Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Socks… check. Toothbrush… check. Non-Immigrant Type B Work Visa… check.

Aside from the typical stuff you cram into your suitcase such as shirts, shoes, clean underwear and a picture of Mr. Snickers, your beloved family pet, preparing for an extended vacation can be a bit overwhelming.  You have to figure out a way to pack four months worth of your personal belongings which is essentially your entire life into a suitcase that cannot exceed 60 lbs or whatever your airline sets as a restriction.  Chances are you are going to struggle with the zipper when it finally comes time to try to close the darn thing.  You may even resort to sitting on the top in a vain effort to make the contents magically decrease in size.  I will admit, I have resorted to this tactic more than once and my abused luggage is proof.  You may eventually breakdown and relent to packing a second bag even though the airline is going to charge you an exorbitant fee for doing so.  Don’t they understand that shoes alone can take up an entire bag?  Do they really intend to deprive your feet of comfortable and stylish footwear?  Yes, yes they do. And that isn’t even the overwhelming part because you aren’t just going on a vacation.  You signed up for an international internship in Thailand where you will be working in a Thai school as an ESL educational assistant for the next four months.  And therefore, all your personal items actually rank low on the list of priorities when it comes to ensuring that you have everything you are going to need for your trip.  Sorry Mr. Snickers. Whether you have actually signed up for an internship or not, the following information applies to anyone who plans to travel internationally for longer than three weeks.  Hopefully, your travel agent or tour company will be helping you with the logistics of it all since it can be confusing for a first time traveller.

 Pre-Departure Preparation:
□ Read the Travel Report for your host country, available on the Foreign Affairs & International Trade Canada website.   Check it often to stay aware of any potential issues that may arise while travelling.
 Consider registering with the Canadian government before you travel abroad.  The Canadian government offers this service in order that they may contact you and assist you in an emergency should it arise while you are in a foreign country, i.e. a natural disaster or a family emergency.
 Carry a Canadian passport that is valid well beyond the date of your anticipated return to Canada; keep a copy of the identification page separate from the original.  This is perhaps your most important piece of identification.  A passport is the only reliable and universally accepted identification document that proves your right to re-enter your home country.
 Obtain any required visas well in advance.  The type of visa required will vary greatly upon your destination, length of visit and the type of travel you are participating in be it leisure or work related so be sure to check with the consulate if you have any concerns.
 If travelling with children, carry documentation proving your right to accompany them (e.g., a consent letter or court order).
 Arrange for supplemental travel health insurance.  This is required by many travel companies as a prerequisite for participating in their program if your trip extends beyond a certain time frame.  Your current health insurance may not cover you outside of the country.
Leave copies of your passport identification page, itinerary, and insurance policy with friends or family.
 Anticipate financial needs, such as local currency, visa fees, within country transit costs, baggage fees, and departure tax.
 Check to see if any special electrical adaptors are required in order to use your electrical devices.
 Take care of health needs: vaccinations, prescriptions, medical certificates, supplies, extra eyeglasses.  Take extra care to document and pack any prescriptions to avoid hassle at customs.  Be sure to check with airlines to know what you can and cannot pack in your carry-on.
 Check whether dual citizenship is an issue for you.
 Carry an Emergency Contact Card with the coordinates of the nearest Canadian government office in your destination country.  This should be kept on your person at all times while travelling abroad.
 Obtain an International Driving Permit, if required.

Traveling with an Agency:
If you have arranged your program through a travel company, insure you also know any additional requirement for your trip.  With a service such as International Career Studies, you will also want to make sure you have the following information: 
Arrangements for airport pick-up service. 
Name of your in-country contact and program coordinator. 
Emergency contact numbers for your program representative. 
Where you will be staying for the first two nights during orientation and your subsequent accommodations once you settle into your program routine. 
Internship placement information regarding where you will be working, manager’s name, your job title, responsibilities, professional dress requirements. 

If you have any further questions about preparing for your trip abroad, feel free to contact the International Career Studies for tips and travel help or check out the FAQ section on the Canadian government’s website.





Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Your Résumé: The Translated Version

Other than your tax return, your résumé is probably one of the most important and time consuming documents that you will ever write.  You carefully analyze your word choice to ensure that it conveys the correct meaning and frames you in the best light.  You list your skills, your experience and your education.  You delete, you tweak, you move things around until you are satisfied.  Then you have someone else edit it and repeat the process.  The final document consists of precisely chosen verbiage representing everything you have done in your life that would make the company want to hire you.  At least you hope.  You sit by the phone and wait for a call.

The process sounds familiar.  Everyone from the 16 year old high school student to the 55 year old who is considering retirement has written a résumé at one point in their life.  We’ve all applied for jobs and understand that an excellent résumé is key to getting that interview and getting a foot in the door of the company you want to work for.

But what is the company you want to work for isn’t local?  What if it is global?

Your résumé is still important and you are likely to go through all the same steps that you would normally go through when applying for a local job.  But the rules have changed.  Dun dun dun. (Cue the menacing death march music).  All of a sudden you are competing against other individuals that probably have a similar work or educational background (which is typical) but more importantly is that these people are probably local to the company.  If the company is in Thailand, then the fact that they already know the language, know the culture, are familiar with the people, best business practices, customs and all sorts of other affairs naturally makes them more suitable for the job at hand because they are the people that the business is going to be targeting.

So other than taking some extremely intensive Thai language lessons and Googling how to build a résumé that won’t completely throw the HR department for a loop, making them wonder what on earth you were thinking, what do you need to do to ensure that your application doesn’t just get a few chuckles and then end up on the top of the pile of office memos bound for the paper shredder/incinerator?

Well first, you do need to do some serious research about how to act professional.  You may think that professional courtesy is universal but with that mind frame you are definitely not going to get a call back.  What is professional in one country might be unprofessional in another.  Some cultures value getting right down to business while in others, it is expected to spend the first few minutes asking about each other’s personal life.  When accepting another person’s business card, never put it directly in your pocket or handbag or what have you in a casual manner that in America, wouldn’t get a second thought.  In fact, when interacting with someone of Asian descent, it is customary to accept the business card with two hands, examine it carefully before placing it in a hard cover folder of some sort to ensure that it does not get crushed.

Next, you must demonstrate your professional personality.  If they are going to go through the trouble of contacting an international job applicant, they are going to want to know what to expect from you in a professional setting personality-wise.  Are you going to clam up?  Are you often nervous?  Do you approach problems with a cool and collective mindset?  Do you stay goal orientated?  Can you resolve conflict before it gets blown out of proportion?  These are all assets that you are going to have to figure out a way to sneak into your résumé with your choice of wording.

Probably the most important thing to do when applying for a job outside of your locale is to know how to sell your cross cultural skills.  Do you speak a second language?  Have you spent time working with teams of culturally diverse people?  Can you put yourself in the shoes of a minority group to assess what sorts of needs they have that could be addressed?  You need to let potential employers know of any unique experiences that you have had that would benefit their company.  It is a good idea to mention things such as cross cultural work experience, whether you have a positive attitude with new work environments, project successes that focused on multicultural customer segments, volunteer experiences abroad, facility with respect to picking up new languages, travel experience, etc.

International internships, if you have done any, are a great thing to highlight.  And if you already speak a second language, even if it is not their own, you should still mention it as it demonstrates your ability to focus on a complicated task and see it through to the end.

If working internationally is something you would like to do down the road but are not quite sure what you want to do quite yet (after all it can mean a really big move complete with enormous shipping crates and insurmountable rolls of bubble wrap), consider looking into acquiring some of the above mentioned cross cultural skills so that when the time comes, you are prepared. 

Have you ever wanted to work internationally?  What is holding you back?



Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Je ne parle pas le français... o español

Ok, so the title of this blog post might be a little confusing since in essence I am saying that I don’t speak French or Spanish in French and Spanish.  My secret?  About two years of high school French and the Google Translate web tool.  I figure being able to tell people I don’t speak their language is one of the first things in any language I should learn how to say just so that I am covered no matter where I travel.  Genius no?

Why am I writing about languages today?  Well, for the first and rather obvious reason is that this is a travel/education blog and language falls into both of those categories.  As much as we North Americans would like to believe that English is the dominant language everywhere in the world, we are quite often largely mistaken.  Yes, it is true that many larger tourist destinations will have some form of communication set up to cater to their English speaking guests but when you crunch the numbers, English is not the language with the highest number of first-language speakers on this planet.  In fact, it isn’t even the second.  It actually ranks third behind Mandarin Chinese and Spanish according to Ethnologue Languages of the World.

It is obvious that learning a second language can be beneficial when travelling.  Heck, picking up a common phrase book from your local Chapters.Indigo.ca would be more than useful though you are going to look like a complete tourist as you walk around with your nose buried in your phrase book hopelessly trying to ask for directions back to your hotel.

Some people enjoy learning a new language just because the study of languages interests them.  A 20 year old Oxford student named Alex Rawlings from the U.K. explains in this video how he became interested in learning new languages and eventually became fluent in eleven of them including Spanish, English, Greek and Russian.  Learning Arabic is next on his list.  Apparently is becomes easier over time and though I completely believe him, I am not worried about the ease at which I will learn language #12.  I am worried about the hassle that learning language #2 is going to be.

You’ll notice though that many of the languages that Rowlings learned first were languages that he was surrounded with and got to practice on a daily basis. 

Many people find it easier to pick up a language when they are forced to practice it on a daily basis.  High school students frequently choose to participate in a language exchange program because it is an exciting way to learn a new language at a much faster pace than they could in the classroom. But why do schools encourage students and offer incentives to those that choose to do exchange programs and take a second language all throughout high school instead of just for the first year which is often mandatory?

This question brings me to the second reason why I am writing about languages today.  Schools recognize that having a second language is extremely valuable to students as they mature and pursue a career.  Having a second language often opens up a variety of job positions that list multiple languages a requirement.  But why would a company want its employees to be able to communicate in multiple languages?  Globalization.  I’ve posted a few blogs in the past [ here and here ] that talk about this subject that you are free to refer to so that I won’t have to go in depth on the matter but the gist of it is that the workplace no longer fits in a neat little, local box.  Your suppliers, your partners, and your clients are all from diverse international backgrounds and it is important for a business to be able to communicate effectively and efficiently across all channels without having to use a third party.  Because as convenient as Google Translate is at times, its Mandarin and Thai leave a lot to be desired.

Having a second, third or fourth language makes you incredibly more valuable to an employer that is thinking on an international scale.  And even if they are not, having another language listed on your résumé communicates to employers that you have the dedicated work ethic and focus needed to learn a new language which favourably translates over into other aspects of your work.

Leading back up to the first point, learning a new language is easiest when you can practice on a daily basis and easier still if you can interact with people who also speak it fluently.  People who travel frequently often pick up bits of a language faster than others because their level of exposure is higher.  If you are serious about learning a new language, consider ditching the phrase book and participate in an international internship or exchange program.  Your age does not matter as there are a variety of programs out there that are not associated with any schools and are therefore open for anyone to participate in.  These programs range from 1 to 8 week educational travel programs and 3 to 12 month internships with many choices for combining and strengthening the language component in order to earn an individual certificate of completion.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

A Logical Excuse to Participate in Edutourism

You have sold your soul to your company for the past six years and the ten vacation days that you were originally granted has been boosted up to fifteen in exchange for your continued loyalty (and your first born child).  You do the math and quickly realize that fifteen days basically amounts to three weeks as long as you include the weekends.  You haven’t had that much time off since Christmas vacation your final week of university!  You start to get excited.  Three entire weeks basking in the warm glow of the sun down on some beach in the middle of nowhere, far away from cell towers, internet connection, your e-mail inbox and the lady in your office that wears too much perfume sounds divine.  You just go on Expedia, book your trip and in no time at all you are sitting on that pristine beach (with about 5000 other tourists), enjoying the scent of the tropical breeze (and that big guy’s coconut suntan oil on your right) listening to absolutely nothing but the soothing waves against the shore (and the frat boys to your left shouting “chug, chug chug”).  All that aside, sitting back in a lawn chair is actually quite relaxing.  Until you get to day three and realize you are bored out of your mind and burnt to a crisp. Maybe you should ask that big guy if you can borrow his suntan lotion...

Now before you go and do the rational thing like splitting up for vacation time into three different getaways and booking your hotel during hurricane season to avoid the crowds, consider another equally rational option.  Edutourism.

My last post attempted to explain the new concept of what edutourism is exactly so I encourage you to go back and take a quick look at it so that you are all up to speed.  I’ll wait right here.


Back?  Perfect.  Moving on.  Edutourism experiences can range anywhere from one to four weeks depending on your specific program but the reason I bring it up is because these informal learning programs are perfect to keep you A-type personalities busy during your vacation.  I don’t mean run you off your feet busy, but adequately involved in the culture and local surroundings of your destination so that the boredom doesn’t sink in after three days of doing absolutely nothing but shaking sand out of your underwear towel.

Benefits for Your Vacation Experience
I’ve probably mentioned most of these already but I will quickly recap just because I think they are worth mentioning and are probably some of the more convincing reasons to participate in edutourism.

  • Whether it is informal or formal learning, edutourism programs are a stimulating alternative to sitting on a lawn chair that will keep your mind occupied and your body moving.
  • Many tourists come, they see and they go.  If you are going to travel abroad, you should make the most of the opportunity to take something more out of your trip beyond some nice photos.  Your destination is going to offer up a whole new culture and perspective for you to explore and the best way to experience this is to actually become involved with the people.
  • Learning a new skill such as silk weaving, glass blowing, cigar rolling or any other is going to provide you with a unique vacation experience that you can brag about when you get back to reality.  And let’s face it, if we are going to take three weeks of vacation, we had better come back with a better story than “the resort was so beautiful”.

Benefits for the Destination Country
Maybe you aren’t really into the idea of edutourism for the “learning” part of the available programs but you are interested in what edutourism can actually provide for the region itself.  Few tourists are actually aware of the high impact that their vacation has on the economy and development of a particular location.  There are a few countries that base their economy heavily upon the revenue brought in by tourism.  But at the same time, these countries suffer because they are losing what makes them culturally unique as they seek to provide “westerners” with all the comforts of home and must conform their societal structure to be more accommodating and familiar.  Listed below are some of the ways that edutourism benefits the country.

  • Attracts a wide base of consumers who are less satisfied with “package” vacations
  • Has the potential to create a socially and economically sustainable tourism product that benefits both the region and its visitors.
  • Edutourism can help rejuvenate tourism throughout the world, celebrating cultures and the intermingling of residents and visitors.
  • It can provide great support for preservation and conversation of the local environment and culture and provide more meaningful opportunities for residents and visitors.
  • Once of the most obvious benefits of edutourism is the sustainability aspect of it in that the local population is being more actively involved in the direct and indirect benefits of tourism.

Benefits for Your Career & Resume
Hold the phone.  I can’t be serious.  How does a vacation look good on a resume?  Well, to be specific, a vacation doesn’t but an edutourism program quite possibly could. 

  • Choose an edutourism program that relates to your career.  Are you in the fashion industry? Learning to weave silk in Thailand could be a differentiating and noteworthy experience to put on your resume.  Or if you are in into sports journalism, travelling to Cuba to play baseball might also spark some interest from potential employers.
  • International perspective is always a good thing to weave into your resume.  With the marketplace expanding to encompass the entire globe, employers often want proof that you will be able to adapt if you are put in a situation where you have to interact with a different culture.  Demonstrating that you were fully engaged in Japanese culture for three weeks while completing an in depth tour of temples, shrines and symbolic gardens proves that you have an interest in broadening your horizons and understanding of another peoples’ heritage.
  • And at the very least, put your edutourism experience under you list of skills and interests and it will make for a good conversation piece during your next interview.  Everyone puts that they love to travel, read, play sports, etc.  You toss Elephant Mahout in there and people are going to take a second glance just to make sure they did not misread that.