide, and by refusing to adapt your professional mindset, you may be setting yourself up for unnecessary hassle.

In some cultures, personal relationships are prized over deadline orientation. This may seem foreign to those with the “time is money” North American mindset, but that does not necessarily mean that this way of looking at the world is wrong. It is simply different.

If you are planning to work in an international environment for any length of time, you will find that the skills you need most are adaptability, flexibility, open-mindedness and cultural sensitivity. Check out the articles linked below (for registered users) and good luck!

Best wishes,

Jean-Marc

Will international work experience help my job search at home?

Will work experience abroad make my resume more attractive to an American employer?  

-Fareed, 25, Santa Barbara, CA

Hi Fareed,

In the new world economy, everyone needs global career skills, no matter their location and no matter their vocation. (Read Thomas Friedman’s book The World Is Flat if you get the chance!) I myself run a small business and regularly find myself tapping in to the international resources that are available to me as a result of online connectivity. Last month, for instance, I searched online for “Animation Design Asia” and found an animation artist in Vietnam who created a complex set of characters for my Web site. The whole process took just three days and I paid just $150 for a job well done. That scenario necessitates both me and the hired designer being open to the idea of working internationally, across borders and cultural boundaries.

North American employers have already started to realize just how powerful the new “flat” global economy is, and they have begun hiring based on international and cross-cultural communication skills. These employers are, like me, also opening their horizons to a potential world of employees and professional contacts. For American employees to succeed in the new global economy, they need to be prepared to develop the relevant skills and to build develop international relationships. Can you put together a multiethnic project team? Can you work across time zones? The flexibility and communication skills involved in tasks like these are becoming important credentials for those wanting to succeed in the modern workplace. 

Apart from all this, the experiences that you have overseas will expand your intellect and deepen your worldview. A mature candidate with a high International IQ is a strong hire for any company back home, no matter what the industry. In short, the answer to your question is yes! Get international experience, and make the most of it. See Selling Your International Skills and also consider consulting Job Hunting When You Return (for registered users).

Good luck,
Jean-Marc

PART FOUR: The Professions

Is it worth paying fees to teach English abroad?

I am a college career counselor and I have a senior who wants to teach English in China. He has asked if there are any reputable programs out there that do not charge hundreds of dollars in program fees. I have no experience with teaching abroad, and would like to be able to steer him in the right direction  Does anyone out there recommend biting the bullet and paying the fee to gain the support of a program like the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) or Chinese Culture Center? Or is okay to go it alone and apply for teaching jobs through job boards?

-Grace, 45, Alamosa, Colorado

Good question! My short answer is to first assess the student’s tolerance for risk. 

  1. If your student has a high level of risk tolerance, than they can make direct contact with overseas employers online or they can get on a plane and find a job when they arrive at their destination abroad. It is easy to find a job teaching English overseas (except in English-speaking or Western European countries.)
  2. If the student wants to have a less risky adventure (and many students can’t tolerate a lot of risks), then it is far better to go with an organization such as Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE). They generally provide good value for your money and, most importantly, security and a verifiable track record. 

In short, when it comes to teaching abroad programs, you are often paying for the certainty of having a specific type of experience. There are many options to earn money teaching English, but the programs may be less structured, and the student might have to set up his own accommodation. Remember, there are over a billion people in the world who want to learn English, and teaching is one of the easiest ways to go abroad (and earn money). Check out Top Tips and Student Quotes: Teach English Abroad and  Top Tips: Teaching Abroad As a Licensed Teacher (for registered users) as well. 

All the best,
Jean-Marc

P.S. Check out this Quick Guide: Teaching English Overseas: A Stepping Stone To International Careers .

 

How can I deal with being the trailing spouse?

Hi Jean-Marc,

I came to Japan with my husband for work. I thought it would be paradise - and it is, in a way. I love the place but I’m getting bored! I took a year off work to come here. What should I do to make this the amazing experience I hoped it would be?

-Kathy, 34, Topeka, KS

Hi Kathy,

What you are experiencing is quite common among so-called “trailing spouses.” You’ve picked up and moved your life in order to accommodate your spouse, and now the reality is setting in. But don’t worry: You have plenty of options for getting yourself active and involved. All you need is a little motivation.

Learning a language, volunteering, starting a freelance or side business, studying, dedicating yourself to cross-cultural learning, or picking up new and unexpected hobbies are all ways of keeping yourself busy and making sure that you are progressing while you are stationed abroad.

Finding a job is also one of the most rewarding ways of spending your time abroad. Even if you were not planning on working while away, consider the personal and professional benefits of picking up part-time or full-time work in your host country.

Did you know that MyWorldAbroad has an extensive section about this very issue? Check out the articles below (for registered users):

Good luck!

Jean-Marc

Do older (55+) people have a chance at working or volunteering abroad?

Hi,

I am recently retired and want to go abroad to work or volunteer. I haven't decided exactly what I want to do, but I am eager to be of use and expand my horizons. My concern is that older people might not be what organizations are looking for. Do you have any thoughts on this?

-Patrick, 59, Albany, NY

Hi Patrick,

There is good news: The 50+ generation has never been healthier, more active or more qualified to work or volunteer overseas.

Retired and soon-to-retire individuals like yourself are now looking for adventure in addition to security; they want professional satisfaction as well as personal rewards. Whatever your reason for going abroad, we highly encourage it. And the opportunities are more numerous than you might think. In an age when countless young people are seeing the value in gaining international experience, many international organizations, volunteer operations, NGOs and businesses are actually happy to make contact with workers who have extensive experience and know-how. As a 50+ worker or volunteer, you bring with you the value of maturity and experience, and the determination to go abroad and make your goals a reality. Isolate what it is you really want to do or achieve abroad, and then start making contacts. 

Check out our articles (for registered users) on this very topic, and search through the guide for success strategies:

Best wishes,

Jean-Marc

Can a couple teach English abroad?

Hi Jean-Marc,

My wife and I want to teach English in Korea. We're both born and raised in the USA and are native English speakers. We have our bachelor degrees, and we're looking into getting TEFL certification (if it will help). Are there any programs that will allow us to be in the same proximity/city? It'll save the school money on housing because we'd only need one room. Thank you.

-Paul, 32, Raleigh, NC

Thanks for your question about teaching English in Korea, Paul. Chances are good that you and your wife could find employment in the same city, and perhaps even with the same employer. As native English speakers with bachelor degrees, you will easily find jobs. There are literally a billion people in the world who want to learn English, so the jobs are plentiful in the field. This also means that it's not so competitive within companies for specific jobs, so you and your wife should also be able to apply to the same company and may perhaps be hired as a couple, and/or find a job in the same city so that you can share accommodations. I recommend that you both get TEFL certification before your departure; this is often a prerequisite, and it will ensure that you earn a better salary. You don’t need to pay thousands of dollars or go back to school full-time to be certified, a simple one week online course will do. Consider upgrading your online TEFL certification to teach business English if you want to earn more money. 

All the best, 
Jean-Marc

After a decade teaching abroad, am I still hirable at home?

I am currently working in education abroad, and have been for over a decade. I left the US because there were very few employment prospects for me at home, and going international seemed much more attractive. Now my family and I have had a huge array of wonderful international experiences, but I want to show them what life is like back home. When I left it seemed like expats had trouble finding work or were frowned upon by potential employers. Is this still the case? 

-Mike, 46, Seoul, S. Korea

Hello Mike,

The perspective of North American employers has been changing rapidly over the past decade, in response to changes in the new global economy. With the realization that the world is only growing more interconnected, global career skills have now become truly important in almost all fields of work. If you are abreast of Internet technology, attuned to North American cultural norms, and adaptable, you should have no problem. These days, international experience is anything but a hindrance when looking for work.

One last thought: Start job hunting while you are still abroad. It is often impressive for an American institution to receive an application from some far-off land. Make yourself available for telephone or Skype interviews and alert them to your return. Congratulations on having been so successful abroad, and we wish you continued success as you return home! Check out Coming Home (for registered users) for some general tips on re-entry. 

All the best,
Jean-Marc

How can I teach English in Spain?

Hi, I have just started exploring MyWorldAbroad. I have a degree in English and additional training as a technical writer. I've been looking online for a while now, trying to find a job in southern Europe, specifically Spain. Seemingly, nobody is hiring due to the economic situation. I don't have TEFL certification yet, as I understand it's often better to take the CELTA certification course in Spain for the contacts and credibility when seeking a job. Also, I only have a Canadian passport, not an EU one. I've tried searching for work in Germany and other European countries, but to no avail. What’s your advice?

-Female, 33, Princeton, New Jersey

As a technical writer (and this applies to most fields), you can certainly make better headway in your international job search by teaching English abroad and networking with professionals in your field. Because teaching in Europe without an EU passport can sometimes be difficult, why not try South America or Asia instead? There are more jobs available in these locations, and it can be much easier to get a visa because of that. You could also look into opportunities for teaching English or copywriting in France, since a few years ago they liberalized their working visa laws for people with degrees. 

You should read the following on MyWorldAbroad (for registered users):

The final two links offer some great freelancing tips. Good luck with your search, and don’t forget that you will likely need to take a few risks in order to succeed!
Jean-Marc

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