Have you thought about working abroad?


Is working abroad right for you? You won’t know unless you ‘give it a go.’

My first working-abroad experience was 30 years ago when we quit our jobs, sold our house and moved to Singapore. It was a life-changing experience.

My recent work-abroad experience in Indonesia seems tame in comparison to our Singapore adventure. This time, I did not quit my job and sell the house. In fact, my employer sponsored me to go to Indonesia. I went for two months. I figured that if I didn’t like it, two months is a short stint.

The big difference in this work-abroad experience is that I did it alone!

Norman came with me for the first week and this made a HUGE difference. We explored my new temporary home in Manado together. We found grocery stores and stocked my mini-fridge. We tried a new restaurant every night. We walked a lot. We went on a snorkelling adventure together.

If you have thought about a work-abroad experience, this post may help you decide if it is right for you.

If you have already worked abroad, please post comments about your experiences so that other readers can benefit from your stories.


Tell us about your work-abroad experiences!


A benefit of working abroad is working


The biggest fear that baby boomers have is getting Alzheimer’s. This disease has no cause and no cure. SCARY! I don’t know if an active mind can keep Alzheimer’s at bay, but it can’t hurt. I think I will use my mind as much as possible while I can, just in case I can’t some day.

Working abroad keeps your mind engaged because it is a totally new experience. It is not like working at home. Everything is new and different. Your mind is going all the time.

You can experiment with innovative strategies and techniques in the workplace. Sometimes, a strategy that works at home does not work in a new environment. You need to figure out something new. Indonesians love to laugh and make jokes. They become more engaged in working when they are having fun. If you can believe it, they taught me to sing and dance and laugh out loud in the classroom. It was fun for everyone.


Your day is busy and full when you work abroad.


Working abroad is that it is great for the CV


Most employers value a work-abroad experience.

We did an impromptu photo session outside one day. We all jumped for the camera. My college used this photo in its marketing campaign for the program that took me to Indonesia.


You discover new interests when you work abroad


I became enormously interested in the art of batik when I was in Indonesia. The photo below is a page from a National Geographic Travel Magazine that explains about batik.

 National Batik Day in Indonesia is October 2


Many Indonesians are proud to wear batik every day. You can see how they wear it in the work photos above.

Before this trip, my only experience with batik was tie-dyed t-shirts in the hippy era.

The first thing I learned about batik is how to pronounce it. It rhymes with attic.

My souvenir shopping in Indonesia was batik shirts and tablecloths. Whenever I set the table with my pink batik tablecloth, I think about my Indonesian experience.

Indonesian batik is a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage. The importance of batik in Indonesian culture is included below in the UNESCO description of batik.

Indonesian Batik


Inscribed in 2009 (4.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

© 2007 by KADIN Indonesia Foundation and Indonesia Batik Museum Institute

The techniques, symbolism and culture surrounding hand-dyed cotton and silk garments known as Indonesian Batik permeate the lives of Indonesians from beginning to end: infants are carried in batik slings decorated with symbols designed to bring the child luck, and the dead are shrouded in funerary batik.


Clothes with everyday designs are worn regularly in business and academic settings, while special varieties are incorporated into celebrations of marriage and pregnancy and into puppet theatre and other art forms. The garments even play the central role in certain rituals, such as the ceremonial casting of royal batik into a volcano.


Batik is dyed by proud craftspeople who draw designs on fabric using dots and lines of hot wax, which resists vegetable and other dyes and therefore allows the artisan to colour selectively by soaking the cloth in one colour, removing the wax with boiling water and repeating if multiple colours are desired.


The wide diversity of patterns reflects a variety of influences, ranging from Arabic calligraphy, European bouquets and Chinese phoenixes to Japanese cherry blossoms and Indian or Persian peacocks. Often handed down within families for generations, the craft of batik is intertwined with the cultural identity of the Indonesian people and, through the symbolic meanings of its colours and designs, expresses their creativity and spirituality.


Another benefit of working abroad is that you learn about new cultures

Ianinta and I are with a group of students from Papua New Guinea


There are more than 17,000 islands in Indonesia. It is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse countries in the world.

Papua New Guinea is part of Indonesia. Papua New Guinea alone has more than 800 different languages.

At the first university where we worked, there was a group of scholarship students from Papua New Guinea. They organized a dance party for us. They scrambled to make traditional costumes with what they could find in Manado. I taped the whole performance. I know that I have a recording of something that very few westerners have every seen. Of course, we took lots of pictures at the end.

A benefit of working abroad is that you are embraced by a new community


There is a small expat community in Manado. They are happy to meet newcomers.

I took this picture of a giant black butterfly when I was at a party in the highlands overlooking Manado. I was at a house party hosted by an English expat who has lived in Manado for many years. I would not have been invited to a house party if I were passing through Manado as a tourist. It was interesting to see his house and how an expat lives. The kitchen was in a separate little house in the back. Since he didn’t have air conditioning, this kept the heat out of the rest of the house.

The host made a spiked punch for the party. I do not like punch in general. I tried a sip and immediately abandoned it for a beer. Ianinta told me that the punch was spiked with moonshine made in a still in the jungle. I’m glad I ditched it for a beer.


You don’t have to try every new experience when you travel.




You make new friends when you work abroad


Here we are, enjoying an early evening dip in the hotel pool where I lived for two months. Ianita took the picture. After work, we often took a swim and then had dinner together.

A really great benefit of working abroad is that you get paid


My salary, benefits and pension continued as normal while I was in Indonesia. As well, all my travel, accommodations and meals were covered.

My employer booked all my flights. My employer found and paid for the hotel directly. I did not have to be concerned about the price.

My employer hired a driver to take me to and from work every day. They did not want me to drive (and I certainly did not want to drive). Hiring a driver was cheaper and easier than using taxis. My driver was Henry. He has a banana tree in his back yard. He brought me fresh bananas every day.

I received a per diem for my meals. Rather than deal with receipts, my employer gave me a lump sum up front. It was more than enough to cover the cost of a restaurant meal every night.

The only thing that I needed to think about was the value of the currency. This is a 100,000 Rupiah. It is worth a bit less than $10 Canadian. When I saw price tags in the millions of Rupiahs, I always had to do a mental conversion.

I was a billionaire in Rupiahs.


I love travelling the world on someone else’s dime.



A benefit of working abroad is that you see strange things


Henry took us on many outings. Way up in the hills overlooking Manado, in the absolute middle of nowhere, there is a large museum with a collection of instruments that are in the Guinness Book of World Records. This is a picture of a giant horn. We took turns climbing the ladder and playing it.

I would not put this on the must-do list if you are a tourist, but we sure had a fun day.

A benefit of working abroad is that you have the opportunity to seek out local handicrafts


After playing the big horn, Henry then took us to a silk-weaving shop. Again, it was in the middle of nowhere. The silk threads were extremely fine. I don’t know how they kept them from getting tangled.

Here is a silk cloth in progress.

Of course, I had to buy a cloth to take home.

A benefit of working abroad is that you try new foods


I love rambutan fruit. You can buy it here, but it just doesn’t taste the same as fresh-picked.


This is what a roadside stand looks like in Manado.

A benefit of working abroad is that you have time to explore new places


Henry took us to the Gardenia Country Inn for lunch. It has beautiful gardens. The flowers are mostly the same as we have here. The difference is that we do not have a volcano as a backdrop.

Here is a picture of Ianinta at the Gardenia Country Inn

A benefit of working abroad is that you have the time, money and opportunity to explore on your own


On one of my decadent resort-weekends, I stayed in this little cabin on the beach, right on the edge of the jungle. I snorkelled all day and had fabulous fresh fish dinners at night in a 4-star restaurant.

You will notice all the dead leaves is the photo. The resort has permanent full-time sweepers. We complain about raking leaves in the fall. They have to do it every day.

Working abroad is a little like throwing yourself off the deep end of the pool. You hope that you can swim and you hope that you like it


The best part about working abroad is returning home to your family and appreciating everything that you already have at home!


Rose Ann MacGillivray

Rose Ann MacGillivray

World Heritage Traveller at BoomerVoice.ca
I love visiting World Heritage Sites, celebrating the world’s most fascinating places and cultures, and most of all, having fun on a trip. Join me on the road to fun and fascinating places. Thanks for reading – and remember to add your e-mail below for updates!
Rose Ann MacGillivray

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