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Heading in a New Direction

Why More Graduates Live and Work Abroad

By Alexa Hackbarth

Satisfying the wanderlust that takes hold during your college career may be the most obvious attraction of working overseas, but it is by no means the only one. As an English teacher in the rice paddies of northern Japan, I was more than just another foreign tourist; I was part of the community. During late-night talks over green tea with my closest friends, a Zen Buddhist priest and his wife, I learned about the Japanese and their country. I was included in the daily rituals because I was a resident, a teacher, and a friend and was able to take part in tea ceremonies dressed in kimono and practice every week with the local drum group that performed at festivals.

Understanding the Japanese state of mind and way of life benefits my career as well as my views of the world. Even if your first job in a foreign country gives you no real responsibility, the international experience carries much more weight on your resume than a similar job at home. Many overseas jobs, however, give you exceptional skills and fantastic experiences. In Belize for example, I learned first hand about effective tropical conservation methods. While studying in England I met a group of rugby players who taught swimming and snorkeling lessons to at-risk kids. Our mutual interest in scuba diving led to Oban, Scotland, where the six of us explored shipwrecks.

Financial Rewards

Another advantage of living overseas is how much easier and cheaper it is to travel to other countries. For example, flying to Bangkok from Seattle costs $700 and takes at least 18 hours, while flying from Tokyo costs under $400 and takes only seven hours. The monetary rewards abroad are typically much better for a graduate entering the workforce overseas than in the States. Many positions overseas pay well while also offering inexpensive rent and other incentives. It is not unusual to meet someone who has saved enough by working overseas to pay off student loans, invest in real estate or the stock market, or do a lot more traveling. Finally, learning a language from the people who speak it means that progress in comprehension and speaking ability occurs at a much faster rate than without complete immersion.

Get Started Now

The earlier you begin planning for your post-graduation job, the better off you will be. Keep an eye out for internships, study abroad programs, foreign contacts, and extracurricular activities. If you get a chance to travel overseas, make contacts and get numbers as you travel. Knowing someone who works where you'd like a job can be a great advantage. Keep on top of the regulations regarding visas, length of stay, and work restrictions, as well as the markets and current trends of the countries you are considering; do everything you can to increase your knowledge of the country's language, history, and current events. Your institution's study abroad and career services offices have information on international jobs and internships as well as study abroad programs, so that should be the first place to look. Don't forget that other universities' web sites may offer more information than your own, especially if the offices at your school are small. The Univ. of Michigan, for example, has an International Center with an Overseas Opportunities office full of great resources. You don't need to be a student to visit, which offers you "Advice on Finding Work Abroad," a "Pre-Departure Checklist," interview tips, job opportunities, and much much more. There is a plethora of information on the Internet, but be discerning when researching on the Web; realize that it is possible to post anything on the net and that oftentimes sites are not edited or fact-checked as closely as for print publication. Many organizations offer information and programs to individuals looking to work overseas, and most of them have web sites. Again, do your research in order to avoid any disappointments that could have been prevented with a few questions or a bit of fact-gathering. The CIA World Factbook is a great place to begin learning about a country. But don't neglect the libraries, and the people who have lived, worked, or grown up in another country.

The Big Picture

Eight months after my arrival in Japan, my parents flew out for a visit. It was while I was introducing them to friends and co-workers, bringing them to school for a bit of foreigner show-and-tell and ineptly translating conversations, that I realized how much I'd learned during my stay: taking off my shoes at the right place and time, using chopsticks, obeying the honorific dictates of social occasions, going to the public bath-all these things had become almost unconscious. I had experienced a complete immersion in something completely different from what I had known and it had become a part of me.

Although no statistics have been gathered on the number of graduates who head overseas for their first job, study abroad program numbers are increasing across the country, and programs such as the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET) are receiving applicants in record numbers. More and more people are realizing that a job overseas is an introduction to new ways of looking at the world as well as gaining knowledge about that world. You could be one of them.

Sites to Get You Started, A site with career-oriented job searches, company information, summer and resort jobs, and internships.

The Gapyear Company Ltd., A U.K. site full of jobs, ideas and country information.

Transitions Abroad. A site filled with work abroad resources, programs, and recent publications.

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