Since many of you have expressed an interest in knowing what it was like for me to live and work abroad, AEM has launched a new series entitled, "Living Abroad." These pieces are about American expats who have lived or are living abroad. I am also exploring options of moving abroad again in a year or year and a half, and will be writing about that possibility (primarily here), as well as sharing my own experience of living and working in Korea. If you are interested in sharing your story with my readers, please don't hesitate to send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Those of you who have yet to leave the country are also welcome to submit pieces. This series is part of a public service to let indentured educated citizens know that there are other options, and that they can find fulfilling opportunities beyond U.S. borders.
Johannsen: Where have you lived abroad?
Respondent: China, just outside of Beijing.
Johannsen: Why did you choose to go abroad?
Respondent: Many reasons . . . [I left] for the cultural experience, and to expose myself to new things. [I also wanted to meet new] people and to travel. Also, to a lesser extent, work was not so easy to come by. I was not thrilled with the job I had in the U.S. [I wanted] CHANGE!
Johannsen: Where are you living now?
Respondent: I'm back in America, not too far from New Haven, Connecticut.
Johannsen: If someone were to come to you and express an interest in living abroad, what tips would you give them about the process?
Respondent: Do your research, [if you're thinking about teaching abroad] google school names, check to see if they are on any black lists or forums. Ask the school to provide the email addresses of at least three current teachers. Verify that these three + people are legit. Ask them questions.
Johannsen: That's a great point. There are a lot of expat forums that provide you with good information about good and bad schools. For instance, Dave's ESL Cafe was a place I spent a lot of time reading before leaving for South Korea. I still rely upon it, now that I am thinking about and actively looking for another job abroad. Of course, it's important to keep in mind that when people are angry and unhappy about work conditions (and I think a lot of those complaints are justified), they are going to be the ones complaining on the Internet. However, Dave's offers different perspectives. That's why I think your advice is great. You should obtain the names of current teachers at the school that is offering to hire you, and ask them lots of questions.
Finally, do you think it's important for people your age - millennials - to be thinking of careers outside of the U.S.? If so, why?
Respondent: It can be a (temporary) solution to poor job prospects in America, and that is if someone exhausts all possibilities stateside (which seems to be more and more [common], and happening to more and more people). Perhaps spending a year in a foreign country can also allow the person to continue a job search stateside. Nothing comes up? Renew the contract and keep searching and networking.
Johannsen: Is there anything else that you'd like to add?
Respondent: Prospective employers should value foreign work experience more. It clearly shows that a person has the ability to adapt quickly and has a great deal of flexibility. People do indeed gain valuable skills outside of the country.
"Living Abroad: Returning to Korea," AEM (4 May 2011)
"Living Abroad," AEM (3 May 2011)
Will some countries let you stay or even become a citizen? I read at one time China was deporting older foreign teachers so they wouldn't become a healthcare burden. I'd hate to grow attached to somewhere, only to have the government kick me out...
Most developed nations have some mechanism for permanent immigration. I live in Canada now, after having successfully navigated the permanent residency process. It took about a year from application to final landing (and in addition I spent two years as a temporary resident prior to applying). The process was not hard at all. Canada has a low birth rate, and a huge land area, so as you can imagine, the government highly encourages immigration. In another three years, I'll be eligible to apply for citizenship. I'm not sure if I will actually do that, but let's just say that for the moment I plan to stay in Canada indefinitely.
I have firsthand experience only with Canada, so the rest of this post may be unreliable. Among English-speaking nations, the most immigrant-friendly are Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The common thread is that they are all geographically isolated, with low populations and low birth rates. Canada, for example, has no land neighbors other than the US, and strangely not very many Americans want to move to Canada. England, and western Europe in general, is even more unwelcoming of immigrants than the US, and China (being already overpopulated) makes immigration nearly impossible. The point I'm trying to make is that you can infer a lot about a country's immigration policies just by looking at their demographics and geography.
You might also want to consider carefully the issue of whether you actually want foreign citizenship. Let's take China as an example, since this post is about China. In order to acquire Chinese citizenship, the Chinese government requires you to renounce all other citizenships. Bottom line, you can't move back to your home country. (It is true that the US government considers such renunciations "forced" and invalid, but relying on that interpretation carries its own risks.) You will be subjected to gems such as the one-child policy (foreigners are exempt, but once you're a citizen you're no longer a foreigner). Perhaps you don't feel like you want kids right now, but people's preferences do change as they age. A lot of freedoms that Americans take for granted simply don't exist in China. As a visitor, it's not a big deal. But if you're living there permanently, with no possibility of leaving, then it becomes a very big deal.
Immigration and especially citizenship are very serious and weighty topics, and should not be taken lightly. There are definitely many pros and cons that you need to evaluate before you commit.
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