Tell us about your experience working abroad?
I’ve worked abroad in a few places. My first experience was teaching at an international school in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. I also worked for the UN in Jordan and now I work in London in the development/humanitarian field for a big UK organization. They’ve been quite varied jobs but each has led to the next one pretty organically.
Why did you decide to move abroad?
I had always wanted to but, to be honest, I initially made the leap to work abroad out of heartbreak! It sounds so cliché to leave home because of a break up but it was such a good decision for me.
I was able to do so many of the things that I had wanted to do and experience on my own for so long. And working abroad meant the I also had some purpose and routine (and money!) during a difficult and tumultuous time in my life. It was certainly challenging and I wasn’t cured of my heartache right away but it was also an empowering experience and I haven’t looked back (or moved back) in the years since!
What did a typical day look like working in the humanitarian field?
It’s really varied and depends if you are based in the field or in a UK / Headquarter office.
When I was in Jordan, some days were spent writing project proposals and budgets or reporting to donors, while other days I was on visits to the projects themselves. I worked on education in emergencies projects taking place in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria so that meant I often visited schools or safe spaces for the kids.
Other days, I worked on developing educational tools or on international advocacy documents. The hours are very long and the work is really emotionally demanding as well, so it definitely isn’t for everyone.
In London, the job is obviously much more removed so there is a lot more remote communication and travel involved.
How did you get a job working abroad?
For my first job teaching abroad, I had been a certified teacher in the United States so it wasn’t too difficult to find a job at an international school. If you have a teaching certification there are many great and well-paid opportunities out there, either through attending an international teacher recruitment fair or through various websites.
For my current work in the development/humanitarian sector, I did a Masters in London at the London School of Economics and then A LOT of job applications and networking….mixed with a little bit of luck and good timing. Having a postgraduate degree in a related area helps, as well as experience in the field or abroad, and knowledge of languages other than English (especially French or Arabic) is also very helpful!
Was is hard getting a visa to work and live in the UK?
If you don’t have a UK or EU passport – although who knows how this will work after Brexit – then it can be difficult to get a visa to work and live in the UK.
Canadians and Australians can get ancestral visas and 2-year work visas (I think). An easy way to live in the UK if you don’t have one of these passports is to attend a university or graduate programme in the country, which will give you a student visa but will limit your ability to work full-time.
I am lucky because I have both an American and German passport, so I am able to live and work in the UK on my German passport very easily (for now).
What are the best and worst things about living in London?
Best: London is a city filled with people from all over the world and this eclectic mix of people, languages, food and culture are by far the best part about London. I also love the connectedness of London to other parts of the world – flights are usually cheaper from London and you can get nearly everywhere fairly easily.
Worst: I will probably say the same thing as most people, but the cost of living in London is high so it’s nearly impossible to save or ever think about owning a house or any other sort of responsible adult like thing. This makes London a very transient city and I sometimes miss the sense of community of smaller more intimate cities.
Also, the public transportation during rush hour is THE worst. The tube is crammed, hot and just all around awful sometimes. I’ve learned that biking in London is truly the way to go!
London can be incredibly expensive, how are you finding it?!
Yes – 100%! As I said above, London is VERY expensive and when I first came to do my Masters in London I found it very difficult to be a poor student in such an expensive city.
Hello, nannying side gigs for really rich families (haha)!
Now that I earn a salary in British pounds it isn’t as bad. It’s a give and take with London though. The cost of living is high, but you are in one of the world’s most amazing cities and can easily and cheaply access so many other places. There are also a lot of free things to do in the city, from museums, to picnics in parks, music events, etc. You’ve just got to be savvy to afford London on a budget!
What is the best part of moving abroad?
The best part of moving abroad is the lost-ness of being in and making a new, albeit potentially temporary, home. I love the change and unknown of moving somewhere new!
Was it hard to adapt to your new, expat life?
My first experience at expat life was in Uzbekistan, so it was definitely hard because it was as far from home culturally but also distance wise that I could have gone. It wasn’t too hard to adapt in the beginning when everything is new and exciting.
It gets hard a few months in, when the novelty has worn off, the language barrier becomes harder, you realize you are on your own, which is only exacerbated when you peruse social media to see your friends and family at events that you are missing out on because you’ve chosen a life which puts you far away from them. But it does get easier! And the challenges are really what make the experience.
What was your best moment of working abroad?
I loved working in Jordan! I worked on an education in emergencies programme for the UN in response to the Syria crisis, so I was very passionate about my job. I was also able to create a great group of friends. The country is also INCREDIBLY gorgeous and every weekend I was traveling to some other part of the country to go hiking and exploring.
What was your worst moment of working abroad?
To be honest, I’m not sure if I have a worst! There have definitely been some adventurous (and I mean that in the “everything is going wrong” part of adventure) moments.
In Uzbekistan, which is an incredible country filled with so many good things but also one marked by human rights abuses, I was sent to the equivalent to the secret police to be interviewed. This was insanely scary because it’s the type of place that people are tortured and never come out of.
I had to be interviewed because the director of the school I taught at had been embezzling money (around $1 million, which is A LOT there) and they were concerned that some of the foreign teachers were involved (no one was). To make a long story short, I came out alive but the whole things was pretty darn terrifying and I’m keen to never repeat that experience.
What advise would you give others who want to move abroad?
Don’t let your fears get the best of you – make a decision and go for it with all you’ve got!
It will be difficult, you will be lonely at times, you’ll likely question your decision to leave the familiar and comfort of your life at home, but it will be entirely worth it. And if for some reason you are hating wherever you are, you can always go home to your friends and family.