Harvesting The Good Work of Others

by G. Michael Schneider / Oct 19, 2011 / 0 comments

One of the most frequent comments I get from readers is “OK, you convinced me of the benefits of a working vacation.  Now please tell me how to find one.”   Well, the answer to that difficult question occupies roughly 75 pages of my book, On The Other Guy’s Dime.  However, let me describe one simple strategy that can be amazingly successful.
About a dozen years ago, my wife and I had the good fortune to spend three months living and working at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ)–this was at a time when Zimbabwe was a democratic and relatively wealthy country that was the showplace of southern Africa.  When we returned home I shared stories of our adventures with Paul Tymann, a close friend and co-author of a popular textbook.  Paul is chair of the Computer Science Department at the Rochester Institute of Technology and, like my wife and me, had long dreamt of going on an African safari.  However, he had always believed that this dream was far beyond his reach.

Paul never considered the idea of a working vacation until I described my own two African work experiences, first at the University of Nairobi in Kenya and then Zimbabwe, and outlined exactly how I planned and financed these trips at absolutely no cost to myself. After listening to my stories and determining this was something he wanted to try for himself, he contacted the head of computer science at UZ and carefully followed the steps I laid out.   His efforts were soon rewarded with a teaching invitation, and the following summer Paul was comfortably ensconced at the UZ Visitor's Lodge retracing many of the same adventures that Ruth and I had experienced only twelve months earlier, including trips to Victoria Falls, Great Zimbabwe, Hwange Game Park, and that amazing walking safari at Mana Pools described in my blog post Is That A Charging Elephant Or Is He Paying Cash? 


Bull Elephant Encountered On Our Walking Safari in Zimbabwe

Bull Elephant Encountered On Our Walking Safari in Zimbabwe



I had a similar experience with Jon Pearce, a computer science professor at San Jose State University in California.  Jon and his wife Rona wanted to live and work in Turkey–a destination where I had a three-month working vacation just the previous year.  Not long after giving Jon the name of the department chair and writing a glowing letter of recommendation, I received a letter from them describing the magnificent view of the Bosporus from their hillside apartment on the campus of Bogazici University in Istanbul. 

These stories are concrete proof there is absolutely nothing unique about me or my background when it comes to living and working overseas, and they demonstrate that a working vacation to some exotic locale is a dream that can come true for virtually any professional with the necessary drive and ambition.

These stories also highlight an excellent way to locate your own working vacation and is a strategy that works far better than cold calls to unfamiliar places. If you know a friend or colleague who has recently been on a working vacation talk with them about the school, faculty, workload, pay schedule, and living accommodations. If it sounds intriguing, and they speak glowingly about the experience, get the name and address of a contact person and send that individual e-mail asking about the possibility of working there in the near future, being sure to include your friend's name.   It would also be a good idea for your friend to send an enthusiastic letter of recommendation directly to the institution. If the people at the host site were pleased with your friend's work, they should be amenable to a visit from someone recommended by that individual, just as I had personally recommended Paul and Jon.

This approach represents a significant improvement over the "blind cold call," since the institution you are contacting has already demonstrated an interest in hosting overseas visitors, resulting in a greater likelihood of success. In essence you are no longer scattering your working vacation requests randomly but planting them in ground already well watered and nurtured by the good work of other academics.



G. Michael Schneider is the Academic Travel Editor for Wandering Educators. You can read more of his work at http://otherguysdime.wordpress.com/, and learn more about his new book, entitled On the Other Guy's Dime: A Professional's Guide to Traveling without Paying.



Photo courtesy and copyright G. Michael Schneider