How far would you travel for your dream job? To another city? Another state? Why limit yourself, when your skills are in demand, worldwide?
Engineering principles don’t change at the border, so why not explore all your options and look for work in a different country?
1. Go Where the Engineering Jobs Are
Depending on your chosen field and aspirations, your home country may not provide you with the opportunities you’re after. “In the US, we have an education surplus,” writes personal development coach Mark Manson. “There are no longer enough quality jobs for everyone with a university education.” The American economy is picking up, but many prime engineering jobs are in developing countries with a rapidly growing manufacturing base, or a strong commitment to infrastructure construction.
If you want those jobs, you’ll need to be prepared to travel.
But if you’re prepared to move, the potential rewards are great. “There aren’t enough highly educated people in emerging countries. Your market value is much higher elsewhere,” notes Manson. Salaries and benefits for western-educated employees are often considerably better overseas than they can expect at home, particularly for senior and experienced staff. That alone is a great incentive to take the plunge.
2. Build a Global Professional Network
Building a personal and professional network is incredibly important. When you work overseas, you’ll meet more people than you would ever encounter staying at home. You’ll make an enormous number of professional contacts who could lead you to career opportunities you’d never dreamed of.
Equally importantly, you’ll meet ordinary, everyday people from different cultures. Whether it’s the man who sells chapatis on a Mumbai street, or a village elder in West Africa, or fellow baseball fans in Japan, you’ll find yourself acquiring a whole new circle of friends and acquaintances. You’ll develop a new perspective on life, and learn to appreciate that fundamentally, humans are pretty much the same throughout the world, despite our many differences. Living in another culture is a life-changing experience, and one which no amount of reading or watching TV or chatting online can ever give you.
“It’s a transformative experience,” says Ashley Templeton Rivas, Volunteer Engagement Director of Engineers Without Borders USA. “Being welcomed into people’s homes and actually living among them isn’t like being a tourist. Many of our volunteers tell us it’s a humbling experience. They learn to appreciate the limitations of their own experience, and they find out that they have a lot to learn from others.”
3. Challenge Yourself
Living and working abroad isn’t easy. You need to learn new levels of self-reliance just to survive. You have to adapt to new customs, new diets, maybe even learn new languages. All your familiar support systems are swept away. But, if you’re resourceful and determined, you’ll boost your self-confidence rapidly. Whether you’re deep in the Amazon jungle, or learning to find your way through crowded Hong Kong streets, or battling with impenetrable Indian bureaucracy, you’ll find yourself learning practical skills that will benefit you in more ways than you may realize. If you can cope with adversity in the middle of a foreign country, you can copy with whatever else life throws at you.
You’ll also find yourself rising to new professional challenges. If you’re working in the developing world, you’ll have to get used to improvising when the tools or materials you want aren’t available. You may have to design and build structures that have to cope with weather conditions or other natural forces you’ve never encountered before. Even if you’re working in high-tech conditions, you’ll have to get used to different standards and different ways of working. Those experiences are an opportunity to learn constantly, broaden your knowledge and hone your skills.
Working in the developing world isn’t an easy option. Shira Kramer, Press Director at the Peace Corps, stresses that they’re only interested in qualified engineers. “Qualifications for these assignments include a bachelor’s or master’s degree in environmental or sanitary engineering; a bachelor’s or master’s degree in civil engineering with 12 semester hours of environmental engineering courses; or certification in water or wastewater treatment plant operation or hazardous materials management.”
Rivas emphasizes that it’s a unique opportunity for younger engineers in particular. “For many of our volunteers, this is the first time they get to design and build real projects. They need to learn to really understand and work with the clients, who may be very different from anyone they’ve met before. That’s something that will be useful throughout their professional life.”
4. Sometimes the Grass Is Greener
You may be surprised by the way people in other countries live. Nowhere’s perfect, but step back and consider some of the advantages of different countries. The cost of living is often far lower than it is in the USA, which means you can easily find yourself enjoying a lifestyle you couldn’t aspire to at home. Head to Asia or the Middle Eastern countries, and you could perhaps afford a superb apartment, a driver, first-class restaurants, and excellent night-life. (And superfast internet!)
It’s not always about money. Perhaps you’d rather live somewhere with low crime, great weather, and a relaxed lifestyle. Or maybe you want to be surrounded by thousands of years of history and culture. Or if you prefer, you could end up in a remote rural community, far from the bustle and pressures of technology and modern urban life. Whatever lifestyle you want, it’s out there somewhere.
5. Build a Memorable Engineering Resume
If you’ve got experience of working overseas, your resume will stand out when (or if!) you come home. Recruiters will be drawn to your unique career history, and they’ll want to talk to you. Whether you’ve been building drainage systems in Bolivia, or designing high-tech in-car audio systems in Germany, you’ll have something new and different to bring to any company you work for. (At the very least, you’ll have something different to talk about at the interview, which helps enormously.)
Kramer points out that overseas service gives you skills that employers are looking for. “Peace Corps volunteers return home as global citizens with new perspectives. They cultivate cross-cultural, leadership, language, and community development skills that give them a competitive edge for advanced education and job opportunities in today’s global economy. In our interconnected world, these are vital skills that employers are looking for now more than ever. The unique Peace Corps experience helps returned volunteers find success across a number of fields and industries, and many continue to serve in their local communities.”
6. Travelling the World is Awesome
Perhaps the most important reason to consider going overseas is simply this: It’s fun!
Let me drop authorial objectivity for a moment: I’m an emigrant. I’ve been living and working in a foreign country for six years, and I love it. I love seeing new places, eating new food, and hanging out with different people. I live in a place that most of my countrymen get to visit perhaps once in their lives, for a couple of weeks, if they’re lucky. It’s like being on holiday and never having to go home. I may well never go home.
If there’s a place you’ve always wanted to spend your life, then what’s stopping you from making it happen? Look for the jobs, pack your bags and go. It may not turn out as you expected, but if you don’t try, you’ll spend your life wondering what could have been.
Personally and professionally, it could be the adventure of a lifetime.