If you speak with enough people who have lived and worked abroad, they generally fall into two basic categories: planners and drifters. While I’ve always been partial to planning myself, there isn’t necessarily a right way to do it – people can be equally successful having set-up everything in advance, as they can be arriving in a foreign airport with nothing but a backpack.
For those of us who seek a work abroad experience that is structured, planned – and also looks fantastic on the resume – there are a number of exciting and prestigious fellowships that (while competitive) take all of the guesswork out of the work abroad experience.
Fellowships are kind of a cross between internships and full-time jobs. Most fellowships combine some sort of cohort experience – that is, a group of fellows begin a program at the same time, participate in professional development together, and in some cases work together. This "cohort experience" is similar to many of the group programs that are common with summer internships, and has a number of benefits:
- Networking: Because of the professional nature of fellowships abroad (as compared to a study abroad program), many people involved will be looking forward with everyone conversation that they have with you as part of the cohort. Most fellowships are actually designed with networking in mind, and will organize networking nights with local businesses and other people in the field. If your fellowship program places participants in a number of organizations, take advantage of access to fellows’ supervisors and co-workers. Ask for introductions and/or find out if the fellow will invite you over to his/her office for lunch, and introduce you around to people who might be able to help you in your job search after the fellowship year has ended.
- Support: If it is you first time traveling abroad for an extended period of time, having a built-in support system in the form of a cohort can be extremely valuable. It’s even better that they people in your cohort will also be starting new jobs at the same time, and can understand things like culture shock, homesickness, and language barriers. Take advantage of anytime that has you thrown together with your cohort in the beginning of your fellowship to make connections and form friendships, so that you can build an even closer support system throughout your fellowship abroad.
- Social Life: Similar to offering support, having a cohort of fellows who are also new to the country and/or city where you are participating in a fellowship can give you some instant companionship for times when you aren’t working. Either for traveling on weekends, visiting the local cultural attractions, having a drink after work, or just sharing the events of your day with someone by email.
The benefits of a fellowship experience are many, but how do you find a fellowship abroad?
The Fulbright Program, through the Institute of International Education is perhaps the most well-known fellowship program in the world, and also one of the most prestigious. Many associate Fulbright with the study abroad experience, but there are also teaching assistantships available for those interested in language as a means to greater cultural understanding. Fulbright fellows spend 1 year as English teaching assistants at universities abroad. Young professionals can also apply for Fulbright Scholarships to work on projects and perform research abroad. Grants are typically for (and correspond to) the academic year abroad, and in rare cases can be extended. Full grants include round-trip airfare to the host country, a stipend to cover costs of living, and more than anything, the ability to call yourself a Fulbright scholar. For more information about applying for the Fulbright, explore their website.
CDS International offers a number of fellowship opportunities abroad. The mission of CDS International is “the advancement of international career training opportunities customized to provide individuals with in-depth practical knowledge of other nations’ business practices, cultures, and political traditions.” The Alfa Fellowship is a year-long experience in Russia which places young professionals in work assignments in the fields of business, economics, journalism, law, and public policy. Similarly, the Robert Bosch Foundation Fellowship places young professionals in leading businesses in Germany. Both programs follow the cohort model, sending between 10-20 fellows abroad each year. Fellows receive extensive language training, ongoing professional development seminars, sponsored weekend excursions, as well as room & board and health insurance.
This is just the tip of the fellowship abroad iceberg. While many fellowship focus on research and academics, there are opportunities out there for a more practical, hands-on experience. If you are currently in college, or a recent graduate, your study-abroad program office can be a great resource to find out more about fellowships, some of which might recruit from your college or university. Graduate programs generally have excellent work-abroad resources, especially public policy and international affairs programs. And nothing beats some Internet searching to find something that suits you!