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For some, going overseas isn't just an adventure it's a job


When 25-year-old Lou Jacobson tells people that he has already worked for The Economist in London, they are usually impressed.

In fact, Mr. Jacobson's experience working abroad helped him land his dream job, as an associate editor for the National Journal in Washington.

While many college students work in English pubs or French vineyards as a way of seeking adventure in Europe, increasing numbers are working abroad to launch an international career, or to augment their resumes before returning home to find that first "real" job.

Two organizations help Americans get short-term work visas for other countries. The larger, New York-based Council on International Educational Exchange, obtains visas for almost 5,000 U.S. students each year. The lesser known Association for International Practical Training, a Columbia-based program, arranges for visas for about 250 professionals and students.

Some participants have found their work abroad has opened doors for them once they returned home. A rare few have even been able to parlay short-term assignments with multinational corporations in London or Paris into management track jobs with those companies.

"Students know that as the world shrinks, their competition is going to come from all over the world, and they think that [international experience] is going to enhance their vitae [resume] and help them find a job," says Valerie Woolston, director of international education services at the University of Maryland College Park.

The council's educational exchange program offers short-term work permits for students and recent graduates in seven countries. The application is simple. The hard part is finding the job.

In some countries, finding work is tough because of language and cultural barriers, which may be why more than two-thirds of the council's participants go to Britain.

The coucil reports that students who go to Britain without employment already arranged, find jobs in four days on average. Clerical jobs, and work in restaurants and pubs, are the easiest to find.

Others find career track jobs or internships before they go, making the transition smoother.

Rebekah Doniger, a 1994 graduate of Johns Hopkins University, arranged a position as a food and beverage trainee for Holiday Inn in Cambridge, England, last summer. Ms. Doniger, who is now working toward a graduate degree in hospitality management at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island, found her job by calling International Directory Assistance and cold calling the hotel in Cambridge, where she knew she wanted to work.

"I had a phone interview the very next day and got the job," she says.

"It was the best summer of my life," says Ms. Doniger, not only because of the valuable training she received, but because of the opportunity to travel extensively throughout Britain.

Baltimore architectural student Stephen Zielke was able to work for a large engineering firm in the former East Germany with the help of the association for practical training. Mr. Zielke, who just graduated from UM with degrees in engineering and German, plans to pursue an international career in architecture.

But career advancement isn't the reason most students work abroad. An overseas job can simply be a fun and affordable way to spend the summer in Europe -- the only cost is a plane ticket and money to live on until a job is found.

"It wasn't career-motivated. It was just for the experience," says UM sophomore Rachel Apter, who spent last summer working in the village of St. Ives in southwest England.

Ms. Apter, who was 18 at the time, arrived in London not knowing a soul. "I met a few people who told me how wonderful Cornwall was, so I decided to go there and see what I could find," Ms. Apter says.

She found a waitressing job two days after arriving in St. Ives by going from business to business to ask who was hiring.

"The customers were a little stiff, but that was OK because the people I worked with were so much fun," she says. She earned enough to live on by working about 20 hours a week, and spent the remainder of her time at parties, pubs and on the beach.

Working abroad isn't all work and no play even for those focused on future job prospects. Mr. Jacobson lived with four young British graduates in Vauxhall, a rough area of London, and got a glimpse of real life in Britain, including attending soccer games and spending an old-fashioned English Christmas with a family.

"They invited my girlfriend and I for Christmas dinner, but we had to stay at their house for two days because the tube [London subway system] didn't run," he says.

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