I spent my junior year in college studying in Grenoble, France. I fell completely in love with the French culture, and when I graduated a year later, I longed to return but I wasn’t sure how to obtain a work visa. I finally found a paid internship teaching English in Lyon, but it wasn’t until I was living again in France that I began to realize how many opportunities exist to go abroad.
I met people all over the world in France who had similar experiences to my own, or who had worked on organic farms in New Zealand or volunteered in South Africa. I was fascinated with the many ways that exist to travel and work abroad.
Maybe you’re just beginning to think about living overseas for awhile, or maybe you’ve been dreaming about it for a long time. In either case, there are thousands of resources on the internet that can help you find a program and a position that are perfect for you. It’s not as difficult as it might seem. All it takes is some research, some perseverance, and a lot of desire, but you can definitely turn that dream into your everyday reality. There are many choices to choose from, but here are some ideas to get your search started.
Teach English. It may sound unlikely if you’ve never taught before and you’re not licensed, but this is one of the best ways to make a living abroad – and you don’t always need to be certified to do it! Certified teachers will usually make more money, but in any case, you won’t get rich teaching (the most you can make is around $50,000). I made about 850 euros a month as an English Assistant in Lyon, France. This was enough for me to live on, but in Paris it would have been a problem. Most programs last from 6-12 months and there are a multitude of organizations to choose from.
The first thing to do is determine where you want to go. Do you enjoy wine? Why not teach in France like I did? Enjoy surfing? Try somewhere in the South Pacific. The opportunities are endless, which is why it’s important to narrow your search. Once you’ve decided where you want to go, it’s best to investigate various teaching programs and schools. Some programs do want their teachers to have ELT/TEFL/EFL certificate, and some offer special training.
When you’re researching a program or school it is absolutely essential that you be able to speak to alumni of the program. Be sure to ask if they were paid on time and how much they got paid. It’s also helpful to know if the program will help you find housing and if they provide a special orientation. How many hours a week are you required to work? How much vacation do you get? Is there a high turnover rate? If so, it’s probably an indicator that it’s not the best school or program.
Unfortunately, there are some bad schools out there, so make sure you do your research. This is a great way to work and travel around the world. Here are some helpful websites: www.soyouwanna.com; www.goabroad.com; www.cie.uci.edu; and www.transitionsabroad.com.
Be an Au Pair. If you’re over thirty, then unfortunately this isn’t the program for you. A typical Au Pair is 18-27 years old, and will be placed with a family for about 6-12 months. Au Pairs are generally required to watch children, do light housekeeping, and some cooking. Most are given a monthly stipend to spend (around $150-$350), work about 45 hours a week, and usually get one or two days off per week. France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain are the most popular au pair countries, but it’s also available in England, Canada, and the U.S.
It’s not the most glamorous of jobs, but it’s a fantastic opportunity to live with a family and learn about the culture. While it’s a great opportunity to learn the language better, most programs require that you speak enough of the host country language for basic communication with the family you’re placed with.
If you’ve decided to be an Au Pair, then the next step is to find a reputable agency. A good placement agency should explain clearly all of the Au Pair’s responsibilities, hours on duty, pocket money, and legal requirements. Most agencies require a placement fee, but they should provide you with round-trip airfare. Here are some helpful websites: www.interexchange.org; www.payaway.co.uk; www.careerframes.com; also contact specific country embassies for information.
Work on an Organic Farm. Do you long to travel off the beaten track, but find that your pockets are practically empty? You may never have imagined yourself working on an organic farm, but this is a great way to travel inexpensively and it’s an environmentally-conscious answer to seeing the world. Farms all over the world are looking for seasonal workers.
There are many different activities that you can choose to do, such as sowing, gardening, planting, weeding, harvesting, fencing, building, etc. There are tons of websites for you to use to choose a host. Once you’ve found the farm you’re interested in volunteering for, then you can negotiate an exchange with your host. It’s generally considered fair to work six hours a day, six days a week. Most farms offer free room and board, but some of the wealthier countries might offer a small stipend, but that’s rare. You’re responsible for getting a visa to travel abroad and paying your travel expenses. It’s also important to make sure that you have health, travel, and liability insurance before you go. It’s not always possible to go for the long-term if the country has strict visa regulations, but it is possible to travel all over the world while spending almost nothing.
Most organic farms are comprised of locals and volunteers, so you’ll live and work closely with them while learning about the host culture. Many farms are very open to children, but make sure to investigate how isolated the farm is; you’ll have to make sure to bring everything your child needs. Make sure you don’t show up at your host’s farm without first contacting them, and remember that many people do not speak English around the world, so it may be better to write some key lines in the host language instead of calling in English.
This is a fabulous way to experience life in the countryside, and help the organic movement all over the world. To learn more about working on an organic farm, check out these great websites: www.wwoof.org; www.organicvolunteers.com; and www.planorganic.com.
Be a Travel Writer. Yes, yes, it’s competitive, but not impossible. There are thousands of magazines, newspapers, and travel books looking for interesting travel pieces. Because it is so competitive, expect to start small; don’t expect National Geographic to come knocking on your door. Start with what you know: write about your hometown or your local region. Newspapers, regional and trade magazines are a great place to start because they are looking for your in-depth expertise on local destinations.
Once you’ve hit up the regional magazines and newspapers, try writing small blurbs in the front sections of national magazines. Editors are looking for smart savvy travel blurbs to publish in the front sections; and if that gets published then you’ll be able to pitch a longer story.
Remember that it’s important to follow the current trends of the travel world. What are the hot destination spots? What kind of writing are editors looking for? Travel editors tend to look for tight pieces that tell a unique story that will allow the reader to imitate the story. Buy current travel magazines and look online for possible places to publish. Here are some helpful websites: www.fabjobs.com; www.touristtravel.com; and www.adventuretravelwriter.com.
Volunteer. They may not pay you much of a salary, but this is a viable option for going abroad when you’re tight on cash. Programs last from one week to several months and the opportunities are endless. Why not work on an archaeological dig in Russia? Or help develop a small business in South America? Or maybe you’d like to support human rights efforts in Africa.
Volunteering allows you to gain a new perspective of the world. You’re in the unique situation of being able to help someone or some organization just by giving your time. Some organizations require that you pay for travel, room, and board; but don’t give up if you don’t have the money, there are ways to fundraise your expenses – and often the program you’re interested in will have pointers for you. But there are also organizations that will pay at least for your room and board in exchange for your time.
When you’re deciding where to go and what to do, make sure to think about what you want out of the experience. What part of the world do you want to see? Do you want to volunteer in a group or by yourself? Do you want a lot of staff support with the project, or do you prefer a more independent role? Make a list of specifics about what you want out of the program. How much are you willing to pay? What kind of work are you willing to do? How much time can you donate? Then get on the internet and start researching!
It’s always a good idea to speak of others who have volunteered before you so that you can get an idea of what the experience will be like. Also remember to always get a confirmation for the program in writing, that also explains insurance coverage, fees, and benefits (and refund policies in case you change your mind!).
Here are some great websites to use to begin your search: www.transitionsabroad.com, and www.volunteerinternational.org.
This is just the beginning of your options for going abroad. With a little ingenuity and a lot of determination, anything is possible. There are so many programs that are badly in need of volunteers, and English has become the undisputed international language, so teachers are always needed. Remember to take your time and determine where you want to go, and make sure to research the country so that you don’t end up there during monsoon season (unless you specifically want that). Look closely at the programs you’re interested in, and be sure to follow up by speaking with alumni who have preceded you. There are fabulous websites that provide a wealth of information on every opportunity, so just do your homework and then pack your bags. The years I spent in France were some of the best years of my life, so don’t procrastinate on living your dream anymore. There’s a world out there waiting to be discovered, and you’re just a few steps away from uncovering it!