When and where did you work abroad? Did you go with an agency?
It was in Oxfordshire, England that I had my first experience working as a waitress and in the hotel industry. I found the job through one of my mother’s friends, whom I’d contacted on a whim. I looked into many different options when trying to find a job abroad: Web sites, agencies, personal contacts, etc. – but the one with the best result ended up being a contact I didn’t even know I had until I started asking around! Although job posting Web sites always looked promising, they of course get tons of submissions and it’s hard to separate yourself from the crowd; and job placement agencies always require you to pay something for their services. But personal contacts always made a special effort to get my resume in to the right person, sometimes even making a point of handing it directly to a manager.
What made you want to take a working vacation?
After high school I was quite antsy and as I’d already been bitten by the travel bug and I was ready to get out and do something other than study all day. So, I decided to take a year off before heading to university. What I really wanted to do was just travel, but I also knew that I had to save some money for my next year of university. After looking at my options I decided that the best choice was to get a job abroad. Then I’d make a point of traveling while I was abroad. My decision ended up being a great one – not only did I get a taste of the many places I visited, but I got to understand what day-to-day life was like in England.
How did you conduct your search? How did you select your program/country and/or find employers abroad?
I knew I was interested in either going to England or France, so I focused my search on those two countries. I started out online with job posting sites. I sent quite a few resumes to many different organizations. But I had very little luck with that method. I also looked at job agencies and contacted one that could get me to France. But when they mentioned having to pay for their services, I decided that I would only go with them if I couldn’t make it on my own. My last resource was my best: personal contacts. I contacted as many people as I “knew” and told them what I was interested in doing. I say “knew” in quotation marks because I reached out to family friends I’d never met, as well as friends of friends and anyone in my social network. Eventually some of them got back to me with suggestions and I made sure to follow them up.
What made your experience abroad a success?
What made my experience a success was not arriving with too many expectations. By having an open mind, I kept myself open to every opportunity. When I first started my search I was looking for work that would provide me with accommodations so that I wouldn’t have to go through the process of renting a place when I got there. But the people who helped me get my job ended up offering me a room in their house. Taking them up on the offer was one of the best decisions I made. I became part of their family and am still close with them. I also took the opportunity to travel to places I hadn’t planned on going. For example, my British family took me to Stratford for my 19th birthday, I went to Ireland on a trip see my cousin, and I traveled around Western Europe after my official work term was done.
How did you finance your trip abroad and how much did you earn while abroad?
I financed my trip through working both at home and abroad. I ended up working in Canada for a bit while conducting my British job search. That money ended up covering my flight to England. The rest of my travels while in Europe were fully financed by the money I earned as a waitress in England. Although there were a lot of hard shifts that I had to pull, I found that as long as I stayed positive and always offered to take other people’s shifts, I made enough to cover all my trips. In the end most of the money that I made at home before leaving I was able to use for my next year of university! In the four months that I worked in England I was able to earn enough to cover seven weeks of backpacking (including a rail pass, dinners, accommodation and activities), plus the occasional trip around England while I was working.
What is your number one tip for anyone hoping to follow in your footsteps?
I have two tips: use your contacts and be open. Contacts were crucial in my job hunt and while traveling. In England I was able to explore parts of the University of Oxford’s campus because I contacted a friend of a friend who was a student there. Later, when I was traveling, my contacts abroad set me up with personal city tours, places to stay, and more. My second tip is to be open and flexible. Be willing to change your plans and meet new people. If you start talking to the people beside you in your hostel, chances are you will make friends for the day. In Glasgow I struck up a conversation with two fellow travelers and we ended up touring the city together. Furthermore, if you set aside a chunk of time to travel, then keep your plan flexible and open to change. Some of my favorite cities ended up being suggestions from hostel reception workers and other travelers. On the professional sire you should also keep your options open. In my case, I ended up not in London or even Oxford, where I had applied to quite a few jobs, but in a small rural town with great biking and a real sense of British life.
What did you miss most about home?
The things I missed while away were the normal everyday things that were happening at home. Most of the time I was too immersed in my life in England to miss anything though, and there were only a few cultural differences. However, I did end up missing a family reunion and lots of little events. I guess I came to the point where I had to balance out whether the experiences I was having made up for those I was missing at home. You never quite get past the odd feeling of life happening without you at home, but you are busy building your own memories that outweigh the losses.
What are your future plans for going abroad and for your career?
I hope to be able to make it back to England soon to visit the family I stayed with, and hopefully make it down the road to where I worked. Since I also did a few smaller trips alone, I realized that solo traveling can be fun, and hope to see a bit more of the world this way. I’m still not sure what I want to do career-wise when I finish my studies. But my experience in England has opened the door to other working vacations in the hospitality industry. For example, since my time in England, I have worked in a hotel in the Yukon, Canada. There I had the opportunity to not only waitress but also manage a restaurant. I know that without the experience I had in England, I would not have had the opportunity to live in Northern Canada and see such a different aspect of my own country.
Janna has provided us with a very good synopsis of her job search success and her entrepreneurial approach to finding a working vacation placement abroad. She certainly has the street smarts to navigate the international job search process and I encourage her to aim high with her next experience abroad. Janna should consider spending time in new countries, especially those where the cultural divide is greater than that between North America and Britain (or even western Europe). I would encourage Janna to consider looking for a year-long study abroad program in, for example, Latin America or Asia. From there, she could progress to undertaking an international internship and/or applying for an international research grant. Given Janna’s perceptiveness and can-do attitude, she would likely benefit greatly from additional international exposure. She will undoubtedly continue to build her cross-cultural insight and develop a deeper understanding of distant cultures – both of which will provide strong footing for a future international career. The following article should provide Janna and those like her with some food for thought in terms of recognizing and building cross-cultural skills. (Note: you must log in to MyWorldAbroad to access the links below.)
- Skills for Succeeding Abroad explores and outlines the specific traits you will need to develop in order to succeed abroad.
- Living Overseas is a section containing seven articles about the various joys and challenges of living abroad.
- Women Living & Working Overseas is a section that explores the particular hurdles facing women living and working abroad. This is especially important since evidence seems to suggest that over 70% of the US and Canadian students going abroad are women.