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Monday, April 25, 2016

So You Want To Work Abroad: Lifestyle

Working somewhere is a reality for most of us, and I don't think too many people get through their careers without having had a job at some point that wasn't their "dream" job.  But just because most of us need to make money doesn't mean that what you want out of life doesn't matter, or that you should stay at a less than ideal job for longer than necessary.  Jobs outside your home country needn't necessarily be any better or worse than jobs inside your home country from that standpoint, but being outside your comfort zone and away from your usual support network may make the experience more challenging.  Based on my own experience, here are some points that may be worth considering:

1.  Working abroad is probably easier if you really want to do it.  Scott and I did a lot of travel when we were younger, and I think some people assumed that our move to Kazakhstan for work was an encore to meeting in Egypt, spending time together in Syria, and moving to Jerusalem for a year shortly after getting married.  The truth is that while we were not opposed to working abroad, we also weren't chomping at the bit to do it.  The other truth is that we did not specifically seek out going to Kazakhstan; we went for the job opportunities, not the country per se.  I'm glad that we went, but I also think some of the more challenging moments would have been easier if I had honestly been able to tell myself that I had always wanted to go there.

2.  Find out as much as you can about where you will really be living.  When we accepted our Kazakhstan job offers, we were living in a small town in the US.  I was eager to live in a city again, even one where I didn't speak either of the official languages.  Once I arrived, I found out that I would actually be living several miles outside downtown Astana, on the university compound, a living situation that lacked most of the amenities of city life and included quite a few aggravations of small town life.

3.  Also, remember that free housing has drawbacks, as well as benefits.  The obvious benefit, of course, is that you can save a lot more money if you're not paying rent.  The drawback is that in turn, you will have no bargaining power at all because you can't threaten to move out and go someplace else.  Also, you can't decide you want a larger place, a different location, etc., and actually make it happen.  I don't want to rehash our housing issues here and now, but suffice to say that if I had some of the problems we had there in any apartment in the US, I would have moved out.

4.  Think realistically about the language situation.  Is a language you speak widely spoken where you are going?  Great!  If not, is the official language something you would like to learn?  If someone gave you the money and time to learn a foreign language, would that one be the one you would choose?  Would it land anywhere in your top five languages to learn?  Does your employer provide language training?  Scott and I started taking Russian classes, but didn't continue.  I think it's safe to say that Russian was not among our top five languages to learn, and it was taking up a lot of time, a precious commodity that we thought would be better spent on other endeavors. I have mixed feelings about stopping Russian classes now.  It would be cool if I had learned more Russian while I was over there, and our lives might have been easier while we were there. But everything has trade-offs.  I would have actually loved to have learned some Kazakh, but there were no obvious opportunities to do so.

5.  If you are going with a significant other or your family, talk beforehand about what action you will take if circumstances at your overseas job are not what you had envisioned.  It's not a happy topic, but it could happen.  Are there circumstances that you, your significant other, or other family members would find untenable?  Are you comfortable terminating your job contract early?  Are you comfortable with one person returning to their home country while the other person stays?  Is there a maximum length of time you want to spend there, even if you don't have a job offer elsewhere?

6.  Investigate education options for your kids.  Not having kids, I can't speak in detail on this one, but just be aware that there will likely be trade-offs in terms of education. A major benefit--which for some families may outweigh any potential drawbacks--is the opportunity for the kid(s) to become very fluent in the local language.  But their education will likely be different in other ways.  They may learn very different attitudes about gender roles or events in world history, for instance.  Some educational systems value "outside the box" thinking even at the expense of accuracy.  Others place a premium on memorizing facts.  It is worth thinking about what you would like to see in your children's education, and think about what course of action you could take if you turn out to be dissatisfied with the education they receive overseas.

I'll write some tips on dealing with worldly possessions and moving sometime soon...until then, wishing everyone jobs in their dream country with comfortable free housing!

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