Get me out of here!
August 11, 2008 3:30 PM   Subscribe

Help this undereducated twenty-something get abroad!

I'm 23 and until recently thanks to my parents and older girlfriends found myself surrounded by bright, educated, creative people. The one thing that enthralled me about most of these people from the starving artists to the wealthy business-folk was their stories of living abroad in their twenties, often without a degree (like me!). I've tried for the last couple of years to convince myself that I can have great experiences here while working on my degree and move away once I've got that sheepskin.
It's become apparent to me that this itch to live overseas for at least a year or two isn't going away, and is a non-insignificant distraction to my education and current tech-job.
So my question is this: what's the swiftest way to get out of here with no savings, but no significant debt (~6k)? I'd rather help people, but it seems most volunteer opportunities charge these days. I've looked into TEFL/TESOL but there are so many programs out there I don't know which ones to trust. My current job experience is limited to waiting tables/ my current job which involves old Unix and AS/400 systems which seems to under-qualify me for Geek Corps. I'm all for working, but I've no idea what to look for.

Please don't suggest the military, ain't gonna happen.
Bonus points if I can take my dog (although my dad loves him and has offered to watch him for an extended period).
posted by piedmont to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Assuming you're American, there's a great program through BUNAC that helps students under 26 get work permits in Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. You have to be currently enrolled in college, but I knew a guy (back in the early 90s) who signed up for classes at a community college, had his official BUNAC paperwork stamped by the college officials, and then got a refund for those classes all in the same day. I worked in the UK for six months, then extended a tourist visa for another six months. One of the best decisions of my life.
posted by roger ackroyd at 3:50 PM on August 11, 2008

Sounds like a question for mdonley.

Are you religious? If so, perhaps your church can sponsor you to go on a long-term mission trip.

I don't know much about how to go about living abroad, but once you do get to wherever you wind up, you should start couchsurfing. It's a great--and free!--way to discover new places, meet new people, experience the local culture.
posted by HotPatatta at 3:54 PM on August 11, 2008

It can probably be found by sleuthing through your previous questions and posts, but one can't really answer this without knowing where you are living now and your citizenship.

Assuming you are a US citizen, have a chat with a Peace Corps recruiter to see how your skills fit with their current needs. Most of their positions have always said "BA or X years work experience, so your tech job might get you in the door if you've been there long enough.

But if you aren't looking for blue-collar work (eg oil field work) or religious/missionary work, most positions will want you to have qualifications (usually a BA, plus appropriate technical certifications), language skills, and/or to pay your own way. The exception is language teaching, although everyone I know personally who has done that has had a degree plus certification.

Bringing the dog is almost certainly a no-no, because of quarantine regulations in most countries and a whole host of practical reasons.

Honestly, why not just retire that debt (doesn't take long if you are working two or three jobs at once), save a couple of thousand dollars, and go on a budget trip down into Latin America or through Asia? Find somewhere nice and try and scrounge up something there in order to stretch your money — bartending or other tourist-related jobs, or volunteering in exchange for room and board at an orphanage, or something more fun. Make your way to a resort port and talk someone into taking you on as crew on a yacht, say. Come home when you are bored or you run out of money.

As with most of these questions, the barriers aren't practical but rather internal — the sense of "I couldn't do that" or "I need to wait until everything is perfectly organized before I can go." Take care of your debt, save a few dollars, get a passport, pack a quarter of what you think you will need (and that will still be too much), and hit the road. It's genuinely that simple.
posted by Forktine at 4:04 PM on August 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Whoa, my first AskMeFi page! *basks in glory of the mdonley signal*

I've looked into TEFL/TESOL but there are so many programs out there I don't know which ones to trust.

CELTA. It's not the only program out there, but it's pretty much the industry standard for a reason: it's very well respected, thorough enough for total beginners to not still be totally at sea after finishing the course, professionally run and administered (Cambridge!), and available all over the world. It's also, uh, what I did. Check out the CELTA website to look for schools/centers where you can do it; there are dozens all over the world, and the cost really varies even though the content of the course is basically identical everywhere.

Following the (intense-but-in-a-good-way, one-month, full-time) course, you get your certificate in the mail, send out your resume and wait for bites!

It's pretty easy to find jobs outside the EU (Mexico, Costa Rica, southeast Asia...I got a job in Indonesia a month after I finished my course and was on a plane a few weeks later for a year's contract!) and not impossible to find them inside as well, and if you can scare up the money to get to a place where the course is offered for relatively little money, it's a deal, too. (I did mine in Krakow, Poland in November-December 2005 [read: a cheap time to travel!] - all my flights from LA, course fees, accommodation, food, and some travel to see friends in England and France before and after the course came to $2500.

I'd rather help people

As far as this is concerned: people who can afford English-language classes are usually pretty wealthy for the place they live. You're still helping people get better jobs, get into universities, achieve their dreams and all that - but the private language schools where many CELTA-certified teachers work are for-profit enterprises, and I work pretty hard for the money (which is, frankly, not super - it would be hard to pay off your $6000 in debt if you're only making $10,000 a year!). There are places where incomes are much higher - South Korea comes to mind (and you might want to talk to fellow MeFite stavrosthewonderchicken about that, as I believe he has lives there and has taught English there as well!). That might not be what you're looking for.

I worked about 50 hours a week this past year - 20-25 hours of teaching, 25 hours of planning, getting to and from work, attending meetings, grading exams and writing samples, keeping the classroom looking good, and doing teacher development courses online and as offered by the school.

So: I suggest you pay off that last $6000 - can you live with your folks, work double shifts, and have it gone in a few months? - save up for your ticket, and go! It's really, really fun even on the hard days, often a playful romp through language, and I've never had as much joy at work as I do when I'm in front of my students.

You may also want to look into something I have never done, but in a place I have always wanted to go: New Zealand's Working Holiday Visa.

Send me a MeMail if you've got any more questions!
posted by mdonley at 4:29 PM on August 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm from the US and had a similar itch when I was 20 and was floundering in college. I signed up with Community Service Volunteers in the UK and was a full-time volunteer for about 9 months in a local social service agency in a London suburb.

To be completely accurate, a firm called Interim Programs is the one that hooked me up with this volunteering opportunity. They charged a fee to find CSV, and I'm recommending CSV to you as a way of cutting out the middle man that is Interim Programs. But Interim has a HUGE amount of other options in tons of countries in addition to the UK.

I'll be 40 next year. That year of volunteering was the most fun, most significant year I've ever had, and it was the fastest leap in practical and cultural learning I've ever made. I grew up a WASPy private school kid from the southern US, and I lived for a year as a working-class Brit with no money and no social network to fall back on.

CSV got me a student visa (even though I was not enrolled anywhere) and a free place to live (actually a succession of free places, always in the same building as government-owned nursery schools). In 1989-1990, they gave me about $60/week as a stipend. I was poor, and I LOVED IT.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 5:54 PM on August 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

I just got back from a trip in South East Asia, and you don't need a lot of money to live there. Even in Bali, I found hostel that cost $4/night and meals at around $1. So, my advice is simply: retire that debt, earn the air fare and just go.
posted by curiousZ at 6:50 PM on August 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Computer/Console game testing. Plenty of international companies out there looking for people with knowledge and enthusiasm for gaming. The pay ain't great, but it's usually better than minimum wage and the work is fun.

Early summer is prime time for most companies to get games ready for the Xmas market. Look at the big publishers first, then maybe developers. The only caveat would be, if you're American, getting work-permits and visas for the EU might be tricky.

Good luck. Moving abroad was the best decision I ever made. I'm currently on my second 'foreign' country, and the 6th year of living away from my home country.
posted by slimepuppy at 4:42 AM on August 12, 2008

Do it. And that's not just encouragement, it's advice. As soon as you do it (even if you don't know what you're doing, even if you don't know how it'll end)... well, you've done it. You know all those friends who have wild stories about their times overseas? I'm willing to bet that most of them didn't have a clue how they were going to end when the stories began.

So do whatever it takes to start the adventure. Can you put the debt on hold, somehow? Can you earn as much cash in as short a time as possible? Get a ticket to somewhere cheap (Asia or South America are good bets) and sort yourself out when you get there. Perhaps you'll have enough money to go on an epic year long journey from coast to coast, seeing everything along the way. Perhaps you'll be so poor that you'll spend the first six months working in a hostel just to stay alive. Both of these will make for wonderful adventures (and excellent stories, down the track).

Just do it. Don't let worries about whether you'll be able to handle it stop you. Adversity either reveals or creates the capacity to overcome it.
posted by twirlypen at 4:03 PM on August 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

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