Finding work in Asia from abroad
September 22, 2012 9:20 PM   Subscribe

I'm a young Australian, and I want to work in Asia. How do I make that happen?

I'm in my early twenties, and will be graduating from a BA with a major in Development Studies from a reasonably prestigious Australian university at the end of this year. I've worked in an office part-time while studying for the last couple of years, and my non-degree skills are being able to write reasonably well, and some web/database expertise.

I'm particularly interested in Myanmar (with the sanctions recently listed, I think there are going to be rapid changes in Myanmar that make this a very interesting time there), Malaysia, or China, all places that I have enjoyed visiting. I am also happy to consider other countries in East or South-east Asia.

I don't mind what kind of work of I'm doing - my degree doesn't obviously lend itself to any particular industry or vocation. All I want is to be paid enough to fund accommodation and a lifestyle where I can live comfortably and also travel around the region a bit in my holidays. (To the extent that choices about type of work exist, I am interested in unusual opportunities, like this guy, who worked as a translator for the North Korean gov't in the 1980s, but unusual positions are even harder to find or organise over the Internet.)

My problem is how to approach finding suitable positions. Googling yields only vague results, and I'm not interested in paying a third-party to find an unpaid "internship". I've applied for a couple of AYAD positions, but these aren't very flexible, and you can only apply for a limited number. How can I find foreign companies willing/eager to hire a foreigner?

(If you have advice on how I could work for an Australian company while abroad, that would be great too - but I assume this would require working for them in Australia for several years before being transferred, which I'm not so keen on.)
posted by mxc to Work & Money (8 answers total)
Assuming Development Studies = international development, have you looked into AUSAID or the contractors that implement their programs? It's easier to get your foot in the door in your own country, but once you have experience you could look at USAID, DFID, SIDA, World Bank, etc.
posted by charmcityblues at 9:34 PM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

The easiest way to get a job in Asia is teaching English. Because you have are a native English speaker it's even easier for you. There are lots of ESL forums which have lots of job listings and these should be searchable.

If you are interested in translation you could consider enrolling in a university to earn the local language. As for other jobs, it's possible but more difficult to get them unless you have in-demand skills (like software design or something) or you speak the local language fluently.
posted by bearette at 10:23 PM on September 22, 2012

Beaten to the punch, was going to suggest AusAid grad program (competition is keen). One, crucial, thing you've not really listed in this question is what your experience is, outside your degree.

Have you completed any internships or anything like that with local NGOs or other orgs? The office work could be a good start for an entry-level job.

If you want to leave straight away, seconding Bearette's suggestion of English teaching. Several mefites with the relevant experience may weigh in with more details on that. :)
posted by smoke at 11:47 PM on September 22, 2012

Most people I met or worked with in Asia, arriving straight after finishing their university studies in their early or mid-20s, got a job through heavy networking. Some picked up and moving to a country with a generous visa-free stay allowance- Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea- and cold called people from their embassy who were working for companies from their country. Others had connections through people from back home, who linked them to someone working for a company abroad. That's how most people 20-somethings ended up working for multinational companies abroad. I used to think that was an awfully daunting and scary way to get a job in a foreign country, but ended up doing the exact same thing moving to Europe, so it really isn't as impossible as it sounds.

Otherwise, there is always the teaching English in Asia option, as people mentioned above.

As for working for a local company and having them eventually sponsor you to go abroad, it's pretty rare, unless you're in a field or department (ex: technical, engineering, project management) where it is a given that people will be traveling and often away from home for assignments. Or immediately end up in a central department and role of the company where all of the brains, expertise, and resources are and they send you abroad for deploying this expertise. Why invest all the time and training to a new employee, only having to lose him to another sector of the company and start at ground zero.
posted by peachtree at 1:15 AM on September 23, 2012

English teaching is probably the quickest and simplest way for you to get a job in Asia. China and South Korea in particular have incredibly lucrative salaries that would more than pay itself. The downside is that unless you're one of those rare people who build career out of English teaching, it often becomes a 'gap year' job - you'll have life experience and transferable skills and whatnot, but you're still going to be just as unspecialised and lack suitable experience for most jobs abroad or in Australia - you may be more competitive in entry level jobs but it's unlikely to open any new doors compared with if you had worked in a company or whatever for that year.

You could consider gaining a year or so of experience in Australia first, and build more of a specialism for yourself - whether that's thematic, like 'health' or 'gender' or 'environment' or whatever, or more functional, like HR, finance, law, etc. I think once you have a set direction it'll make your job hunt abroad easier later and you'd be more use to them rather than a fresh grad with not much mor than native English skills to offer.
posted by pikeandshield at 1:23 AM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you want to know about teaching English in S. Korea, feel free to PM me. I've taught 5.5 years here (though not continuously) and am starting a new school tomorrow (gulp).
posted by kathrynm at 5:06 AM on September 23, 2012

Growing up in an English-speaking country, having a college degree, and passing a background check is all you need for an ESL job in South Korea, China, or Japan. I've heard mixed things about the latter two -- cost of living is really low in China but there can be a lot of sketchiness. Japan is clean and nice and mind-blowingly expensive. IMO, Korea is great. I've been here four years. The problem is that the jobs you'll get coming from outside are going to offer very little in the way of vacation time. So some guys do a year, save, then travel for a while before picking up the next contract. It's perfectly do-able.
posted by bardic at 2:19 AM on September 24, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks very much for all the answers. I will be moving overseas to start an AusAID position next year!
posted by mxc at 3:09 AM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

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