Monday, May 27, 2013

Why You Should See the World

Photo of a beautiful temple in China.
Wouldn't seeing it firsthand be better?
Photo by Carsten Ullrich
There's a very thought-provoking article at Why Young Americans Should Work Overseas. As is clear from the title, it's very much aimed at Americans but the main points are this:
  1. University education in the US is not worth the return on investment.
  2. The quality of life you get for your money is much better elsewhere.
  3. US jobs aren't going to return.
  4. It's time for everyone to explore the world.
While clearly not everyone is going to agree with the above reasons, I'm rather partial to the last one, if for no other reason than to see firsthand that the world is a much different place than what you see in the media. Still, I'll touch on all of these points as I have a front-row seat for the expat life.

The Cost of a US Education

This one is a no-brainer. As the price of US university education has escalated dramatically, graduation rates are dropping like mad. The US, once the leader in 25 to 34 year olds with university degrees, has dropped to 12th place internationally and are continuing their fall. Student loan debt now appears to be crowding out other debt in the US and some American are moving abroad because it's often far less expensive to live in a foreign country and get your university degree that way. As the von Koppenfels research shows, many of those students aren't going to return to the US. Given that university tuition for foreign students in Europe is often free or very inexpensive (around €100 to €200 a semester in many cases) and students are often allowed to take part-time jobs, the main obstacle for getting a degree overseas is simply knowing that it's an option.

Quality of Life

I'm still shocked when I talk to people about living abroad and they think that you'll be lucky to have electricity and running water. The author cites Kuala Lumpur as a great example of people's misconceptions, but I would honestly cite Europe! So many Americans talk about the tax rates over here and are horrified by the rampant evils of socialism (without even being able to define it), but aren't thinking about what it's like to actually live here. The depersonalization of Europe reduces us to a thing that many Americans love or hate but know nothing about.

The article, however, also points out that your so-so income back in the US is often a huge income elsewhere, though it should be made more clear that you often won't earn that income elsewhere unless you're working remotely or have landed an "expat" job with an an attendant salary package.  I have to admit, now that I work remotely, I something think about moving the family to Thailand. We could live like kings with a huge house, a maid, all the perks of living well and still be able to save for retirement. With remote work becoming increasingly common, I'm expecting more low-income countries to make provisions for remote working expats to live there and spend money. It's an easy way to bring wealth into a country and will gradually lift their economic standards.

US Jobs

For this one, I'd say go back and read the article and follow the links provided. With half of America being poor and the aggressive growth of China and South America, there's going to be increasing competition on world markets and I suspect that American salaries will continue to fall relative to other countries. Europe is struggling due to structural issues with the Eurozone, but if it can resurrect its economy, it's going to be another strong competitor. If the petrodollar is threatened as some suspect, many nations will find less need to hold US currency, thus devaluing the dollar even further. I certainly don't know what's going to happen, but the petty partisan sideshow in Washington D.C. is doing nothing to sort out the real troubles the US faces.

Explore the World

Even if all of the other issues mentioned weren't true, this is still the one I would seize. It's a fantastic world out there and I've been blessed to see a fair amount of it and to meet people from all over. I can't even imagine for a moment why people wouldn't be bursting with excitement at the thought of backpacking in the Andes, eating noodles from a food cart in Singapore, sipping an espresso at a Parisian café, or riding a motorcycle along the shores of Lake Kyoga in Uganda. You could be doing all of these things. Why aren't you?