Once you have acquired the skills you need and found a job in international development, your thoughts may turn to the practical side of taking on this kind of career. Working abroad can be a challenge, particularly when your work can take you to parts of the world troubled by natural disasters or violence. It is important to ensure that you are prepared for your new lifestyle before you travel so that you can devote your time in the field to achieving your goals for development.
Before You Go
Preparing for your time working abroad requires you to think not only about what you will need in the field, but also about how your life at home can be managed during your absence. You will, of course, need undertake any training or induction offered by your employer, and research your job and destination, taking particular note of any cultural differences you must be sensitive to, but you will also need to ensure that your finances at home are properly organized. You must ensure that payments such as bills or pension contributions that need to continue in your absence will be made, and you should consider granting power of attorney over your affairs to someone you trust, so that they can handle any problems that arise while you are away. It is also sensible to think about your will or life insurance at this time, so that you know your family will be secure even if the worst happens.
Safety and Security
You should receive a security briefing just before you travel or upon your arrival in the field, telling you about any potential threats and the measures that have been put in place to counteract them. Your employer should have a security plan in place to help keep you safe and to deal with any emergencies or forced evacuations. You should discuss this plan with them so that you know what will happen in the event that something goes wrong. You may also be offered training to help you to recognize and deal with any threats. If this is not something your employer can provide, you may want to consider attending a course elsewhere, if only for your own peace of mind. It helps to be aware of the risks that you are taking. Depending on your role and destination, you may be at risk of politically motivated violence, robbery, or unsafe conditions such as dangerous roads, inadequate sanitation or land mines. While you are in the field, you should keep track of any security updates released by your employer or other agencies, so that you are aware of what is happening around you.
Health and Insurance
Taking care of your own health while you are working abroad is essential. The CDC reports that more than 35% of humanitarian aid workers felt that their own health had deteriorated while they were working on long-term projects overseas. Before you travel, you will need to ensure that you have obtained the necessary vaccinations and discussed your plans with your doctor. It is sensible to visit your dentist before a long trip, and to have your eyesight checked if you wear glasses or contact lenses. You will also need to pick up any medication that you will need, such as antimalarial or allergy treatments. You should also ensure that you have the necessary health insurance to cover you during and after your travels. Approximately a third of travelers, including those involved in adventurous activities, feel that obtaining additional insurance to cover healthcare while abroad is unnecessary. As an aid worker, you cannot afford to be so blind to the risks. You must take out a policy that will ensure you have access to the health care you need, including cover for repatriation if you fall ill and need to return home for treatment. It is also a good idea to undertake some first aid training and to carry a kit with you, even if your role will not be in global health.
Family and Wellbeing
Working in international aid and development can be stressful, so it is important to talk to others who have experience in the field so that you know what to expect and what support will be available to you. However well prepared you feel before you travel, the reality of living and working in the field can come as a shock. It can be particularly difficult to deal with the suffering that you cannot prevent, and to realize that there is a limit to what you can do. Being aware of the help that is available can make it easier to obtain advice if you do need it, and it does no harm to find out about these support services even if you don’t use them. It is also essential to take the time to discuss your career with your family, particularly if you have young children who you will be away from for extended periods. It is important that you reassure them and give them a chance to express their own fears and feelings, as well as taking the time to consider your own wellbeing. You should also be aware that readjusting to home life can be difficult. Over 30% of humanitarian aid workers feel a certain amount of depression soon after getting home, so make sure that you use all the time and support you need both in the field, and when you return.
Are you ready to work abroad?