Looking for Opportunities Abroad

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Going overseas can be a life-changing, enriching experience whether your reasons are personal or professional. But from a career development perspective, the benefits are undeniable, and the opportunities are out there.

“There are numerous opportunities in all professional fields — but specifically IT — in all countries around the world,” said Robert Fenstermacher, executive director of CDS International, a nonprofit that focuses on international, practical training opportunities.

“If you get it on a resume, it definitely will help you get further in your career because all of these companies are global at this point, multinational, and if you have that work experience abroad — it doesn’t even matter where it is — a company will find value in that,” he said. “They understand that you’ve overcome the challenges involved in living in another culture and dealing with all these unknowns and have done it successfully.”

But before you get to that point, though, Fenstermacher said there are many first steps to take. Individuals who are considering going overseas should be prepared and sure of what they want to do, as well as resolve issues such as what country or countries to target. Whether you speak a foreign language, and what language that is, will be a starting point.

“You’re potentially going to be speaking another language, so you have to figure out whether you have the language skills, or before you actually do the program overseas whether you should start taking some language courses here, so you have some basis for discussion,” Fenstermacher said. “You’re going to have to have those skills. Companies over there are just like American companies — they’re going to want you to be an active participant in what you do over there.”

The good news for IT professionals is that this point is less critical in their field.

“If you don’t want to speak a foreign language at all, in a lot of ways, you can get away with it in an IT area,” Fenstermacher said. “There’s much more flexibility [in IT] than in any other profession. It’s less important because the computer languages are all in English. IT professionals in Germany or France or wherever — they’ve learned English because that’s the international language of computing.”

In regard to where U.S. IT professionals might want to go to the most, Fenstermacher recommended Nordic countries such as Finland and Sweden, citing the proximity of Skype to that part of the world.

Germany is another good option, he said, especially considering English commonly is spoken in Germany.

“It’s one of those sleeper countries, but Germany is the leader in so many different areas related to electronics and IT development,” Fenstermacher said. “Companies there, where they have IT people, are excited to have people Another obvious choice might be India, in that so much of U.S. IT tech support is being sent there.

“[That would be] a great way to get experience because all of these Indian companies doing the outsourcing are huge here in the United States,” Fenstermacher said. “So, if you can get over there and actually learn the culture and get to work with Indians, you’ve placing yourself perfectly for future career moves.”

IT professionals looking to work for foreign companies likely will need to forego traditional employment. “Signing on with a company’s going to be your hardest route, unless you have a recruiter specifically looking for that,” Fenstermacher said.

CDS works with students looking to go abroad, but also it places people in internships and exchange programs that can apply to people up to age 35.

“They’re titled internships, but if you go over for an 18-month internship, you’re going to be treated like an employee at some level over there,” Fenstermacher said.

For more information specific to their fields, IT professionals looking to go abroad should consult with the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience (www.iaeste.org), which is an international network specifically focusing on science, engineering and IT-type internships available worldwide. Another placement organization to consider is AIESEC (www.aiesecus.org), an international provider of technical talent to business, government and nongovernment organizations.

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