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Working abroad: taming the transition
published January 1, 2010


Photo credit: Neil Haapamaki

Real-life tips from a grad who’s survived a move to England

By Aleksandra Sagan (BA ’08, BEd ’09)

Inside every grad, to some degree, is a desire to explore the world. Unfortunately, this desire is often contradicted by the voice of responsibility telling us to “find a job and pay off that debt,” rendering it nearly impossible to travel carefree. Nearly, that is, thanks to the possibility of international employment.

Some grads choose to work abroad to satisfy their travel bug. Others because the recession has made it difficult to find work at home. For me, both were factors.

After graduating earlier this year, I became one of the many jobless teachers in Toronto. So I gave into my love of adventure and, in the fall, moved to London, England. The journey taught me that a few simple things can make the transition a whole lot easier.

Before you go
As the boy scouts say: Be prepared. And the Internet is the best tool for getting prepared. Just think of the necessities you’ll need right away: money, a place to stay and transportation from the airport. You can organize all of these before you leave.

Remember, though, regardless of how prepared you are, something is bound to go awry. Case in point: I had mapped out my nearest bank branch, but arrived to find it closed due to renovations and had to scramble to find another branch to activate my ATM card. Nevertheless, getting organized before you go will save you time and frustration.



Aleksandra Sagan in London, where she is working as a teacher

Think of your employer as a resource
Most companies are glad to help smooth the international transition for new employees. Some companies will even organize your work visa. My company helped me find a flat and set up a bank account, saving me from negotiating the two cumbersome tasks. They also sent me to professional development sessions that taught me how to apply my Canadian teaching skills to the British education system.

Contact your new boss and ask what settlement help they can offer. Better yet, negotiate help as part of your contract. Also ask if they have an employee who can help answer your questions as you settle in. Never underestimate the power of a local to help with things that might take hours to figure out on your own, like which is the cheapest cellphone provider.

Use your network
You spent your university days building your network, now is the time to use it! York is great at exposing students to a wide range of people. Who in your network can help you transition abroad? In my five years at York, I made connections with several international students and, before arriving in Europe, I had invitations to visit Germany, Austria, Scotland and Portugal. And when you get there, take advantage of your proximity to reconnect with contacts in the area.

A balancing act
It’s easy to get caught up in work. While building your career will help you professionally, striking a healthy work-life balance will ensure you increase your network and experience the local culture. Join a local team, sign up for instructional classes or join a neighbourhood gym. There are lots of great online resources, too, that will help you meet people, like, which brings people with similar interests together.

Just as it’s tempting to work long hours, it’s tempting to party too. International work experience looks great on a resumé, but you need to have a positive reference to go along with it. Don’t compromise your chances by taking your employment lightly.

Working abroad will help you grow as an individual and make you more marketable in the global workforce. There’s no doubt that  moving to another country is daunting, but these simple actions — planning, networking and striking a work-life balance — will make it much easier and more enjoyable.


Aleksandra Sagan graduated from York with a bachelor of arts in English and a bachelor of education. She is currently working in London, England as a secondary school teacher. Watch for more of her stories about working abroad.