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Before Accepting Seasonal Jobs Abroad

A Guide to Ensuring a Good Experience

As I looked from room to dirty room, my heart sank. I had been told to choose from one of them. Having traveled for hours and finally made it from England to the top of the mountain in Switzerland at a huge expense, the welcome at my "new job" was less than expected. I eventually chose the room that seemed to have the most light, carefully picked the mouse droppings off of the dusty mattress, and sat down to contemplate the next five months of my life.

It is often assumed that temporary work in the far-flung corners of the world is strictly for those on their “gap year”—be it between school and university or taking time out from work. However, there are also those who become addicted early on and then find it a struggle to return to what is commonly referred to as “normal life.” Whichever category you fit, seasonal work can be a fast-paced, interesting and all-round wonderful experience.

However, among all of the great seasonal jobs is the occasional dud. Off you go, having paid for your flight, insurance and new equipment ready for the next adventure, only to discover that, miles from anywhere, the exciting and lucrative job you were sold by an employer through emails and websites is not quite as wonderful as you expected. This can lead to depression, anger, disappointment and worst of all, a huge hole in your pocket. There are, however, a few simple rules you can follow to ensure a happy summer/winter season with as few work-related stresses as possible.

Most seasonal work these days is found over the Internet. Many websites advertise seasonal work anywhere from a little village in Cornwall to a huge city in Korea. Employers want to make their jobs as attractive to you as possible, so there is much misleading information. The difference with seasonal work (unless you want to work on oil rigs or fishing in Alaska) is that they tend to pay less in the belief that the “experience” is worth more than money. This is often true. But before accepting any position and especially before signing any contracts, it is important to get all of the facts.

Once the employer has shown interest, send a list of questions about the job. The main things you should know are salary (gross and net) and when and how that salary is to be paid. I once arrived at a place of work only to be told after the first month of work that I would be paid everything at the end of the season with a check (which if in a currency different to your own can often takes weeks to clear). This is common practice in various parts of Europe. Another important question you should ask is regarding the type of accommodation (if provided) and whether it is single or shared, whether it has independent cooking facilities (and if not, what are your options), how many people and who you are sharing your space with and what is the level of security where you will be living. Seasonal accommodation ranges from simple tents to luxury rooms in chalets. Once you are aware of your accommodation for the season, you can then decide whether it’s safe enough to take your laptop/digital camera/saxophone!

You should also consider asking whether you will be provided with insurance, uniform, transfers to the place of work and any discounts in the area.

Don't feel shy about asking all of these questions. If the employer has nothing to hide, he shouldn't mind answering them. If an employer is evasive or skips some of your questions, think twice about going to work for them.

Before going ahead and booking your flight, put the name of the establishment you are thinking of working at into a search engine, and look for independent reviews. Skip their home page entirely—as you will probably have already have looked at this ten times over—and read anything else that has been written about it independently. Another important sign that should make you carefully consider your destination is if you see the same job being advertised frequently. This might indicate a high turnover, which often means unhappy staff.

When the employer has provided you with the answers you wanted to hear you can start packing your bags. On arrival at your destination, your first impressions will tell you a lot about your place of employment. The first few days can always seem daunting but it is important to give all places a chance (unless there is some obvious reason not to). You will usually be asked to sign a contract. Be sure to read this thoroughly to make sure it doesn't contradict any of the information you were initially given. After a few weeks, you will be able to assess your situation and decide whether you are likely to stay the season. More often than not you will stay the season and have a wonderful time. However, if you find yourself working 20 hours a week more than you were contracted to do, or you realize you haven't received a day off in weeks, it is time to talk seriously to your co-workers and then to your employer. This is when all of your probing emails will come in handy. You will have written confirmation regarding all of these issues. You should also have handy a copy of your contract to refer to.

It is very important that you address any issues that you feel are unfair or break the terms in your contract. Many people mistakenly continue working in places where they have felt they have been mistreated. Often you can find work with other organizations or companies in the surrounding area who can offer you better terms and conditions.

But don't be put off by this information! Seasonal work is fun, rewarding, challenging and exciting and if you follow some simple guidelines everything should go smoothly. The majority of employers will be keen to make you as happy as possible in order for you to stay with them and motivate you to return in the future.

For More Information

www.seasonworker.com: A great website for seasonal workers which usually advertises larger companies.

www.anyworkanywhere.com: A website which advertises both paid and volunteer work all over the world. The majority of the jobs offered are seasonal, contract and/or temporary, much of which are in the U.K. The type of work offered ranges from harvesting Christmas trees in Devon to piloting a barge in France .

www.voovs.com: A website offering seasonal work, voovs primarily advertises jobs for the ski season working for larger companies.

www.adventurejobs.co.uk: This website advertises a greater variety of jobs, both permanent and temporary. It covers many different types of jobs, such as teaching, children's entertainment, and activity instructing.

www.natives.co.uk: Natives tends to concentrate on ski season positions in Europe but occasionally offers other positions.


Caroline Nye

Editor's note: This article is part of the series Caroline Nye has written based upon her experiences working abroad in an eclectic and adventurous mix of short-term jobs.
See below for other articles on her personal Odyssey.
Waking Up at Work Abroad
Live-In Hotel Job Abroad: Working at a Ski Resort in the Alps
Entertainment Jobs Abroad
Campsite Work Abroad
Working in an Eco-Lodge in Costa Rica
Volunteer Work on Organic Farms
Working as a Caregiver in the U.K.
The Importance of Travel Insurance Abroad
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