When I decided to move to Lebanon, I took the millennial approach and Googled every possible piece of advice on the internet about how to find a job abroad. Most of the articles I found gave blanket advice that could be applied to any situation like “Use Social Media to Connect with New People You Don’t Know” or “Make a Video Resume to Get Hired Abroad” or my, personal favorite “Make Sure Your Passport is Valid.” While these articles meant well, they obviously weren’t giving me the lay of the land I needed. Outside of a handful of helpful sites and articles – Nomadic Matt’s website, The US State Department’s website for working abroad and Matador Network - there is not a lot of concrete information available on the internet.
Now that I’ve made it to Beirut and have pieced together gainful employment, I’ve decided to share the wealth and interviewed four millenials who worked or are working abroad in one capacity or another – teaching English, working for NGOs in developing countries or pursuing business opportunities in emerging markets. A follow-up to my first article on “How To Prepare for a Move Overseas”, here are seven simple steps to finding a job abroad.
1. Don’t Stress
If you are interested in living abroad, commit fully to the idea. Don’t worry about opportunities you might be missing at home. Everyone I spoke to who moved abroad after college said that they would do it again in a heartbeat. Even if they did not find their ideal career, they valued the experiences they acquired and insight they gained.
“Eating Korean food every day sounded pretty great,” said Alex Prokop, a greater New York City native who, when he realized he had never lived more 25 miles from where he was born, decided to teach English in South Korea for a year and a half. “I had some success with teaching in the past, so I decided to give it a try.”
From his work teaching English to Korean middle-schoolers, he landed a job writing ESL textbooks for an elementary school in South Korea. He then spent the next 7 months traveling around Asia until he decided to move back to the States to see how “technology impacts educational outcomes.” Now, he is in San Francisco studying web design and engineering, while working on various side projects.
2. Spread the Word
Do your research, both online and ‘in real life.’ When you decide on a place, tell friends, family, co-workers, neighbors – everyone in your network. Chances are they will know someone who knows someone. Take that person out to coffee and find out the nitty-gritty, go beyond the guidebooks. Ask for names of people who are still living in the region who might be accessible when you arrive, using email to connect with them.
When I began building my Lebanese network, I only had one friend who was Lebanese and she was leaving the country shortly after I arrived. By the time I left New York, I had networked my way to a group of twenty people who had either lived in Lebanon, spent significant time there or had close relatives/friends in Lebanon. From those twenty people, a handful gave me important, pertinent advice. You will be surprised by the information you can get from the people you already know.
3. Build Language Skills
Interested in moving to Rio De Janeiro? Start taking Portuguese. Not only will you be building a marketable skill that will give you an advantage when applying for jobs, but you will be meeting other people with a similar interest. They might have family in Brazil or once lived there themselves and can give you insight into what to expect.
If you are interested working for an NGO in the developing world, language proficiency also has the added benefit of helping dictate where you might land. It can also give you a competitive edge.
“If you speak French for example, usually you will spend a lot of time in West Africa,” says Martha Reggiori Wilkes, a British millennial who currently works for an international aid organization in Lebanon. Prior to working in Lebanon, she worked in South Sudan which led her to decide to study Arabic and move to Lebanon.
“Now that I am speaking Arabic, I will find it easier to get jobs in the Middle East because I’ve got that skill,” says Reggiori Wilkes.
Language skills are even more important if you are interested in a business-related field as you will have to conduct meetings in a foreign language.
Jonathan Fein, a Canadian who has worked in investment banking and private equity in Singapore and China, recalls a meeting in Shanghai when he had to meet with a CEO of a company that made a specialized tool for the oil and gas industry. The 25 year old studied Chinese for years but noted “even in advanced Chinese classes, they don’t teach you how to say things like ‘polystyrene’.”
If you are interested in working in emerging markets, Fein emphasizes the importance of studying language while at university. Then when you are living in the region, you can take the opportunity to learn specialized or local vocabulary and move your language skills to the next level.
“Most of what you learn in the other courses – Intro to Logic, Managerial Accounting, Marketing – will soon be forgotten, but language is an asset that you will use again and again,” says Fein.
4. The Immersion Experience
Provided that you have the financial resources, taking a few months to study a language intensively can help you land a better job down the line.
Richard Kent, a British millennial who spent 16 months working and living in South America, speedily picked up Spanish due to a homestay with a family in Peru and then traveling alone in the Peruvian Amazon. He advises avoiding big cities and “go off to some rural areas, find somewhere you can volunteer, stay for awhile.”
Although he thinks homestays can be a good immersion experience, it is always a gamble that you will get along with the family. Make sure you research the homestay program and if possible, the potential family.
Depending on your financial resources, where you are in your career path and where you want to go, it might make sense to just pick up and try to find a job when you arrive. It is more daring, but some people have found it easier to find jobs once they are physically in the country.
“It was word of mouth, how I found my first job,” says Kent. Although he “reeled off emails to every language institute in Bogotá before arriving, all three companies I ended up working for were all word of mouth from friends [in Colombia].”
This strategy can be used for aid work as well.
“I do think it is a good idea to just go to a developing country and just try to find work,” says Reggiori Wilkes. “Someone is always more likely to recruit you if you are available in the country willing to work than if you are in the head office in London.”
That being said, Reggiori Wilkes emphasizes that while this strategy might work for some developing countries, others might be too dangerous.
“There are certain countries that you should never go to if you are not under the protection of an organization because you don’t know what is going on in that country,” she says, listing South Sudan, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, parts of Pakistan and Niger as “countries that are too dangerous for most people to just go to without a safety net.”
For those interested in aid work in the developing world, she recommends that good places to move and look for work would be Lebanon, parts of Sri Lanka and Kenya.
6. Pick a Company
Interested in a business hub like London, Shanghai or Singapore? It might be easier to try to get transferred there through your work. If you are a recent college graduate and want to work in a field like marketing, advertising or finance, look for employment opportunities with international companies that have programs that send employees to other countries. Companies likeDeloitte, Edelman and UBS all have exchange programs that send employees to their international offices. However, the opportunity to move abroad usually takes a few years to work up to, so be prepared to be patient.
7. Reap the Rewards
The actual experience of living abroad is invaluable in terms of self-reliance, exposure to different cultures and general ‘lifehacking’. Jonathan Fein credits his time in Asia, particularly in Indonesia and China, as the reason why he was able to found his former-startup, Rickshaw.
“I was working with employees or partners in China, Malaysia, India, Australia, New Zealand, the US, Canada, Finland and elsewhere,” says Fein. “For me, this is already natural, but for others, it may be a bit much.”
While these career trajectories might not be considered normal, in the end all of the interviewees found something more fulfilling than an uninteresting desk job. It might not seem easy right now but after a few more Google searches, a language class or two under your belt and some good old fashioned networking, you too could be sipping Mai Tais in Singapore after a day at the office.
Interested in this topic? Stay tuned for a biweekly series titled “Millenial Thursday’s” on twentysomethings who are succeeding on their own terms by pursuing the career paths that interest them, whether it be a job in a different country or community activism in their own neighborhood. Next up: a British aid worker whose first job in the field landed her in South Sudan.
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