3 paths to working abroad

How exactly does one go from vacationing to living and working abroad?

For some, the seeds of wanderlust were planted early – we had parents who love to travel or come from somewhere foreign, and we experienced different cultures as a child. Others, following college, took part in the obligatory backpacking trip  alla Rick Steves. Then, later, maybe as a single working professional, you saved every penny and vacation day for travel or took part in an extended language immersion or volunteer program. But it wasn’t enough. Each time you returned home, you were already planning the next trip…and for a longer period of time. There comes a point when a shift happens – being a tourist isn’t enough and you want the experience of living and working in another country.  It’s a dream many have and some realize. In this post I’ll highlight three different paths to finding work abroad – from London and Luxembourg, to Germany and Italy.

Jennifer taught at the American School of London. She found the position through a friend of hers already working there. “Living in London was a wonderful experience. I loved the culture, the museums, art, food, city life, being part of Europe. At the age of 26 it gave me a broader perspective on the world. I also loved working with international students and families. Everyone traveled on their breaks and shared their experiences in the classroom. I worked in London for five years and then my husband and I moved to Luxembourg to teach at the International School of Luxembourg. We really enjoyed living there among so many nationalities and languages such as German, French, English and Luxembourgish. There is also a large Scandinavian community and an Italian community there.”

For those interested in teaching abroad, she recommends researching web sites National Association of Independent Schools and International School Services (ISS offers international conferences for job seekers in February in Boston and San Francisco.)

Leslie and Maureen worked for the Gap Corporation as store managers in San Francisco. As Gap was entering the German market in the late ’90s, they both learned of an opportunity to work there, applied and were accepted for partner store manager positions in Stuttgart and Berlin. Leslie described the experience as “wonderful” and found the German people to be “warm and welcoming and made me feel comfortable in my new home.” Maureen said Berlin was “cosmopolitan, full of culture” and she will never forget experiencing the 10-year anniversary of the Berlin wall coming down and the influence of the changing east/west landscape. She also said the German work experience – which included a role in training and development –  advanced her career and helped prepare her for a new job in corporate communications for the international market when she returned home. They both agree that transferring with a company offers many advantages, including handling moving logistics which can save you money and allow you the time to focus on learning the language, the country and its culture. Their advice for someone looking to work abroad is to first look within the company you work for and inquire into any work abroad programs the it may sponsor.

me and my students

I moved abroad to Italy without promise of a job and found work once I arrived there, as an independent English teacher/tutor following efforts to continue my PR career full-time in Milan (see previous post Detour.) This is a riskier path without the safety net of a company transfer, and logistics, bureaucratic red tape and uncertainty were all mine.   Prior to leaving, I read several books including “Living and Working in Italy”  that were somewhat helpful other than Chapter 3’s  “Permits and Visas” . Contrary to Chapter 3’s well-meaning but naive advice (I have my doubts the author ever set foot in an Italian questura immigration office), the process for getting a work visa was not cut and dry or consistent. I didn’t arrive with a visa, nor did I have to return to the States to obtain it, as Chapter 3 suggests. By some back room deal , Italian-style flexibility, minor miracle I received my work permit and permission to stay, when I was hired by an English school catering to small businesses in the area and could supply a contract. Teaching English abroad may sound competitive, but in a city with few native English or Americans (ie; not Florence or Rome), I found there is an abundance of work – either with an English school or on your own. It also may help you with the Very Real Challenge of obtaining a work visa abroad, as employers must prove why you should fill the position instead of an EU citizen. And, surrounded by a demand for English –  the international language for business – you realize that by some random chance you were born in an English-speaking country and hold a highly sought-after skill that can allow you to work abroad.

If you want to teach abroad independently, keep in mind a few things.

  • You won’t get rich teaching english independently, and that is why many supplement their income by tutoring on their own (although some schools unfairly discourage it).
  • Some people pay to take courses to receive “teaching english as a foreign language” certifications. (I didn’t.) If you have a solid and related background (related education, previous teaching experience) and take initiative, you can research and self teach best practices and curriculum on how be creative and effective teacher. Not all schools required it when I worked abroad (although it may be changing).
  • Decide where you think you want to live and research English schools in the area. If you are in the country, meet with each school to learn of their needs, requirements and pay (or connect via email prior to leaving as an introduction). You can also check out the Transitions Abroad site.
  • Look for reputable schools with good reviews and a commitment for a teacher long-term – ask if they offer assistance in obtaining a work permit or visa.
  • Before you leave, visit a teaching supply store and load up! On each visit home, I re-stocked to bring fresh ideas and curriculum back to Italy.

Moving to another country to work requires you to balance adventure with responsibility and a realistic outlook. So, before you go, plan, save money (you’ll need it), research and read up on opportunities, and make connections. Read the”how to” guides to working abroad, but casually and with flexibility (And a sense of humor. ) And prepare to make that transition from dreaming to realizing the dream of working abroad. I have a feeling – much later on – you’ll look back and be glad you did.


4 responses to “3 paths to working abroad

  1. What a helpful post! I’ll pass it along to my best friend and put it up on Twitter, and will definitely look into National Association of Independent Schools and International School Services for future opportunities.

    You’re right – as English teachers abroad we don’t make very much, but I’ve been lucky enough to live in small towns where the demand is high. Even now, I work in the city but live in the outskirts where I am able to supplement my income on the weekends, as there are several locals who need to know English for their tourist jobs in the city and in the ski resorts in the mountains.

    Thanks for the helpful info and tips!

    • my friend Jennifer has a lot of great info on teaching at american schools in europe. If you or your friend have any further qs, let me know. Hope your move/new jobs are going well. thnx for putting up on twitter!
      (doing english conversation with people is fun, isnt it? the interesting things you get to talk about….!)

  2. Pingback: The 7 links project | bringing travel home

  3. Pingback: Living in Italy | | This Is My HappinessThis Is My Happiness

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