Work Abroad: Participating in Post-Degree Exchange Programs

Inspired by Nicole’s article regarding her regrets for not studying abroad, I thought I would share a personal anecdote on the subject:

Hitting the Road

During my stint at a university in New Hampshire, I had multiple opportunities to study abroad for a semester–but, initially, lacked the courage. My school offered a walk through Europe, in which students would literally traverse the continent on foot for three months; other international destinations included Vienna, London, Paris, and Spain. I grew tired of spending frigid winters in the far reaches of New England and finally decided to take a leap towards a semester elsewhere. As the programs rotated with one another each semester, my decision to study abroad coincided with the timing of the Vienna exchange.

Unfortunately, my wallet did not; I found myself facing a hefty fee on top of an already outrageous tuition. I had neglected to fully hunt for scholarships, or even to plan in advance by saving my summer employment money. Somehow, I had assumed that financial aid would cover my costs. I was sorely mistaken and forced to finish my semester in the snow, but have wondered to this day how proper planning might have swayed my course.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

The road to travel, however, is not gated off at the graduation stage. My regrets for not studying abroad have lead me to research alternative methods of cost-efficient travel, and to the delightful discovery that such methods do indeed exist. By participating in work exchange programs, such as Help Exchange or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, I could travel virtually anywhere in the world with no cost concern beyond transportation. In exchange for working for a host family or organization, typically on a farm or in construction, food and housing are provided; according to member reviews, some hosts are even able to provide the traveler with transportation for sightseeing.

Craigslist offers a sort of exchange program as well through its listings for housing swaps, although these listings are not regulated via the same stipulations and identity confirmation as Help Exchange or WWOOF. Perhaps my favorite, Couch Surfing, offers simplistic couch space for backpackers and travelers. The sites’s featured testimonial by traveler Christine Sonnleitner states, “Couch Surfing has put my faith back into humanity and has changed my life. For me, CS represents trust, friendship, energy, connection, and interaction–all great philosophies to live by!”

Working Abroad

These low-cost methods of traveling abroad appeal to me as genuine methods of travel, devoid of commercialism or a university agenda. They speak of connecting with fellow human beings to explore a new landscape naturally, gain skills, and focus on the experience of sharing cultures–no hotels, no material souvenirs, and no tourist traps.  Exceedingly useful, as well, are the network connections made while traveling; finding a sponsor for a work visa or even long-term residency is not confined to a faceless internet task.  What begins as a simple opportunity to explore the world could, with the right connections, turn into a lifetime of that ever elusive “perfect career.”

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3 Comments

  1. Church
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Thumbs up to this one. Although you shouldn’t be nervous traveling about. Soon you’ll realize it’s the thing you’ve been craving for so long.

  2. Posted May 19, 2011 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    This post lists interesting possibilities for travel I had never considered. At this point, I’ve decided to let the travel experts go for me and tell me about it. So much easier – and cheaper – to see all the best places on TV. Yes, I miss the experience, but it is certainly less hassle and within my budget.

    • Posted May 23, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      That’s certainly one way to do it; however, I’ve found that first-hand experiences are always much more fulfilling. I hope the possibilities listed help you avoid hassle and over-expense, should you change your mind :)

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