When I was 24, my wanderlust reached its tipping point and I moved to Spain to teach English.
I had spent the three years prior putting my bachelor's degree in journalism to good use building the beginnings of a career in the world of public affairs. I thoroughly enjoyed my work as a publicist and the peaceful city of Orlando was not a bad place to call home, but as I watched friends around me settle into their chosen career paths, apartments and relationships, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t quite ready to settle down – something deep inside me begged me to get out there and see the world instead of spending my life dreaming about it.
I also knew that merely taking a vacation for a week or two to someplace exotic would not satiate this desire. Studying abroad in Melbourne had taught me that the best way to truly get to know the world is to live somewhere else, and this time I knew my best bet would be to work abroad.
I spent about a year researching job opportunities (and saving as much as I could) before I decided to teach English in Spain with the Auxiliares de Conversacion program run by the Embassy of Spain. To be honest, the notion of leaving behind my work in public affairs to be a teaching assistant in a classroom didn’t thrill me at first. I was worried such a leap might affect me finding a job back in the field later down the line and wasn’t quite sure how the experience would look on a resume.
But here’s something you might not want to hear – if you are looking for a unique, awesome job abroad and you having relatively little experience in your field, you may not find one. To work in another country you need a visa to get a work visa, an employer needs to be able to prove that you are more qualified than all other applicants for that particular role. When you are a twenty-something with very little real-world experience compared to the greater workforce that can be hard.
But what I learned is that just because a job is common doesn’t mean it’s not awesome; these two terms are not mutually exclusive. The year I spent teaching in Europe was one of the best of my life. I traveled to 25 countries, grew as a person and gained valuable skills that have helped me as I’ve re-entered the workforce in the United States.
So don’t let the lack of a fancy job title fool you. Here’s a look at the five most common but awesome jobs you can find abroad.
1. Teaching English Abroad
Teaching English is probably the most common of all awesome jobs you can find abroad. English remains one of the dominant languages in business. As globalization makes the planet seem smaller and smaller, it becomes increasingly important in countries where English is not the native language that their citizens learn how to read, write and speak in English.
Because of this need, governments, non-profit organizations and private programs have cropped up all over the world, in need of native English speakers to model speech and help students learn. From Thailand and Dubai to the Czech Republic and Argentina, teaching English abroad is a job you can find in many corners of the globe.
Teaching English is an awesome job because it truly allows you to connect with the local culture. What better way to truly immerse yourself in a foreign land than to spend your days with a classroom of thirty students? It’s also a great way to give back -- the language skills you impart will be a lifelong gift for your students, and you can help be a bridge of understanding between cultures.
2. Supporting a Family as an Au Pair
Another common job abroad is to be an au pair or nanny. In many places, families seek au pairs who are fluent English speakers, or native speakers of another language, to help their children learn, practice and improve upon desired language skills. With this as the primary reason, there are many postings for au pair jobs overseas.
As an au pair, your job function will vary based on the individual needs of the family you are assigned to. However, your primary responsibility is normally to care for a child or children while their parents are working or otherwise occupied. You may be responsible for watching children who are too young to attend school during the day or picking up school age children from school, escorting them home, assisting with homework and entertaining them through the evening. Au pairs may also be asked to help clean, run errands or tutor.
If you enjoy children, being an au pair may be a great fit for you. You’ll have the opportunity to develop deep bonds with a family abroad as you integrate into their daily lives. Being an au pair sometimes comes with additional perks – perhaps you’ll get to escort children to nearby attractions such as visiting a park, museum or zoo. Working for a family may also give you an additional support system in-country as you adapt to your new locale.
3. Getting Your Hands Dirty While WWOOF-ing
No, that’s not the sound of a dog barking. WWOOF, or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, is a network of independent farms who welcome international workers. With WWOOF you can find work on organic farms all over the world, from Costa Rica and Australia to Austria and Israel.
As a WWOOF-er you are technically a volunteer, working on an organic farm for 4-6 hours a day in exchange for food and accommodation. Typical work duties include planting seeds, plants or trees, picking crops and harvesting, making composts, feeding livestock or mending/constructing fencing.
WWOOF tends to attract like-minded individuals, and many participants say it is a great way to make new friends and meaningful connections with people from around the world. As a worker on a farm, you also get to be outside for large portions of the day, ditching the office setting for fresh air and sunshine. Those who have a strong interest in sustainable living will also relish the opportunities to learn about organic living that WWOOF provides.
4. Fostering Tourism as a Hostel Employee
Working at a hostel is another classic choice for a job abroad. This type of work is often seasonal. During peak travel periods, hostels in popular destinations often need extra employees to help with smooth operations. As an English speaker, your communication skills will be valuable in helping with guests who come from Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, United States and more, as English is often a bridge language for many different nations.
Working at a hostel will likely involve receptionist work as you man the front desk and assist with reservations, check-ins, giving guests recommendations and directions and check out. Other typical duties for seasonal hostel employees include cleaning rooms, washing linens, cooking meals and running errands.
If you are the type of traveler who likes to stay in hostels, you may be the type of person who will find working in one to be particularly awesome. In such a social environment it is often quite easy to make friends. In an open atmosphere, you’ll get to meet people from all over the world and increase your understanding not only of your chosen locale but of the wide range of destinations where guests come from. You’ll also gain real-world experience in the hospitality industry and surely go home with many stories to tell about how you used cross-cultural communication skills to solve problems.
5. Working as a Freelance (Insert Job Title Here)
If you have built up solid skills in a creative field such as journalism, copywriting, graphic design or art, you can craft your own job abroad by taking your freelance work overseas. As your own boss, you will get to call the shots on where you live (as long as you can afford the rent).
Supporting yourself as a freelance "fill in the blank" isn’t a set job you can land overnight, however. This is likely something you’ll need to work up to as you support yourself and gain income in other ways. Once you’ve been freelancing steadily for a while and have a steady base of clients, you may have the financial freedom to move overseas.
Living in another country while you hone in on your professional skills as a freelancer is an experience that will no doubt expand your horizons and point of view as you immerse yourself in a new culture. With the rise in digital nomad culture, as well as technological tools to meet like-minded people (think Meetup or Travel Massive), it is also easier than ever to make new friends abroad (without having to rely on employment to make those connections.
Whatever You Do, Make it Awesome
When looking for a job abroad don’t worry so much about the coolest sounding title or job description. The opportunity to live and make money in another country is amazing enough in itself. Whatever job you end up securing, it is up to you to make the most of the experience and make it awesome. Take advantage of your job overseas to learn as much as you can about life abroad, gain career skills and have fun.
And last tip – don’t worry so much about your resume. No matter what type of work you are doing, there will be a way to apply the skills you gain to something else down the road. This is something I know from personal experience – I was able to parlay my experience teaching in Madrid into a job in Marketing in Costa Rica, another awesome job abroad that I surely would never have got had I not taken that first leap and moved to Spain.