This post is going to explore four different educational paths that I have either known others to follow or researched extensively as a possible avenue towards repatriation
I still remember the night I decided to go all the way ‘back to the drawing board’ in my effort to move back home. I had just sent yet another set of pdf documents including my resume, cover letter, and references. As I was closing down my computer for the night, a thought entered my mind:
So, Steve, what would it take to just go all the way back and start from scratch in your career? Might it actually be easier?
Pursuing continuing education opportunities as a path to repatriation has strong merits if you select your field wisely. Choosing a program where participants are actively recruited even before graduation could alone be well worth the financial investment to get into it.
Aside from that aspect, adding a new skill set to your existing toolbox and experiences could lead to some very interesting places in your career while also providing a foot in the door for the relocation you’re dreaming of.
This is not a definitive list, by any means. It is, however, a list of fields where I have either known people to successfully make the transition, or investigated myself in detail. I would love to hear about other such areas and invite people to make their cases in the comments.
In some ways going back to school to get a teaching certification is pretty attractive. Many expats have extensive experience in the education field, found that they enjoy teaching, and like that they can focus on a field that they already studied, like Math, English, or Social Studies. A semester or two of coursework in the education field, then off to do some student teaching, pass the certification exam and BOOM you’re in the workforce. For some a Master’s program is even a good way to go as it’s not that much more additional time.
Indeed, I have known people to go this route. Even if you really enjoy teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) specifically, there are avenues such as CELTA certification, Masters programs in Applied Linguistics, etc.
Before you jump in head first, however, make sure you’re aware of some of the downsides. Especially in the United States, teacher burnout is a serious problem, and the pay is not anything to get excited about.
Still, if you’ve fallen in love with teaching and the stability of returning to your old high school as a teacher sounds attractive, then it’s a viable option.
There are even options such as the Framingham University Masters in Education (popular with expat teachers in Korea although it does not offer certification), or The College of New Jersey (Masters + teaching cert. Geared towards teaching in international schools, but still a fully legitimate certification in the U.S.) that allow you to get most or all of your coursework while still abroad.
I know one person that, before teaching English in Korea, came from a marketing/advertising background. During his time in Korea he became passionate about engineering and decided to pursue engineering as a career.
Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut with this field. He had to go all the way back to the beginning and take all those math and science courses he’d avoided the first time around. Getting a two year master’s degree wasn’t an option in the engineering field, as typically only professors and the like have those higher qualifications. If he wanted to be an engineer, he was going to have to go back and do the work. For him it was a true passion though, and he’d just discovered it a bit later in life than would have been ideal.
I’ve lost touch with him over the years, but have heard that he’s deliriously happy and has no regrets about his decision to go all the way back to the beginning and start from scratch in his career.
This isn’t an ideal path for most repats due to the amount of time you have to go without a pay check coming in, plus the expense. However, it could be doable with enough savings built up, student loans (if you can minimize costs by using community college credits as much as possible and the like), or a combination of the two.
In my opinion, nursing is a highly underrated option for expats considering repatriation. Nursing as a field, in order to cope with shortages, has really embraced some alternative educational models. If you’ve already got a bachelor’s degree in any field, you can go to a community college to knock out any needed electives (I was able to do this online while in Korea), or test out of it (using the CLEP exam -This means that you could theoretically study via Khan Academy and other free online courses to prepare for the exam), and then start applying to accelerated nursing programs.
These accelerated programs are not easy and you’ll have to work your tail off, but you’ll be in the job market in 12–18 months. They are also EXPENSIVE so be prepared to pay for/loan $80,000 or more in tuition, plus living expenses for you and your family.
Nursing has some continued benefits, though. Continuing education programs in the nursing field are highly developed and there are hundreds of different career paths in nursing that you’d never think of if you hear that someone is a ‘nurse.’ Get into the field, work your but off for a couple years, then you’ll find there are attractive M.S.N. programs that also embrace innovative alternative education models.
The nice thing about the niche areas within the broad field of computer science and technology is that there’s so much out there for free online these days. It’s a great way to go if you’re looking for freelancing careers, because with programs like Free Code Camp, even if you don’t finish the whole program, you’d probably learn more than enough about web development to go back to your hometown and start setting up WordPress websites for all your old high school buddies that are now running dry cleaning, auto repair, and lawn care services. Ultimately, you’ll want to have some serious skills under your belt to go after bigger, more lucrative clients, but in a pinch you could get some income coming in.
For an example of someone who, while living and teaching ESL abroad, self-studied web development up to a professional level and eventually moved his family back to Toronto where they are still living happily, check out the blog of my friend Sean Smith.
If you wanted to get more in depth right out of the gate, and are willing to put up a chunk of change for it, you could go to one of the coding bootcamps springing up that, while certainly not cheap, are way cheaper, and shorter, than ALL other educational options.
The downside of pursuing this path is that coding and computer programming as the wave of the future is not a given. The argument is that people that work in software development, and I’m talking the real coders down in the trenches here, not the CEOs, are reported to have pretty low job satisfaction rates. Not to mention many experts are predicting that the next wave in software will be the ability to create ‘drag and drop’ apps without having to know a single bit of code. Basically what WordPress does for blogging. Besides this, if you go all-in with computer science, you’ll eventually find yourself competing with people 10 and 20 years younger than you in an environment where fanatical attention to detail is a requirement, which leads to caffeine fuelled all-nighters. Not an environment that lends itself to work-life balance.
Still, by studying computer programming or web development, we learn skills that are going to be extremely valuable even if you don’t work as a developer for your entire career, or even at all. Doing a year in the trenches and then moving on to training people how to use the company’s program is a reasonable career path, especially for those of us with teaching backgrounds.
Future jobs in tech likely won’t look anything like what they do now. Once “drag and drop” app-building environments are perfected, you’re going to see a whole lot of developers out of work. The best insurance against this is to think tangentially about your career options. In other words, looking for jobs that call for teaching/sales/accounting plus being able to manage a wordpress site, or tinker with Java.
A couple such areas are instructional design and user experience engineering (UX). A good friend of mine is actually pursuing a Master’s degree in this direction from Harvard Extension. The main lesson here is that there are a lot of interesting ways to go both in and outside of the traditional paths, depending on your needs and goals.
Many of us repats don’t have the luxury of being able to ‘follow our bliss’ or other such new age feel-gooderies. Still, you’d be surprised at home much you can relate your passions and interest to one of the fields above if you really explore the field and the types of jobs available in it. You may even find a way to capitalize on your previous education and career that you never expected.
At the end of the day, if you’re going the ‘job’ route, it is, by definition, a means to an end, and you have to keep that perspective. Once your family is settled into their new lives and you have a steady income coming in, then you can look at your next step to your final career goals.
There’s still another direction to put your energies into if your goal is smooth repatriation, and that’s entrepreneurship. Growing up I was the last person on earth that thought I could be an entrepreneur, and yet I’ve been involved with several in my mission to eventually get back home. It’s a big enough topic, though, and there’s a lot to cover for people entirely new to it, so I’ll save it for a separate article to post later.