Why you should consider working abroad in a smaller city or town

Many people looking for work abroad (and study abroad, for that matter) experiences gravitate towards large metropolitan areas such as London, Paris, Sydney, São Paulo, Seoul, Hong Kong, and Tokyo.

São Paulo skyline

There are, of course, many reasons why you might want to do that, including job availability, excitement/nightlife, and a large expat community.

But if you are looking to really immerse yourself in a foreign culture, you should give smaller, more regional cities serious consideration.

Why?  Once you’re off the expat circuit, you will often find that a far more local experience awaits you, one that will teach you a great deal more about the customs, culture, and language (if applicable) of that country.

In this clip from international affairs expert Steve Feldstein (currently the Frank and Bethine Church Chair of Public Affairs at Boise State University), he discusses how, when his wife went to work overseas in Korea, she chose to go to Jeju, a town on an island of the same name:

Even though the pace of life was assuredly much slower there than in Seoul — she lived on a tangerine farm — she also assuredly had a much more immersive experience learning about South Korea.

I also had similar experiences in my own time abroad, especially the two years I spent in the Cape Verde islands (officially, Cabo Verde) as a diplomat from 2009 to 2011.

Aside from being incredibly beautiful (just check out the photos below), it was also an incredible experience personally and professionally.

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Cape Verde:  A seriously beautiful country.

That’s not to say that the experience I had working in a number of large world capitals has not been fun, instructive or interesting — it has been — but the Cape Verde experience was different.  Life in a much smaller town (Cape Verde’s capital is about 400 times smaller than Mexico City, population-wise), changes things.  I learned more about day-to-day life there.  My friendships were, on average, deeper.  And life generally moved slower.

So — unless your line of work demands that you be in a major metropole, consider a smaller city when you look for a job abroad.

You may be pleasantly surprised!

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