When deciding what to do after graduating college, many people feel forced to decide between two options: delay finding a job by traveling on whatever little money they have saved, or entering the job market right away.
But 21st century globalization has presented a third option: working professionally abroad.
I am not talking about teaching English or corralling drunks into their hostel in return for room and board. International investment into emerging markets like Vietnam and India, increased need for foreign workers in Japan, and government support for foreign businesses such as in Malaysia are opening up increasing opportunities to work internationally, especially at start-ups and mid-size companies.
And though scary at first, working internationally can place you on a professional development fastrack, providing a variety of career boosting benefits that would otherwise take years to experience.
More Responsibility, Sooner
Around the world there is an explosion of startups and mid-size companies that are doing amazing work. And nowhere is this more prominent than in developing countries that are sprinting towards modernization like India and Vietnam.
With talent deficiencies prominent in these countries, Western companies entering the market and local startups alike see young Westerners with college degrees as a unique asset to be utilized right away in high impact positions.
These companies are willing to invest in young international talent and they want to get their money’s worth, and that doesn’t include getting the boss coffee. They need people who can wear multiple hats and they value your ability to hustle and get shit done far more than specific degrees or specializations. If you can write sales copy and do Google adwords, help the Account Management team with their English skills, and test new products, you can bet you will be asked to do all of those things.
For a recent graduate, the professional development benefits of being in these kinds of environments are invaluable. They force you to take on roles that extend far beyond the focus of your studies and present opportunities to learn new skills in more impactful positions than you would in the US, and the development of a more diverse skillset drastically increases your value in the job market.
Fresh Start for Introspection
College is undoubtedly an awesome experience. But after four years enjoying the cocoon of the same campus, same friends, and same town, it has likely been a long time since you have really experienced major change. Not only that, it has probably been awhile since you have had any time to yourself.
Moving abroad, away from everything you know right after college, is a unique opportunity to break out of your routines and reconnect with yourself with a fresh slate. It is a unique chance to reevaluate who you have become after four years of college, what it is you want from life, and other big questions that have likely been put off due to friends, exams and parties.
Having the blank slate of a new country is an ideal environment to be introspective as you look towards life after college, and begin to reassess who you are and what your goals in life are, without the influence of your old environment tainting your perspective.
Money Saving Opportunities
Working abroad can present some surprising money saving opportunities. Working in Asia, it is within reason to expect to save anywhere from a several hundred to over a thousand dollars per month (or more), all the while living a high standard of life which can include things like eating out every meal, having a cleaning service for your apartment, and regularly going out on the town.
This is especially true for countries with a low cost of living. Vietnam is a great example. Here, my expenses include rent, food & drink, and other clothes or necessities I need to buy. And that’s about it.
For rent, you can find a great studio for $250-300 USD a month, and a 2 bedroom near the beach for $500 USD a month. For food a Vietnamese meal costs $1-3 USD, and a great Western meal with a drink $4-5 USD. And with no car (or car insurance), no gas (it costs almost nothing to fill a motorbike), healthcare being very inexpensive (especially with insurance provided by your company), and paying no US taxes (unless you make over $100,000 USD), the rest of your salary is yours to do with what you want.
If you are working in a country with a lower cost of living, you are likely to find that between having lower daily expenses and having fewer large expenses, you are able to save more money each month than you would in the US.
Resume Benefits upon Return
Imagine: a young candidate who took on responsibilities beyond their years while simultaneously navigating and working within a foreign culture and overcoming all of the challenges that come with it.
Sound like a job candidate that a hiring manager would want to know more about? I think so too.
Upon returning from abroad (assuming you come back!) you will also bring with you unique personal and professional experiences that you can leverage when job prospecting as you re-enter your local job market. Rather than having only internship or entry-level work to show for your first few years out of college, your experience abroad will likely include high impact work and responsibility, demonstrating your ability to be flexible, overcome challenges, and learn on the fly.
Travel…but Work Comes First
When you are working professionally abroad, you have to have a work first, travel second attitude. Companies can tell the difference between someone who just wants to use their job as a gateway to travel and someone who is truly there to work for professional reasons and take advantage of the professional opportunities the job might present.
Having said that, of course, working internationally presents amazing opportunities for travel that should be taken advantage of. Working out of Asia or Europe means there are almost an endless number of travel destinations at your fingertips, all of which can be accessed inexpensively. Personally, I can fly anywhere in Vietnam for as low as $40 USD depending on the time of year, Bangkok, Thailand even for a weekend for as low as $100 USD and hundreds of other destinations for under $200 USD.
You should absolutely take advantage of the opportunity for international travel that working abroad presents as long as you maintain the mindset that work is the priority. There will be time for travel, but the priority should be the position and gaining as much professional growth from the experience as possible.