Do you dream of working overseas and sharing your skills with poor people in a developing country so that they can improve their lives and have some of the opportunities that we take for granted? Would you like some adventure and travel before you settle down in your own country and think that expatriate life might be an option? Here are some ideas to make it happen.
Landing a job in a developing country is not very easy these days for several reasons including:- work permit restrictions which mean that both for-profit and non-profit organizations need to be quite sparing in their hiring, funding constraints, a large pool of qualified applicants many of whom already speak a language other than English, and an increasing pool of qualified national applicants. Unless you have a phenomenal reputation, many years of experience, or a unique area of expertise, the chances are that you will not even get an interview without a foreign language on your resume. However, if you are proficient in at least one language other than English you are much more likely to be considered because you have already demonstrated the ability to learn another language. Very few companies offer language training these days except to very senior staff, or for hardship posts for which it is difficult to attract qualified candidates.
A very effective way of learning a foreign language and culture which often leads to employment prospects is volunteering. There are many ways of doing this, depending on your personal goals and qualifications, but I will describe some of the more common possibilities. If you apply to Peace Corps (US volunteer program) or VSO (British program) you will sign on for a two- or three-year commitment during which you will be paid a very small stipend, but receive language training both in a classroom and on-site, assistance with your living arrangements, visa and other formal requirement, and generally be looked after. At the end of your term you will have excellent language skills, an intimate knowledge of local culture, and a good chance of future employment with either USAID or DfiD (depending on which sent you).
Many Non-Government Agencies (NGOs) and charities also have volunteer programs which can be more flexible, including Rotary, Food for the Hungry and World Vision. If you are deployed by one of these organizations you may have a shorter term, but you will probably need to take care of many administrative tasks yourself. However, you will have a similar opportunity for language and cultural immersion. If you are a member of a church, your denomination's Mission Board may have a program for short-term volunteers in which you can work with one of their foreign branches and gain cultural and linguistic experience.
Another possibility is to look for a private university or school in your target country and investigate the possibility of teaming up with them. They may offer a small stipend or they may not, but if they are willing to sponsor your visa you will have an opportunity to integrate with the culture and learn the language. There are significant advantages of needing to live economically while you are in this stage of language learning, although it can be quite stressful, but it encourages you to live simply and often you can arrange to live with a local family. The extra money helps them and you gain invaluable exposure to the culture. Smaller towns are a good location for this, as they cannot afford foreign teachers, but will gain significant prestige from having you on the staff.
Thesis students can often team up with an organization overseas, or their own University's extension program, to collect data and write up their thesis in a developing country, and this is another effective opportunity for language and cultural exposure. A final suggestion is to approach a company that works overseas (non-profits are most open to this) and offer to pay your own way and make some contribution to their program either through experimentation or research. They will often be delighted to sponsor you for a term.
Once you have arrived at your location it is up to you to work on the language both formally and informally, but I also recommend that you take the initiative and do some study beforehand. It is very daunting to arrive in a foreign country unable to speak or understand a word unless you there is another English speaker, and any prior knowledge will reduce this stress as well as giving you a headstart. Immersing yourself in the language is important, but you also need to set aside time for deliberate formal study, preferably with a local tutor, as this will help you get the greatest benefit from the experience.
With even three or six months of this kind of study and living you will have a reasonable level of proficiency and be a strong competitor for paid positions, and you may even find one through the relationships you for while volunteering. A potential candidate who has proved that they can deal with the stress and discomfort of living overseas, and has demonstrated their value during his time there is a strong candidate for any position that might become open.