Following Sally Holmwood's guest post about the great things that can come out of going on an international exchange, I started thinking about why such great opportunities should only be available to young people.
Personally, I took the decision of moving to a different country 10 years ago, and haven't really regretted it. There are some things that you miss out on, being an expat. The jokes people make around here were different at first, and I still don't know most of the childhood memories and other cultural things they refer to. But at the same time, learning English and moving to England made my life into what it is now. I was 20 when I moved and never had a lot of baggage to carry around with me, but now that I do have work and a partner to worry about where does that leave time for living abroad?
Be more than "8 days on a beach"
I want adults to be daring and look beyond the obvious short vacations. Countries always become a lot more interesting when you stray from the tourist trail, but this can be scary. I spent five years travelling the world from China to Estonia as a recruitment officer, always aiming to chat to people and convince them to spend time abroad. As a foreigner, I've often met with people in their own houses or offices and worried that I wouldn't understand a word they say or that they'd just reject my interest. But the risk pays off. Sure, you could spend a week in a hotel in Barcelona and practice your Spanish at a market stall. But we are all perfectly equipped to start thinking of our destination as more than a resort. It's a complete world with political debates, economic strengths and people who go to work every day.
You won't lose your job
Professional exchanges and development opportunities beyond borders are not often advertised enough, but they are real career assets, to be used and sought out. Make sure you choose something relevant, and you'll benefit from it years later.
“I’m proud of myself for being brave enough to do it and not listening to the nagging voice of self doubt which tried to hold me back.”
Sharon McGuinness, a Provision Planning Officer for Lancashire Council, experienced just three weeks out of her comfort zone in Lancashire when she participated in a professional exchange with Vigo, Spain in 2012. You can read her full diary on the EU LAG website. She applied after reading about the exchange opportunities in a professional newsletter. Before going out there, Sharon says she found the idea "A little daunting but only because of my concerns at relative lack of Spanish language skills. At 3 weeks it was only a week longer than an average fortnight's holiday though so I figured the potential adventure outweighed the risk of it being really difficult or boring!" Having completed the exchange, she says that it taught her not better Spanish, but also self-reliance and confidence.
Top 5 International Work Opportunities
I have been researching many different schemes for spending time working or developing yourself abroad for this article and admittedly it was difficult for me to find many general schemes for anyone. On the other hand, it is so encouraging to find out just how much encouragement and financial support is available for most professionals in their own field.
Good places to look for information are with big international organisations or associations (like the European Union or United Nations), cultural institutes (Goethe Institut or Confucius Institute for example) and with professional associations in your own field. But for now, sit back and let these cool ideas inspire you.
The EU funds an awful lot of stuff and also collaborates with countries such as USA, China, Korea and Japan. Their funding grants available for language-related activities alone are mind-blowing. Students, teachers, professionals, anyone in the labour market can find the right programme and funding to spend a bit of time abroad. You don't have to be in a member state, the EU considers many other countries like Iceland, Switzerland, Croatia and Russia. And you can also have any nationality. The opportunities are endless, so I will give you my favourites:
For entrepreneurs:Erasmus for Entrepreneurs
Starting your own business is massively exciting and also really hard, so how cool would it be to learn from a successful business leader, without the fixed ideas that exist in your own country? If you want to soak up as much learning as possible and make international contacts at the same time, this one is perfect. No age restriction, but you must have set up your own company in the last 3 years.
For James Bond wannabes: Pericles - fight against fraud
The web information relating to this scheme really shows you why EU funding is so hard to find: the legal language and official documents are a bit confusing, but in essence this programme has the very cool job of making the international fight against fake money possible. Easiest way around the website is to look up the national agency in your own country and get in touch with them to find out what's on offer. It's mostly for those working in law enforcement, banks and areas like that.
For Jobseekers: Camps & TEFL
There are lots of language focused camps looking for staff members every summer. This ranges from the classic Camp America in the USA to English Teaching in Italy, there's so much to do everywhere in the world for anyone wanting to get involved in a camp. You may not find that this is the most immersive cultural and linguistic experience, but if you're hesitant this could be the first step to an international career.
And how could I write an article about international work without mentioning the TEFL? TEFL is an internationally recognised English teaching qualification that has allowed millions to use their knowledge of one language to travel the world. You'll need a good understanding of how language works. There are very many TEFL and CELTA qualification programmes out there and you can get a basic certificate in as little as one (intense) weekend, including the very well established i-to-i TEFL (they offer paid internships too!). Click on their ad for more information:
For helpers over 25s: UN Volunteering
What I like about UN Volunteering is that it is open to pretty much anyone from any country, and it is aimed at people aged over 25 in particular. You'll need at least 3 months and have to understand that you won't earn wages, but it's not self-funded either. The UN pays a living allowance and some other support to its volunteers.
If volunteering is your thing, then I also recommend you contact an international charity like Amnesty International or Greenpeace. But generally speaking, be careful about volunteering because so often the biggest difference you can make is at home.
For everyone: Twin and Sister Cities
Twinning has been going for hundreds of years, and it describes two cities, towns or villages in different countries acknowledging their similarities and and committing to building a relationship together. Twinning isn't the same in every place, but is often funded by local and national governments and of course the EU. Your town might not be doing much, but get in touch with the city hall and find out if there isn't an annual funded choir trip to anywhere. Just as an example: When I was 17, I got to spend a week on a coach trip with a local brass band, as they went to play concerts in Leicester and needed a translator. Twinning is unpredictable.
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