Working abroad

If the idea of a foreign placement appeals, you may wish to investigate programmes that give you a taste of work abroad before you take the plunge

June 5, 2008

If you are interested in working outside Britain, why not just dip your toe in the water, suggests Sue Hopkinson, information officer for the Socrates Erasmus programme, which helps to fund short-term exchanges for staff in institutions elsewhere in Europe.

“Erasmus is a test,” she says. “If academics are interested in working abroad, it often stems from that experience.”

Academics on an Erasmus exchange usually spend a week in another country and about eight hours of this time teaching. Competence in the language of the host nation is helpful in liaising with colleagues overseas, Hopkinson says, but it has become less important in teaching as many courses in European universities use English for lectures.

Finding a suitable exchange is up to individual academics.

Terry Jones, director of communications at the Association of Graduate Recruiters Advisory Service, says UK universities often have established links with universities abroad. Otherwise, attending and speaking at conferences is key. He has heard of people getting job offers outside conference lecture theatres.

Graham Priest, professor of philosophy at the University of Melbourne, moved to Australia from Britain in 1976. He advises taking a period of leave and travelling around your target country.

It is also worth getting in touch with the British Council office in the country where you would like to work. While they will not fund your research, you may get help with travel expenses. You could also try contacting the country's embassy, says Hilary Managh, information officer at the British Council's Network UK.

If you want to work in another country in Europe, Managh suggests that you contact that country's European Union national mobility centre and that you post your CV on its website. The mobility centre should also be able to offer support if you have any problems once you have moved.

Shona Farrall, founder of the Expat Network, which runs a magazine and website for people working abroad, says that if you are offered a job overseas, you must have a thorough look at the terms of your contract before you travel.

“If you sign the contract and find the work or accommodation is not what you expected, there is nothing you can do about it,” she cautions.

If you are planning a long-term or permanent stay, you will need to think about pension provision. You will also need to consider whether you will still have to pay tax in the UK. You also need to consider who is responsible for organising and providing accommodation and whether you will have to forfeit a deposit if the arrangement doesn't work out.

Networking will also be important once you arrive in a new country. Farrall advises seeking out other expatriate teachers in your new institution so that you can learn from their experiences.

Do not forget your family, says Jones. Within Europe, your partner will be able to work, but if you travel further afield, this could be more difficult. Schooling could also prove tricky: your children may not appreciate being plunged into learning in an unfamiliar language, but there will be few other non fee-paying options.

Jones says that you should also consider your long-term career and how a period of work abroad will affect it. In certain subjects it is considered unwise for a junior lecturer to spend time in the US too early in his or her career because the teaching load there makes it difficult to publish.

On the other hand, he says, what really matters in career terms is what you have worked on and who you have worked with. So long as both of these elements are highly regarded, it doesn't really make a difference where you are based.

“Academia is very much a global place these days,” he observes.

Links:

British Council

Directory of foreign embassies in the UK

Europa World of Learning

European Union national mobility centres

The Expat Network

Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services

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