Monday, September 17, 2007

Working Outside the U.S.

As images from foreign lands fill our television screens, many of us may be thinking we are grateful to be on the home turf of the U.S.A.. At the same time, there are those of us who see those pictures and long to experience foreign lands and culture, to try and understand other parts of the world.

But since it’s not always easy just to take off and travel the world, one option is to find a job abroad so that we can visit foreign lands, while getting a paycheck.

If you’re considering working overseas, there are some practical matters to consider such as work permits and visas, as well as some soul-searching to do, such as what you hope to gain from the experience. Many of those who have worked in other countries describe it as one of the greatest adventures of their lives, while others ran into enough danger to be glad to remain forever after on American soil.

Here are some things to consider if you’re looking for a job abroad:
Evaluate the risks. The U.S. State Department posts information on where it is safe to travel for Americans, and the danger zones. Still, no place — not even the U.S. — in 100 percent safe. You need to consider the level of risk you are willing to take, and for how long.
Plot your career path. Companies and jobs often don’t operate the same overseas as in the U.S., even if you are working with an American company. Local cultures and customs often dictate how business is done, as well as the input from local workers who may be employed by an American business overseas. Will you be given the right kind of responsibility? Will your skills be given a chance to grow? Are there opportunities overseas that you might not be able to experience in the U.S.?
Know the law. It’s not enough to decide you want to go overseas — you must acquaint yourself with the permission needed to gain a job in another country. Work visas are normally only offered through the company offering you the job, and the company must prove that the position cannot be filled by a local.
Decide on the type of work. You may decide to gain work experience through volunteering (if you can afford to go without a paycheck), or by teaching English as a foreign language in another country, typically a one- or two-year gig (check out the Peace Corps, and Fulbright Scholarships). Another option is an international internship for academic credit, but again, you probably won’t get paid. Still another idea is a short-term job, usually about six months, with employers such as restaurants or farms, or taking care of children.
Use foreign language skills. Even if you’ve only got one or two years under your belt, that high school or college French may come in handy when considering a job. It’s also a chance to become truly fluent in a language, which may help your career later.
Recharge your batteries. Believe it or not, helping a small village put in a well can give you more personal fulfillment than making a million dollar deal. If you’re finding yourself burned out with your life and your career, working abroad can be life-changing event that helps put your life back on track, while helping you gain skills by working with people of diverse backgrounds.
Watch the deadlines. It’s not going to be possible to decide you want to work abroad and then leave two weeks later. There are applications and deadlines that must be followed, so it’s best to make your decision and then begin the process. It may take a year to get where you want to go, and remember to apply early to increase your chances of acceptance.

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