Where should I spend a year?
October 3, 2005 1:03 AM   Subscribe

I'm planning to spend a year abroad after graduation. Help me pick a country.

I'll graduate in June with a CS degree, no committments, and a desire to do something different. In the past, when youngins facing similar catastrophes have Asked Metafilter what to do, the answer has been practically unanimous: travel. I'm eager to do that (for a year, possibly two), but could use advice on where to go, and how to prepare.

First, where to go. I'm looking for a chance to get out of the west, and out of my comfort zone. Money isn't a huge factor; I'd like to be able to save $1500 a year for college loans, but I'll have some savings (thanks to Google's Summer of Code!), so that's not a deal breaker. Because of our current national obsession with it, as well as positive anecdotal stories on AskMe and elsewhere, China has currently caught my interest (and Taiwan). Volunteer work in the third world is also appealing, as long as its at least revenue neutral. But I'm primarily just looking for a great experience; where would you go if you had a year and no committments? One bit of wimpiness: I'm an open source geek, and would also like to use this opportunity to make some real contributions to the movement, so broadband is admittedly a plus.

Also, some questions about preparation. For those that have taught English in Asia (or know someone who has), how did you find work? Is it worthwhile to get TEFL certification beforehand? Alternatively, I am, as mentioned, a geek, and would welcome opportunities to put those skills to use. Does anyone know of good ways to do this?

Other possibly relevent info: I want to go to law school, though obviously not immediately (in fact, one reason I'd like to take time off is that my college transcript is mediocre, and I understand that not applying straight out of college may reduce the relative weight of my transcript in the admissions process).

Thanks so much- hopefully this question will be useful to others as well.
posted by gsteff to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I live in Japan teaching English. Came here for just a year, and it's now been over two. You can certainly get work teaching (the large metropolitan areas have the most job opportunities), and as long as you have a degree you can get a work visa (I'm guessing you're American--If you're Canadian, British, Aussie, etc you can get a Working Holiday visa, which isn't so much red tape).

Google teaching English in Japan and you'll find a ton of info. Check out www.gaijinpot.com first, lotsa info there. And, no, a teaching certificate isn't necessary. Most teachers here don't have 'em. Just be charming and nice and iron your shirt for the interviews and you'll have no problem.

I had some friends who were programmers, and they could get freelance work over here, but speaking Japanese is often--but not always--required.

Check it out! Japan rocks!
posted by zardoz at 1:26 AM on October 3, 2005

Try Former Soviet Union - affordable and your skills can be considered useful!
posted by k8t at 1:54 AM on October 3, 2005

China might be difficult... you'll need a visa to get into the country, and I'm not sure how much red tape you'll have to deal with to get a one year, unlimited duration visa. Plus English isn't exactly common in most of the country... sure most of the road signs are in pinyin now, but be prepared for a lot of non-verbal communication until you get a grasp of basic communication.

Have you thought about the Philippines? English is far more prevalent -- hell I got better English at a McDonalds in the Philippines than the one a couple blocks away -- and it's generally an American friendly country. There's lots of room for volunteer work both in the major cities (Metro Manila and Cebu) and also out in the provinces. Just stay away from Mindanao.

And I second Russia or really any Eastern European / former Soviet bloc country.
posted by nathan_teske at 2:13 AM on October 3, 2005

Also - check out Geek Corps. There may be something interesting for you to do there.
posted by k8t at 2:29 AM on October 3, 2005

The University of Michigan's Overseas Opportunities Office is one of the best-known resources for information on working abroad. Here are some programs for teaching abroad without TEFL certification.

Or... have you considered the Peace Corps? It's a 27-month commitment, but it can also do wonders for your career, especially if you're interested in government jobs.
posted by srah at 6:46 AM on October 3, 2005

I know it's a two year stint, but you could join the Peace Corps.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:47 AM on October 3, 2005

I know several people who have lived (and taught English) in Taiwan and had a blast, and earned lots of money. The community of foreign teachers seems thriving, and several people my friends met there are still there 7 or 8 years later. So if China seems to be too much red tape, as suggested, Taiwan may be a good choice.
posted by Robot Johnny at 6:53 AM on October 3, 2005

Look into Mexico. It's beautiful, inexpensive, and not quite as intense (read, urban overpopulation chaos) as Asia. My sister just moved to San Miguel del Allende to spend a year before coming back to the states for college. My wife and I went with her in August to help her find an apartment, and San Miguel was so absofuckinglutely beautiful that we almost stayed. From what I gathered, just being there for two weeks, it'd be pretty easy to get a gig at one of the colleges teaching English. Also, there were fliers everywhere, near smaller schools and just posted on lamp-posts, about private english lessons and the like. Additionally, since you seem to have computer skills, they'd be pretty useful and quite a few people would want to learn them. By the way, Spanish is really easy. At best, I can struggle through a little French and even I was able to get by there.
Honestly, I can't even begin to describe what a great place it'd be to spend a year abroad in a single post. Email me for more info (email in profile). Actually, I blogged our trip to Mexico. Check out braincrabs dot com (and scroll down) to get a quick impression of the place.

Also, appealing to the geek in all of us: San Miguel is a really progressive, up-and-coming place. Just walk down to central square with your laptop and connect to the free broadband wifi network. My sister, within the first day of living there, discovered that she could take her laptop up to the roof of her apartment and intercept another open wireless network.
posted by Jon-o at 8:24 AM on October 3, 2005

how about way down south... chile. you dont hear much about it - but its a wonderful country to travel/explore, and a growing vibrant economy.

neat place.
posted by specialk420 at 9:08 AM on October 3, 2005

Not sure if you are in Canada or not, but I spent the first 6 months out of school on an all expense paid tour of the Caribbean Islands courtesy of the government.

A gov't program (OCOD: Organization for Coordination of Overseas Development) sent me and a bunch of other people to a number of different islands to help the local people setup and train on computer systems. I'm sure there are similar programs for non-tech fields as well.

I didn't get paid, but I was given money for room and board and all travel expenses. I lived very cheaply and came home with $200 and snuck in two flights from Antigua to St. Kitts with the money they provided me.

I also got to experience life as an extremely visible minority which opened my eyes somewhat. Was a fabulous life experience, and the work ethic in the Islands won't put much (any?) stress on you. They also speak a form of English on most islands which makes the transition fairly painless, everyone can understand you but understanding the locals properly can take some time.

Was a very positive experience for me and definately recommend doing something or going somewhere that is slightly uncomfortable at first to stretch your self.
posted by gfroese at 9:24 AM on October 3, 2005

I believe Geek Corps tours are shorter than the PC if you don't want to dedicate 2y4mo. They're a branch of the UN's executive service branch.
posted by phearlez at 9:31 AM on October 3, 2005

Response by poster: Cool, thanks all. Geekcorps looks very cool, although possibly difficult for new grads to get into. And they're under the UN!

k8t and nathan_teske: former Soviet nations sound interesting. Do you know anyone that's gone to one?
posted by gsteff at 11:03 AM on October 3, 2005

Another vote for former soviet union / eastern europe / russia. Very interesting place, and off the radar of most americans nowadays. Broadband? Not a ton, but probably there if you know where to look.
posted by lorrer at 6:44 PM on October 3, 2005

Turkey. An absolutely fascinating place that's been looking toward the West since the 1920s, but is 98% Muslim. Strong history and culture, very warm and friendly people, good food, inexpensive, easy travel, but more "exotic" and doesn't feel just like home or a more-pricey-version-of-same (as Western Europe occasionally can.)
posted by Vidiot at 9:43 PM on October 4, 2005

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