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How To Work “Abroad” in Your Own Backyard

By  December 3, 2014

No passport require for these work "abroad" programs.

Like countless other students with wanderlust, I spent my school years dreaming of exciting summers working abroad. As a tourism student at Ryerson University in Toronto, I envisioned an opportunity to earn money and build my resume while immersing myself in a new culture. But after some research, I quickly realized that lofty ideas like working in animal conservation in Costa Rica or doing a work exchange program to Australia were met with drawbacks like costly flights and contracts that extended beyond my summer term.  

Fortunately, I came across a poster at school plastered with images of vast mountain ranges, crystalline blue lakes and endless overgrown forests. Beneath them, phrases like “attractive wages,” “rewarding positions,” and “staff accommodations” caught my eye. The poster wasn’t for any of the locations I had previously considered; it wasn’t even for anywhere outside of my own country. It was for Banff, Alberta.

After attending an information session, filling out an online application and taking part in a telephone interview, I was on my way to the Rocky Mountains. The summer turned out to be everything I had imagined and more. When I came back to Toronto, I had a deeper connection to Canada, great experiences skydiving and rock climbing, enough savings to cover my tuition and an invaluable addition to my resume. Not even my pipedreams of travelling across the globe could compare.

Here’s how I did it:

Finding a job.

That first summer in Banff got me hooked on the idea of working “abroad” in Canada. Luckily, Fairmont is far from the only company to offer opportunities for Canadians to travel across the country for work. The Government of Canada offers a similar program, which allowed me experience Canadian history and First Nation culture by working in a museum in the Northwest Territories.

If you’re a university student, you’re in luck—there’s no shortage of resources on-campus to help you find your dream job across the country. Here are a couple of places to get started:

• Use your campus career centre or attend a job fair; many partner companies use these events to find seasonal employees.

• Research companies that offer student work exchange programs (SWEP). In addition to Fairmont, RBC and Bell Canada both offer programs.

• The Government of Canada also sponsors a variety of programs to help place citizens in meaningful positions. Youth Canada Works, FSWEP, Parks Canada and the Canada Job Bank are good places to start.  

Choosing the right position.

I knew the job market for new graduates was going to be competitive once I had finished my tourism degree. In Banff, I was able to gain experience bartending and working administration in the banquets department, as well as in fine dining and front office departments. All of these were invaluable skills that would set me apart from other job seekers.

But the hospitality industry isn’t the only place you can find jobs, especially if you’re willing to relocate outside of a major city. Keep yourself open to different locations and you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised with where you end up. Working outside of your home province demonstrates a willingness to embrace new experiences and will give you an advantage when looking for employment.

If you can’t go during the summer, considering taking a gap semester.

If the summer doesn’t work for you, don’t write-off travelling during the fall or winter semester. Speaking with my program advisor, I was able to re-arrange my curriculum and take a winter semester off by attending summer classes. This allowed me to work during a ski season in Big White, British Columbia.

My position, which I scored at a resort job fair, was highly applicable to my Bachelor of Commerce degree. It also didn’t hurt that I was able to enjoy employee benefits like free lift passes and discounts on meals and ski equipment.

Looking over your contract.

In most cases, working in your home country can be simpler and more affordable than moving abroad. However, there are still some important questions you should ask before you sign your contract:

• Will your employer pay for transportation costs? Is the workplace easily accessible by public transportation?

• Is accommodation included? If so, how expensive is it? If not, will they help you find a place to live?

• If you’re moving outside your home province, you might not be covered under your current medical insurance. See if the company offers any.

• Will you get any employee or local discounts?

Meeting your new community.

Even before moving to Big White, I joined the village’s Facebook fanpage. On it, people were looking for new roommates, selling gear, organizing trips to Kelowna and asking if anyone had found the wallet they lost at the bar the night before. It helped to create a sense of community and allowed everyone to connect on a whole new level.

In addition, if you’re passionate about something, you can also look for local groups and clubs with similar interests or consider volunteering for a local cause—it’s a great way to meet people in a new town.

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Published in Work Abroad
Judi Zienchuk

Judi Zienchuk has studied her way across Southeast Asia and boarded down volcanoes in Central America. When she's not gallivanting the globe, you can find her on a bike or consuming large amounts of caffeine. Check out her blog, Travvel Sized.

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