These days you have to be willing to go just about anywhere for a job. Here is a sampling of recently advertised locations: Rwanda, Liberia, South Korea, Qatar, Libya, India, Saudi Arabia, Austria, and Singapore. The rest were in China. What about North Korea?
More after the break.
One reader, who himself went to Australia for a job, shared the story of an associate who packed off to Beirut for a two-year stint. Rather than take lower-paying and relatively insecure positions back home, he opted to get his passport updated and leave family and friends behind.
Eric J. Cesal, author of the book, Down Detour Road: An Architect in Search of Practice, had the choice of living with his parents or moving to Haiti to work as one of Architecture for Humanity’s Port-au-Prince coordinators. In retrospect, this was the right move for him. He found his mission by leaving home. Not that he had much of a choice to begin with.
Another reader, in straits similar to Mr. Cesal’s, found himself graduated and without job prospects. He decided to sit the economy out and follow the yellow brick road to Spain to continue his studies. For him, the economy was the prime motivator to go on an adventure. He originally packed for one year of foreign adventures, but the way things are going, that might have to be extended.
In an era when there are so few rights of passage open to us, architectural adventures can be wonderful opportunities. Once upon a time, there was the Grand Tour, where mostly European males of upper class means could get in touch with their civilization’s greatness. Then there were all those colonies one could visit. War was always an option. The Hippy Trail of the sixties and seventies—which for the most part still exists and some of those original backpackers are still out there.
Now there streams of architects bumping into these sojourners, marching into the welcoming arms of developing economies. They are the hope of their firms back home, sent out to get those projects. Some, truly out there, have found desks in foreign firms. How long will they remain in exile? For many who stay long enough exile becomes a sort of warped version of home. But if this is the only way they can do architecture, perhaps an approximated home abroad is better than one where there are no opportunities.
A year ago, headhunters might start by asking if a candidate is willing to move to another state. When the economy got worse, recruiters started looking for people willing to go to places where they would require shots and need to sign up for medical evacuation insurance.
Just recently, there was a good chance I was going to be sent to Beijing. At first it was a temporary job, just a few weeks, they said. Nothing certain, of course, but there was a remote chance that if I was willing to do this whirlwind trip for them they might keep me.
The chat turned out to be three big shots around a reflective conference table. Ironically, I was overdressed. They were in sleeves and chinos and I was done up in a black merino wool suit. The shoulder pads seemed a little too wide for 2010. They were like nineties’ wide, which would be just about right because that is how old the suit is. I was relieved to take the jacket off and roll up the sleeves of my thankfully up-to-date shirt.
I had a friend who determined his employment opportunities by whether or not he could get there via a quick and straight bus ride—both conditions had to be met. He wasn’t willing to drive in Los Angeles for anything. Here I was seriously considering a commute to the other side of the planet. Maybe when I got there I could bike to work. Though able to pedal a short distance to work, I would need Skype and video to talk with my family and cats.
Was I willing to be relocated to Beijing? How long? For as long as I wanted to stay. Of course, I said without hesitation. And was I also willing to live in the Middle East? Of course. In the back of my mind I’m thinking, is this what it takes to get a job? I’m not quite like my friend with the five-mile radius around his house. I was willing to commute, spend time on the freeway. I like NPR, after all. Commuting was the only chance I had to listen to my favorite programs. Could I stream Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! in China?
As the Chinese say, a journey of ten-thousand miles begins with one step. Such journeys must also begin when there is nowhere else to go but on a journey. Thinking that I might be gone in a few days, everything at home started to take on a different hue. To my relief, the job fell through when some project evaporated. Poof. Of course, I was disappointed. I was already downloading my shows.