Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Dangers of Working Abroad

It's possible at some point that you've heard of the Mean World Syndrome. This is a tendency for people to overestimate the dangers of the world due to excessive exposure to violence in media. The world is actually a pretty safe place, but as the old adage goes, "planes which crash make the news; planes which land don't".

I mention this merely as a preface to my writing about the dangers of working abroad because I don't want you to think this is inherently risky. On the other hand, if you're a young woman with no particular skills, you might ask yourself why someone in another country is willing to hire you as a nightclub hostess "sight unseen", but after you've been sold as a sexual slave, you'll probably understand that things which are too good to be true are usually not true, but by then it's too late. Slavery is still rampant around the world, though despite what this video might imply, it's not limited to "poor workers heading to rich countries".


The lower the skill required for a position, the more wary you should be. Nanny/au pair positions are often extremely problematic with the victim having little to no recourse should things go poorly.

Slavery is probably the most severe consequence you're likely to face and fortunately it's not likely to happen to you, particularly if you just use common sense.

There are a number of other things to watch out for, though. Sadly, the TEFL Blacklist is no longer being maintained. It was a resource for people to share their experiences with unethical schools (both hiring teachers and training teachers) so that others could find out if a given school was known for dodgy practices. One school, for example, was widely reported for paying people late, requiring unpaid overtime, providing shabby accommodations and not securing needed work permits. The blog has not been updated since 2008, but it can do a good job in explaining many of the dangers you're likely to face teaching English.

Golden Gate Bridge
Not the only product scammers offer ...
Photo by Salim Virji
Other issues are many "expat" blogs which are actually trying to sell you land ("buy this beachfront property and automatically acquire residency in a country you've never heard of!"), useless work permit services, substandard training or eBooks with little to no value. There are several I could name, but they should be obvious after a while and I have no desire to get sued.

Even assuming you make it to your country of choice and land a decent job, you'll still find that many are quite happy to prey on your lack of knowledge of local customs and language. In fact, one of my first experiences in the UK was a landlord who preferred to rent to immigrants. Seems he wasn't keen on following housing laws and immigrants were less likely to know them.

No matter how savvy you think you are, be aware that there are many ways of taking advantage of you in your desire to emigrate. In general, you should have few problems and I don't want to scare you, but you should be aware of some of the basic issues.