I just got the idea for this post after exchanging messages with a good friend of mine who is currently studying in France at the prestigious Sciences Po in Paris. He is about to graduate and is looking into the job market.
It occurred to me that this is something all study abroad students face and can be a challenging time. Actually, most students return to their home countries but a few have had so much fun and so many incredible experiences that they do not want to leave. (I don’t blame them)
The reason it can be challenging is from the moment you graduate, you are on your own and in “the real world,” where you will have to deal with visas, skill sets and a lot of competition from local candidates. The good news is jobs can be found but it really takes a lot of persistence and drive.
In this post I will not get into all the technicalities of the job search and differences between varying markets but what I will do is relate to you my experience in a brief summary.
1. Study Abroad
– I studied in Spain, France and Mexico and returned to the USA for graduation. I really wanted to get back to Europe at that time but it seemed very difficult for a recent graduate to find a job overseas since support from a foreign company would be needed in terms of a visa. The easiest way by far is to go as an English teacher but in Europe they get their English teachers from England which does not require visa support. Therefore, for Americans this can be a challenge.
If you really want to find a job in Europe, one has to make connections and build a social network while in country. Then I suggest they do not leave or return to that country on a tourist visa and really hit the streets. It is simply too hard to find a job for a recent graduate on the internet and not being able to do interviews in person. One has to roll the dice, get to the country and really go visit the businesses face to face.
– For me, the easiest way was to take a job as an English teacher in Asia since they are in need of this profession, jobs are plenty and only require a college degree (in any subject). I chose Japan and found local recruiters who set me up in Japan with a job.
I stayed with the company (Nova) for one year, learned the ropes and then taught on my own. I had thought I could learn the language easily as I had already learned Spanish and French. It turned out that I was way to overconfident and couldn’t do it on my own. So I enrolled in a Japanese language program at Waseda University and was speaking Japanese after a period of two years.
Yet, simply speaking Japanese doesn’t make finding a job any easier. My Japanese level is decent (for a fifth grader) and to get better I would have to remain in that country for at least 5 more years. Also, Japan is very homogeneous and does not have that many interactions with foreigners. Therefore, their need for foreigners is very limited.
At this point I thought it would be beneficial to find a job in business (any job) so as not to be pigeon-holed in the future as someone with only English teaching experience. Japan seemed very difficult to find this type of job so I shot over to Vietnam as it is currently booming and has much more interactions with foreigners.
– I didn’t move to Vietnam blindly. Many have, but I was not that adventurous. Instead, I took a vacation there with a buddy from school and his extreme outgoing nature had made us friends in no time. The person he made friends with came to Japan and we showed him around. He invited me to come stay with him in Vietnam and stay at his place while I looked for a job.
So, I took him up on this offer and networked my butt off. I went to the American Chamber of Commerce (and others) events and met a guy who knew a guy who was looking for a foreigner. That is how I found my job in Vietnam.
4. Return to America
– This was a wonderful job and I enjoyed it immensely. I worked at “The Saigon Town and Country Club” and it was my duty to sign up foreigners for the club. This was the best club in Vietnam and the members were the “elites” of the foreign world (CEOs, Executives, Ambassadors, etc). Yet, it was entry level and if I ever wanted to make a serious paycheck I would have to move.
Now in Saigon there are two types of expatriates. Those that have done it on their own, work for smaller companies and thus have a smaller paycheck. Then there are those that were transferred there by a major international company. These folks make huge cash and Vietnam being relatively cheap, they are very well off. The benefit to doing it yourself is you have much more freedom to be where you want to be. If you work for a major international then they can transfer you wherever they would like.
If one really really wants to work abroad then in Asia (especially Southeast Asia) they can just go there and have a decent chance at landing a low paying job. But if they want cash, then it is best to return to their home country, climb that ladder and hope for a chance to be transferred abroad. (this takes time and a lot of faith)
I chose to return to America and my goal was to work for a foreign company in the hopes of being transferred back to Asia thus “having my cake and eating it too.” I was very fortunate to land a job with (an international company) and absolutely adored that position. However, the timing was unfortunate as many companies are struggling and I saw no real way to “climb the ladder” and land a bigger paycheck. So with a very heavy heart I left that company. (but would gladly return if they ever get back on their feet!)
I then took a job with an industrial supplies company that does have a very small presence internationally. But now, I really have to put the work in, succeed and hope the company expands further internationally. Furthermore, when one returns to their home country they can get stuck. I say stuck because once you start climbing the ladder it is very hard to find another job abroad that is equal. And, time keeps moving so we are getting older and maybe have to buy a house and start a family. If we just decide to up and move back to a foreign country it is a serious roll of the dice and we have to start from ground zero professionally.
So my advice to those that want to stay abroad is to simply stay in country and be persistant! I know many who have done this and it can be done. If you choose an easier route professionally and come back to your home country then you may be here for a while and simply have to wait for the opportunity to return which could turn out to be long.
Yet, even in this scenario keep a positive attitude, doing your work and keep networking with the folks that are in charge of the international department. Anything can be done but it is the mental attitude that is important and with enough persistence and drive the world is yours for the taking.