The Travel Clues Are All Around You

The most frequent question I get from readers is "OK, I'm convinced of the personal, professional, and cultural benefits of short-term working vacations, but where do I find them? How do I locate good opportunities to live and work overseas?"   Sadly, I can't provide a short answer to that question; indeed, more than a hundred pages of my book, On The Other Guy's Dime, is devoted to answering that query in great detail.


However, there is one technique that is quite easy to describe – be acutely sensitive to the many opportunities appearing in the print and electronic media, on television and radio, or discussed with friends and colleagues over a cup of coffee.  Clues to overseas job postings are often subtle and indirect; they don’t slap you up across the face and say “Hey, dummy, here is something I think you should check out!” 


In Chapter 3 of my book, I wrote that "Every newspaper article, TV show, radio program, and professional interaction has the potential to turn into a working vacation. A magazine story about a new university in Africa could, with the appropriate inquiries, lead to an invitation to work with local faculty.  A TV feature about a primary care clinic in Southeast Asia could be a clarion call to health professionals in pediatrics, epidemiology, or tropical medicine, and that exchange teacher from South America could be the source of a future invitation to visit his or her home country. Whenever you read or hear about an overseas opportunity that may be relevant to your field initiate a phone or e-mail conversation to determine if there is any way for you and your family to take advantage of it."   Simply put,  keep your "working vacation radar" attuned to the travel clues that are all around you.  And they are there. 


For example, a few years back I read an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about summer teaching shortages at Israeli universities because most faculty are off meeting their Army Reserve responsibilities.  (Israeli men and women must serve six weeks in the reserves every year until age 59.)  Now a lot of people would simply smile (and be thankful they don’t live in Israel) and move on to the next story.  Instead, I thought to myself that because of these teacher shortages a school might be interested in hiring me to teach a summer class while paying me enough to cover much of my travel expenses.  Guess what?  I was right.  My wife, two children, and I spent three glorious summer months in Jerusalem at Hebrew University at very little cost while learning a great deal about Israeli culture and life in the Middle East.


Just a few weeks ago the Science section of the New York Times ran a feature story entitled "Vast and Fertile Ground in Africa for Science to Take Root."  The article tells of a new computer science/engineering center being established at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.  This new institute, one of the best in East Africa, is growing rapidly and initiating research in areas ranging from wireless communications to artificial intelligence.  It acquired initial funding from Microsoft and Google and has attracted some excellent faculty such as Dr. John Quinn, a researcher with a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh, one of the best computing schools in Europe.


For most Times readers this will simply be a "feel good" story about the work of some visionary scholars and the creation of a high-quality educational institution in a region with precious few of them.  But for skilled professionals in computer science, computer engineering, management information systems, digital electronics, and telecommunications (like myself) this article is not simply a nice read but a potential invitation to spend a few months in East Africa doing interesting work, living in a new and different culture, and having the adventure of a lifetime.


Of course, there is no guarantee that Makerere University will hire you as a paid, short-term member of the faculty.  However, the cost of an email inquiry–resume, references, classes you could teach, talks you could present–is zero, so there is absolutely no risk in giving it your best shot.  If they respond "No" nothing has been lost, and you can settle back and wait until the next working vacation clue appears, unexpected and unannounced.  However, if things turn in your favor, as they have for my wife and me 15 times in the last 30 years—from Australia to Zimbabwe, Mauritius to Mongolia–then you (and spouse and children) will have a transformative cultural, social, and professional experience like no other.  And, best of all, it will be on the other guy's dime.



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




Feature photo Makere University
Used courtesy of flickr creative commons: