INTERNATIONAL CAREERS : A World of Opportunity : Work Abroad Can Boost Career Prospects at Home : Stateside organizations help job-seekers line up required permits for overseas employment.


The career path from singing waiter in a ‘50s-style burger bar in London’s raucous Piccadilly Square to economic analyst in a tony Houston venture capital firm would hardly seem a straight one.

And yet, after spending two summers shimmying and lip-syncing to the strains of “Greased Lightning” at the Rock Island Diner in London’s freewheeling night life district, Lorne Phillips parlayed his experience into the investment job of his dreams.

“Working abroad, even as a waiter, exposed me to different ideas and a culture, and that fact impressed my job interviewers,” explains Phillips, a 1993 economics graduate of Rice University in Houston. “It showed that I wasn’t afraid to take risks and that I had an independent spirit.”


Touring abroad has traditionally been a way for the wealthy to stretch their children’s horizons. But for those not fortunate enough to be born unto the manor, working abroad can provide some of the same thrills and adventure. Even a seemingly boring, menial job stateside can be exciting abroad because of the novel surroundings and cultural challenges.

Every year thousands of Americans, most college students or recent graduates, set out to see the world. And many of them do it from behind a cash register in an English department store or French wine bar or Irish youth hostel, or as a nanny or English teacher.

Virtually all these jobs are temporary, typically running just three to 12 months, and the pay isn’t great. But the lure of living in a foreign country, and not merely as a tourist, has an appeal impossible for many to resist.

“Once you get hooked on the abroad thing, it’s really hard to stay home,” says Laura Wieden, a 24-year-old graduate of Oregon’s Portland State University who spent three months last year working as a front desk clerk at a youth hostel in Cork, Ireland. Wieden is returning there next month for a brief stint behind the same desk, and she hopes to find a job somewhere next year teaching English as a second language.

Outside of financing a foreign job stint, perhaps the largest single hurdle is getting a short-term work permit. Most countries require them, and many will not grant one until you have a promise of a job from an employer.

For many, this is an impossible Catch-22. However, college and recent graduates can get work permits through the New York-based Council on International Educational Exchange. This year the program, the largest of its kind in the United States, will provide visas for about 6,000 young people for jobs in eight countries: England, France, Ireland, Germany, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Canada and Jamaica.


The CIEE charges $160 for its services and does not guarantee job placement. However, Paul Feltman, director of the group’s work exchange program, says that about 99% of CIEE participants do find jobs and housing through the program.

Most CIEE participants end up in England, France and Ireland, and the vast majority get jobs as sales help in tourist shops and restaurants or as vacation-relief office workers. According to Feltman, foreign employers are impressed by the language and computer skills of American students and are eager to give them temporary work.

Although about 85% of CIEE participants get jobs seemingly unrelated to their intended career fields, once abroad, the unexpected often happens.

Take Nancy Mendoza. A 1993 UCLA graduate with a passion for wine, Mendoza spent last summer working at Willie’s Wine Bar, a fancy Paris shop next to the even fancier Juvenille’s restaurant. While there, Mendoza served the manager of the Wine House in West Los Angeles, where she now works the order desk full-time.

Teaching English is perhaps the most common way for Americans to support themselves abroad. Opportunities range from serving informally as a family’s private language tutor to working as a regular classroom teacher in a local public or “American” school abroad.

Requirements vary from country to country and program to program. Some require certification in teaching English as a foreign language; many more demand a teaching credential or classroom teaching experience.


Perhaps the largest and best-known teacher placement service is operated by International Schools Services, a private nonprofit organization in Princeton, N.J., that serves more than 200 schools in Africa, Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree and at least two years of teaching experience in either elementary or secondary schools. There is a $50 registration fee.

Beth Bowers, a 28-year-old second-grade teacher, is in her fourth year as an English teacher in an “American” Catholic-run school in Sao Paulo. When she arrived in Brazil in 1992, Bowers spoke no Portuguese, and her job required none. So-called American schools abroad offer instruction in English only and are ideal for teachers whose foreign-language skills are skimpy.

Bowers had originally been looking for job in a Spanish-speaking country when she registered with the ISS. Her goal was to improve her proficiency in Spanish so as to advance her teaching career back home in Riverside, where public schools have a high proportion of Latino pupils.

But when she didn’t get a job offer she liked, she selected Sao Paulo, and, now that she has a steady boyfriend there, has no immediate plans to leave.

“My Spanish has taken a beating,” she says with a shrug, “but my Portuguese has improved.”


Where to Get More Information

The following books, organizations and programs offer information about work and study opportunities abroad:

“Work, Study, Travel Abroad, the Whole World Handbook,” by the Council on International Educational Exchange. St. Martin’s Press.


“International Jobs: Where They Are, How to Get Them,” by Eric Kocher. Addison-Wesley.

“The Au Pair and Nannies’ Guide to Work Abroad,” by Susan Griffin and Sharon Less. Vacation Work Publishers. Oxford, England.

“Work Your Way Around the World,” by Susan Griffin. Vacation Work Publishers. Oxford, England.

“Directory of Overseas Summer Jobs,” published by Peterson Guides. Princeton, N.J.

“How to Get a Job in Europe” and “How to Get a Job in the Pacific Rim,” both published by Surrey Books. Chicago.

“Alternatives to the Peace Corps: A Directory of Third World and U.S. International Volunteer Opportunities,” Food First Books. San Francisco.


Council on International Educational Exchange

205 E. 42nd St.

New York, NY 10017


Office of Overseas Dependent Schools

Department of Defense

1225 Jefferson Davis

Crystal Gateway, Suite 1500

Arlington, VA 22202


Office of Overseas Schools

Department of State

Washington, DC 20520


International Schools Services

P.O. Box 5910

Princeton, NJ 08540


Japan Information Center

Consulate General of Japan

299 Park Ave.

New York, NY 10017


European Council of International Schools

18 Lavant St.

Petersfield Hampshire

GU323EW England

Sources: “International Jobs: Where They Are, How to Get Them,” staff reports.