Many different experiences made possible abroad

Posted By on 07/09/2012

This is the sixth post in a series about one expat's experiences. You can read the previous posts here, here, here, here, and here.

As I wrote in an earlier post in this series, expats move to new countries under a range of very different circumstances. Some move for professional reasons, others for personal reasons, many for a combination of the two.

The personal reasons are quite varied—from an eternal itch to be in new places to a marriage to someone from a different country. But the professional reasons are similarly diverse.

In Bogotá I’ve met expats doing many different types of work in many different environment. They work in business, government, non-profits and NGOs, independently—and not at all. I’ve met people who were transferred here by multinational companies, people who came here to start businesses, people who came here and then got the idea to start businesses, people who have held several different jobs, people who study, people who don’t work, and people—like me—who freelance.

I’m interested in (and a little jealous of) all the expat experiences different from mine. The other experiences offer challenges I think I would find rewarding, such as trying to succeed and thrive when none of my colleagues are fellow countrymen, or trying to work through the practical and legal challenges of starting a business in a country other than my own.

But I can’t complain about my own professional experience. As I wrote earlier, I found after moving here that my native knowledge of English provided a steady and plentiful source of work. The demand for English instruction in Bogotá is greater than I had expected, and I’ve taken advantage of it by networking and looking widely for students. But being a freelancer has had another benefit too.

About a year ago, I began to tire of the daily lifestyle I had at the time. Since I was teaching three or four classes a day in students’ homes and offices, I spent four to six hours a day in class, three or four hours a day commuting to and from classes, and two or three hours a day preparing for the next day’s classes. The fullness of my schedule, combined with the hassle and unpleasantness of spending so much time commuting in a chaotic, overcrowded city, motivated me to seek more work I could do at home.

I knew I wasn’t going to immediately start doing all of my work at home, and I knew that, to make any professional transition, I had to use contacts and clients I had met in Bogotá. So I began by mentioning to students that I was also looking for editing or writing work.

Through a few lucky connections, soon I had editing work that averaged an hour or two a day, providing me enough income to cut back a few classes. I was able to spend more time in my apartment, and less time on crazy buses, without earning less. The flexibility in my professional life allowed me to make a change for the better.

That wouldn’t have been possible if I had been working a 40-hour-a-week job, or if I were running my own company. And it probably wouldn’t have been possible if I were still living in the U.S. Instead, it was made possible by my new country’s lower cost of living and my comparative advantage as an expat offering skills and services in rare supply where I was living.