countries that value living life?
July 31, 2012 10:13 AM   Subscribe

Which countries value free time, low working hours, and vacations? Which value living life and not just working?

I need some specifics besides some Nordic or Scandinavian country, or the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, etc. I need to focus on a few specific countries to help clarify my goal of moving overseas, but I don't know enough about them.

I'm a liberal intellectual vegetarian American who likes the concepts of free education, universal healthcare, enjoying life, livable wage for all workers, cares about the environment, great public transit, etc. I like the culture and vibe of San Francisco and most of northern California.

Bonus Question:
Any specifics on how to actually make this happen sooner rather than later? I'm a biomedical engineer who graduated in June 2009 with no debt and has yet to secure a full time job.

Work Experience:
-contractor work building an Access database
-pharmaceutical manufacturing co-op where I had six sigma training and a green belt project. Also, designed a company-wide Access database to help with machine effectiveness.
-worked with a professor in undergrad and got published doing image analysis of neurons.
-led a senior design project which was a basic introduction to engineering tools and principles (ie: FMEA, metrics & constraints, gantt charts, etc.)

Possible Careers & Things I'm Good At:
-going to grad school abroad
-community college level science instructor
-interested in tissue engineering / regenerative medicine
-science researcher to help with getting a Masters
-finding efficiencies in companies / processes
-life coach or guidance person
-not interested in the peace corps or teaching English, I prefer more science based things

posted by Mr. Papagiorgio to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
May I ask why you're not interested in France or Germany? Those countries would both suit your description of what you're looking for quite nicely. And attending university in Germany is ridiculously inexpensive, if you go the "be a grad student" route. Are you looking for something else in specific, or just more options?
posted by ariel_caliban at 10:22 AM on July 31, 2012

One thought, if you aren't 100% committed to moving, and since you like certain areas of the US culturally, is to research companies headquartered in the countries that you've identified, and then see if they have US branches or subsidiaries. I work in the US for an organization that is headquartered in one of your target European countries. We also have a large number of expats working in our office (especially among senior management). The expectations about work-life balance in their home countries has transferred to the cultural climate of the US office. We have top-tier benefits/health insurance, generous vacation, great work hours and other perks that are the norm for the country where the company is based, but are definitely not the norm in the US.

I can't promise that every international company or organization will be like this but certainly some are.
posted by kimdog at 10:34 AM on July 31, 2012

Australia might be of interest to you. A lot of Aussies work very hard, but there is a lot more respect, I think, for work life balance and most of my family and friends back there work to live not live to work unlike my US friends. Though of course the economy didn't get hit as hard in Australia so that helps. Certain skills are in demand, and if you are willing to work in a remote area that can help you in getting a visa. I do think you have to live there a little while and/or be a citizen to get the healthcare and education benefits.

You might like South Australia it has the same Mediterranean style climate and vibe as the parts of California I've seen, and as they planted an amazing number of gum trees in California the country side in places even looks eerily the same.

Australia feels surprisingly like the US, my husband calls it US lite and what I imagine the US would be like if it ended up going a more "socialized" direction. You get a good blend of influence from the US, Europe and Asia. Vegetarianism is not a problem, my mother was one for 10 years or so, before she felt the siren call of bacon, and she never had a problem getting a good meal.
posted by wwax at 10:44 AM on July 31, 2012

Sound like Hawaii to me, but it's not cheap to live there.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:59 AM on July 31, 2012

In comparison with the USA most other places fit your criteria of being less work focussed and more sharing. To make a specific short-list I recommend starting with this map of countries showing their Gini index - lower value countries in blue purple or green are all possible candidates (the lower the index value the more equally the country distributes its wealth).

Now look at this list of countries showing GDP by hour worked. Or perhaps one of those lists of countries by work life balance (from The Atlantic magazine). Try to remove anywhere that looks too broke or un-productive.

Since this is still a long list I would try to narrow it down by some or the practicalities: you are looking for somewhere that would let become a working resident. That is by far your hardest problem to overcome. The next hardest problems could be to do with finding a job and learning the language.

I would recommend a procedure like this:
1. Your initial shortlist of countries.
2. Look at their entry criteria for migrants and try to find a list of scarce skills that will help you to get in - these will probably be science related in your case.
3. If you don't already have the skills required plan to study to obtain them. A course which would let you study partly or entirely in your target country would be best.
4. While you are studying learn the language.
The whole thing is probably a 5 year project. Meeting and marrying somebody from your target country (or perhaps qualifying because of family members born in the target country) could be shortcut.
posted by rongorongo at 11:02 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think the OP means that he needs more specific information than simply the name of a Scandinavian country.

Let me share my Finnish experience. Check out Aalto University's researcher or post grad positions in your areas of interest for starters. Also take a look at ArcticStartup for those that may require someone of your expertise area.

Finland is not difficult but its not easy either. On the other hand, it fits your specifications to the T, with regard to valuing Life, with a capital L. I have vegetarian friends over there although it might feel that the cuisine is too meat and potato heavy, they are moving towards healthier eating habits and vegetarian options are also available in most eating places.

Its cold for most the year though.

Fwiw, I used to live in San Francisco before I lived in Helsinki and while I miss SF deeply, there were other values that made me resonate with life in HEL.

I've not worked in Italy, but been there for 2 weeks at a stretch with a collaborative studio and from everything that I could see, SLOW food and SLOW life are big. But this aspect is true of Europe for the most part, although the free education adn healthcare and systems that work, I can only vouch for from my Finnish experience (2.5 years).
posted by infini at 11:05 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Montreal fits a whole lot of your criteria:

Free education. Not quite free, but lowest tuition in Canada and broad support for the ideal of free education. Quebec students have been on strike since February to protest a tuition increase from $2,168 to $3,793 per year.

Universal healthcare. Check.

Enjoying life. Check. Montrealers are extremely European in their approach to work/life balance - e.g., you work to live, not vice-versa.

Livable wage for all workers, cares about the environment, great public transit, etc. While not perfect in these respects, Montreal scores quite highly in all matters.

I like the culture and vibe of San Francisco and most of northern California. Both myself and my partner moved here from SF (with stops in between), and while there are major differences (hello winter!), we find a lot of commonalities in vibe.

Pharmaceutical manufacturing co-op where I had six sigma training and a green belt project...Worked with a professor in undergrad and got published doing image analysis of neurons...Going to grad school abroad. Montreal has a fairly strong pharma/biotech sector, as well as several universities with strong medical schools/science faculties (McGill & Concordia are anglophone).

Community college level science instructor. No community colleges, but CEGEPs are a possible equivalent.

Downsides: Long, cold winter. French is a prerequisite for many jobs (but not all - especially if you can land something in an anglophone university).
posted by googly at 11:41 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Not to rain on your parade, but a lot of the overseas countries with the attributes you're looking for are having deep, scary economic crisises.

I understand Berlin is enjoying a renaissance of high-tech start up companies, you may want to look into that, see if there's anything there that would interest you.

Immigration is a hassle because they don't want an unemployed person coming to the country any more than we want it in the US. Therefore you must be sponsored by a company in order to work legally.

Also, unless you already have a Master's, you're not qualified to teach science at a Community College. You're not even quaified to teach it in High School.

One thing that might interest you is an opportunity to teach science in Abu Dhabi. Check out Teach Away, they link to an on-line school for certification in Toronto.

Another thing you may want to look into is employment in the pharmaceutical sector. Find a position here in the US, with an eye to moving internationally in the future. Bayer has a huge facility in Pittsburgh, and they're headquartered in Germany.

I too agree that Canada is probably your best bet, but don't immigrate unless you're getting a free Master's or you have a job.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:46 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have traveled extensively the world over, and many of the places mentioned here are '2nd homes' to me.

Let's start with the easy one: Finland - cross it off your list. The type of lifestyle and the people are very different from not just San Francisco but even the rest of Scandinavia (they are rather cold and culturally tough in demeanor and approach).

The best work life balance in that region exists in Denmark or Norway.

Montreal - I have to disagree with the earlier posters - just on cultural openness, weather, and French language barriers to choice jobs is enough to eliminate from your consideration. I am sorry, but Montreal comes worlds apart from San Francisco. If you want to try Canada, explore Calgary or Ottawa.

Your best options:

Middle East: a degree from the United States carries weight and prestige, good work life balance, warm to very hot weather. Lots of drawbacks - I need not point them put here.

Southeast Asia: many of the same benefits as the middle east, except degree is not perceived highly as much, lots of local competition for science jobs. Far far from United States in distance.

In Latin America, the major disadvantage is English language limitations, with the growing exception being Brazil.

I agree with much of what was said about new Zealand and Australia.

Europe - forget Spain, France - look at Turkey or Cyprus.
posted by Kruger5 at 1:47 PM on July 31, 2012

I've spent the past 18yrs split between Ottawa, Montreal, and Copenhagen. With all respect, I must disagree with Kruger5 and side with googly. Montreal and Ottawa are fabulous, cosmopolitan cities; Ottawa just, well, isn't. Now, the flip side of that is that I live fifteen minutes from downtown (on the quebec side of the river) Ottawa on 1.5 acres of fabulous land for roughly half of what a nice condo in either MTL or CPH would cost with a provincial park in my backyard and a beautiful river in front. Pick your poison -- but I'd choose/recommend either before Ottawa.
posted by swillis at 4:00 PM on July 31, 2012

It's worth noting that the suggestion that grad school is super cheap in, for example, Montreal, may not actually apply to the OP since she would be considered an international student. I'm not 100% on Quebec's regulations, but in most provinces this means that you pay the full cost of your education (which is significantly higher than what domestic students pay).
posted by asnider at 4:24 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

That's true - she would likely pay international student tuition which, depending on field, could be quite high. I based my advice on the fact that she said she liked the 'concept' of free education, assuming that she was talking about the general political climate rather than the possibility of actually attending school for free as an ex-pat.
posted by googly at 5:18 PM on July 31, 2012

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