When and where did you work abroad? Did you go with an agency?
I did a working holiday in Tasmania, Australia from September 2012 to August 2013. I got my visa through SWAP, but the Australian visa is incredibly easy to get and I would definitely recommend doing it alone rather than working with a provider. I started out working in retail, then worked at Arthouse hostel in Inveresk.
What was the biggest surprise about your working vacation experience?
Everything in Australia closes super early! All the shops close at around five or six in the evening. The only things open in the evening are bars and the cinema. Going to a bar rather than a coffee shop to catch up with friends took some getting used to! Also, don’t expect anything to be open on a Sunday!
Did you participate in extra-curricular or social activities while abroad? If so, how did they differ from social activities in your home culture?
I joined the local Rotaract Club and took a dance class. I found Rotaract in Tasmania to be much more social than in BC, although I think that’s more of a regional difference than a national one. Australia isn’t that different culturally from North America, so I didn’t notice a huge difference… although they do tend to drink more!
What made your experience abroad a success?
I made a point of getting involved in the community and making local friends, which is really the best way to have a good experience anywhere. Having been involved with Rotaract in Canada, I joined the local club. It was a great way to meet friends right from the get-go. I also attended a poetry festival, took a dance class, volunteered at the farmers’ market and got involved with the local “couch surfing” community. If you haven’t already checked out couchsurfing.org and you’re planning to head overseas, I’d highly recommend doing so! It’s a fantastic way to meet locals and travelers alike, and I built quite the network of lasting friends through it.
How did you finance your trip abroad and how much did you earn while abroad?
I spent a year working after uni to save the $10, 000 I needed for my trip. Australia is an expensive country and you really can’t leave with less than that. Australian wages are quite high and I was earning anywhere from $19 to $29/hour once I started working; but the cost of living is also quite high, so you need a good deal of money saved before you leave. Expect to spend $250/week+ on rent in the big cities; Tasmania is cheaper, but I was still spending $100/week on rent alone.
How long did it take you to find a job and what job-search strategies did you use? Did you work in your field of interest?
It took me a month to find my first job and three months to find my second one (looking part-time while working at my first job). Tasmania is the Australian state with the worst economy, so there isn’t a lot of work, but finding a job isn’t impossible. Staying flexible is an important part of the process. I’d been doing office work back in Canada, but I ended up with a retail job for my first six months abroad. My second job was in a backpackers’ hostel, which was much more closely related to my field of interest, although still not relevant to my career goals. That said, the point of a working holiday isn’t exclusively to progress your career or earn lots of money: it’s also to discover a new culture, see a new place and make friends. Any job that supports those goals is a good job.
What is your number one tip for anyone hoping to follow in your footsteps?
If you're going to be working retail in Australia, you'd better know what “eftpos” means – and chances are you'll end up having to put an item on lay-by. The main differences I noticed working (both retail and at a hostel) in Australia were in the vocabulary: “eftpos” is a debit or credit card, to “lay-by” an item in a store is to have it put aside for you while you make regular (usually fortnightly/biweekly payments) towards it; if somebody asks you to find a “powerpoint,” don't bring them a computer: they want an electrical outlet! The list goes on and on! If you're ever asked "cheque, savings, or credit" when making an eftpos purchase, the salesperson wants to know which account to put it on: this is because most Australian bank cards function as both a debit and credit card. If you're working retail/hospitality, this would be a good catch-phrase to learn (note that they say "cheque" and not "chequing"). Also, if you're going to be hostelling, chances are you'll be asked if you want to hire a “doona” at some stage. "Doona" is Australian slang for duvet/blanket and, given that many hostels are not properly heated in the winter, you may well want one! I found, working in a hostel, that many of the employees use Australian terms without even realizing it. If you don't understand something, just ask! They'll probably appreciate it if you teach them the "American" term, since a lot of backpackers struggle with English, let alone Australian English.
Another "number one" tip? Keep an open mind and say yes to everything! And be warned that not all of Australia is hot year-round. Tasmania gets below zero and Victoria also gets pretty chilly. Australian houses aren’t insulated or heated, so you’ll need some winter woollies if you’re planning to head to either of those states. And one last thing: never go hiking in flip-flops, even if it's a ten minute track! I did this twice: the first time I almost stepped on a snake (I literally didn't see it until I felt movement beside my foot and looked down) and the second I got two leeches. Proper shoes or boots are a must for bushwalking! If you're going into the Tassie bush, wear gaiters and/or carry some salt: leeches are everywhere and pretty much impossible to avoid during the wetter seasons!
What did you miss most about home?
Insulation and central heating! Besides that I didn’t miss much. I had a fantastic year.
What are your future plans for going abroad and for your career?
I’m now teaching ESL in Québec and hope to go overseas to do so once I’ve built a bit of experience. I’m also considering a working holiday in Northern Ireland or New Zealand. The possibilities are endless!
It’s clear that Heather has caught the travel bug, and she is planning her next career steps based on potential international experiences. We commend Heather for prioritizing her interculutral learning, and for overcoming the financial challenges associated with planning and carrying out international adventures.
No matter what career Heather ultimately wants to pursue, we’d recommend that she venture to a country where the cross-cultural contrast is somewhat starker. While it’s certainly possible to have enriching cross-cultural experiences in Westernized, English-speaking nations, heading somewhere with more significant cultural differences can often be even more personally and professionally enriching. Doing so will also allow her to build language skills and learn about workplace culture in a markedly different environment. The more significant the cultural contrast between your home nation and your host nation, the more international learning and adaptation you will be able to do.
Heather has already spent time in Mexico (see her other story here), so we’d suggest heading to a different region of the world to further round out her cultural experience. Heather is currently teaching ESL and building experience that she can easily use to land a job in Asia, Africa or Eastern Europe, if she chooses. See the links below to explore more about the exciting prospects of adapting and striving in a foreign culture. (Note: You must log in to MyWorldAbroad to access the links below.)
- Why You Need International Skills is an important article for anyone in the early stages of their career. It discusses how cross-cultural experience can be the key to success. Be sure to take a look!
- Top Tips: Teaching Abroad As a Licensed Teacher is a must-read section for those who want to teach abroad as professionals (which is something slightly different from simply teaching English abroad for a year or two). Most of these teachers work for international schools in major cities (and in some cases remote sites) around the world.
- Teaching English Abroad: The General Market is also an important section, focusing primarily on ESL teaching abroad.