It’s amazing how many times I’ve heard women wishing they could have the chance to live overseas, but for whatever reason think it’s just not within their reach right now. Really ladies? You’ve got a college degree or are getting one, have enough money to do so, are apparently intelligent, and yet, you can’t see how to get yourself out of the country for a few months? Luckily, you’re talking to me, queen of sneaking my way into work and school experiences abroad. If you follow these steps, I can almost guarantee you can get yourself overseas.
My credentials: I have worked in in India, Singapore, Canada, and the US, and most of that was while I was working towards my Bachelor’s degree. In addition, I studied in France and briefly in Germany. All of these were funded on someone else’s dime.
(Guys, these steps generally apply to you too, but right now I’m speaking to the ladies.)
1. Go RIGHT NOW
First finish reading this post. And then make sure you have a passport and all that. But if you’re serious about going overseas, do it as soon as you can. The first time I worked overseas was after my first year of university when I traveled to India for my first internship there. Before I graduated, I had been to India again, Singapore, and France. In university, I was already roughing it living away from home for the first time ever, having to cook my own food on my own sad budget, so being further away from home was only an incremental hardship. Also, I was single through most of university, so I had no relationships to negotiate as part of my travels. It also really builds your resume – in my case, it was a major factor in me getting hired by my current employer – so there’s an extra advantage to going sooner rather than later.
2. Be in tech
There is really no easier way to get yourself overseas, especially as a student. There is a serious need for good programmers with the confidence to share their skills. The tech world conducts its business almost universally in English, so if you’re reading this, you’re all set. Even other highly educated jobs, like doctors and lawyers, are so bogged down in locally specific regulations that they generally can’t just pack up and ship off to another place for work. Nursing is possibly the only exception to this, but you’re only ready to go after your degree.
3. Be a lady
In many parts of the world (in my case, India is the obvious example), there are pretty strict rules about what’s appropriate for women and men. I only found this worked in my favour – the guys were very polite, and the women I met would actually talk to me and welcome me into their homes. A visiting man would not have had that chance. No matter where you are, you should understand what the safety situation is where you are. In South India, it was completely safe for me to walk outside by myself at 4am, whereas I always walked with a buddy at night in France.
4. Be shameless
I got this advice from my economics professor, and it has been the key to my travel success. Work whatever connections you have. For my first overseas job, I worked for the Indian branch of my dad’s company. As any sane person would, I realize I was tremendously fortunate. However, most tech ladies know someone with an overseas connection, either directly or indirectly. I got my second stint in India through my university’s cooperative education department, and I got my job in Singapore through the brother of a close friend. My university, like many, had an exchange program. As long as I kept my grades somewhat above failing, all I had to do was fill in some applications (it didn’t hurt that I grew up speaking French, but I could have just as easily gone to an English-speaking country).
5. Know your boundaries and negotiate for them
Since I was eager to go away, I was willing to take a pay cut. I earned on the high end of whatever the local wages were. In India, this meant about US$450 a month. Every time I worked overseas, I traveled on the employer’s dime with either free housing or additional salary to cover where I lived. In a particularly crafty move on my part, I even weaseled a free trip to France by having my employer in Singapore route my flight through Paris. While it was enough to get by for the work term, the income didn’t pay even a term of my tuition, even in Canada! (you Americans have it particularly hard in this respect – remember that in November). So it meant I didn’t have a car in a university town where I really could have used one, and I ate out about twice a term, and I dipped into my savings. I was able to make up a lot of the losses in scholarships that were available to students working and studying abroad – these are often poorly advertised, so ask your student awards department.
6. Have health insurance
You should always have health insurance (another area Americans suffer in), but particularly when you’re far away from your parents’ loving arms and (relatively) plentiful bank accounts. This was hard for me to grasp at first. I had never been seriously sick, and came out of my first trip to India without incident – not even food poisoning. After two relatively uneventful trips to India, I thought I was invincible. So when I got to Singapore – clean, pristine Singapore – I wasn’t worried at all about getting sick. BIG MISTAKE. On my fifth day in the country, I woke up with the worst hangover headache I’d ever experienced, which was peculiar given that I hadn’t had a drink in weeks. Within an hour it disappeared, replaced by violent shivers that persisted through a hoodie in Singapore’s 35oC temperatures. It took another two weeks for doctors to figure out that I had Dengue, malaria’s equally nasty twin mosquito-borne illness. As part of my 6 week illness, I spent two nights in hospital to the tune of US$800. To a Canadian student, that’s a lot of money. Fortunately, my university insisted on health insurance, so everything was covered, otherwise it would have cost me 1/3 of what I earned that term.
7. Bring something familiar
I love Indian food. I’ve been vegetarian most of my life, surrounded by non-vegetarians. It was completely magical to be in India, where almost everything was already vegetarian, and everything else was clearly labeled as having meat. Amazing! I didn’t miss any comfort foods at all – until 2 months into my trip, I hit a wall. The spices started all tasting the same. The available “western” food, like Pizza Hut, were sad imitations (spaghetti? more like noodle curry…). Fortunately, I had packed several boxes of instant oatmeal. It wasn’t enough to sustain me for the rest of my trip, but it was enough to have a bowl a day to fill the void. Recharged, I could get back to appreciating the noodle curry.
Basically, if you want to go, you can make it happen. My overseas experiences were the most valuable I had in university, and some of the most valuable of my life. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to untie yourself from the obligations, relationships, and comforts of your situation.
So what’s stopping you?