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People have sometimes asked me for pointers about finding an international job and creating a global lifestyle. So, I thought I’d draw some up here. I’ll be drawing on much of my own globetrotting experiences as well as forwarding advice I’ve been given. Most of this is related to the field of international development, but not exclusively.
You may be making a career change after years, or even decades, of working more traditional office-based careers. More likely you’re a graduate, or fresh out of school, at the very beginning of your professional journey.
There are potential freelancers and location independent professionals who will carry out their assignments, or even their own businesses remotely, and will be savvy in making digital tools work for themselves and their clients.
But there are also would-be internationally and independent-minded professionals who will serve out temporary or long term staff contracts for global companies and organisations outside their home countries. You just want some preliminary guidance as to where to find those jobs.
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So you’ve made the exciting decision to spend the next few months, or even some years, working and circumventing the globe. But that, of course, is just the start. It’s important to nail down what it is you want to do and, preferably, where. I say preferably because unless you have a powerful desire to go to a particularly continent or country – at least at first – it may be a good idea to keep your options open.
What I’m saying is that if working abroad (rather than simply travelling) is your priority, you may have to go where the work is in the initial stages, to gain experience and contacts.
Determining from the earliest why you want to travel abroad will point towards the most suitable strategies and tactics.
So, for example, perhaps like me you have an altruistic personality but you are also globally minded. Working with international organisations, NGOs and charities seem the most obvious choice. But there are others. You may want to lend your business, tech and/or creative skills to a social enterprise or interesting start-up that’s doing great international community work. There are opportunities to do this and make a decent living.
Working in the field of international development or charities when you have a strong interest in communities and social affairs are not the only options, and may not even be the best for you.
But perhaps you are absolutely and resolutely determined to work only for the United Nations, another specific international organisation. In which case I would say go for it, but be careful to know when things aren’t panning out, and when you need to change course. You don’t want to spend years chasing a failing dream that saps away your time and energy. There are always other options.
The first thing is to decide why you want to go and what you want to do, and where. And how much money you are going to need, as well as educating yourself about administrative matters, such as visas and medical insurance.
Start from where you are
Don’t wait until you’ve found the right job abroad, or saved up enough money to go. Once you pretty much know what sort of work you want to do, you can start to acquire and/or consolidate the right skills and experience in your home country.
After my master’s degree in Journalism Studies, I landed a job with the BBC. But it wasn’t in journalism. It was with the commercial rights division. But that was okay, actually, because it gave me some insight into the legal and business side of programme-making and I enjoyed working there. At the same time, I continued to brush up on my French language skills.
Following this, I spent a couple of years doing temporary administrative jobs in London, my home city. A bit of a far cry from my journalism studies but this brief stint did a number of things: I got contracts working for a wide range of organisations and companies that included the BBC, FT and Alcatel. This meant that I could quickly get some sort of knowledge of how they worked and where I might want to concentrate my own longer term career sights. And I was earning money. It also helped me to become more IT-savvy.
This all fed into my first professional global adventure: working in Brussels. A friend noticed my strong interest in current affairs and suggested I consider taking a look at EU affairs.
I’m not really the sort of person who can just get up and go. I have to make a plan, even of sorts. For me, this involved taking a trip to Brussels, signing up with some temporary agencies, coming back, then returning to Brussels for four interviews in one day. I got one of the jobs: assisting three lawyers who were all working on world trade issues at the law firm Lovells. Months later I had landed another there: as a freelance junior journalist and editor at an EU news agency. A year later, I made the switch from journalism to communications, working with a Brussels-based professional association.
My point is, the experience and skills you are building and consolidating now in your home city aren’t a waste of time. They’re preparing you for your globetrotting adventure.