So… how was your vac?

Travel the world! Meet people! And make (some) money! Robyn McCormick and Lynn Berggren explore the various options for finding vac employment overseas.

Although the December vac may seem far away, time flies when you’re having fun and it will only be a few essays and assignments until the weeks of freedom stretch ahead. Now this may seem like a great prospect, but after two weeks of being stuck with Great Aunt Margaret forcing you to help with the endless Christmas shopping for cousins who invade your room every holiday season, you’ll be dying for the relative peace of the Rat & Parrot.

Or you would be if you weren’t totally broke. Do not despair – there is a way to get out of the house, have an adventure and earn a bit of cash at the same time. All you need is a passport, plane ticket and the willingness to work hard.

There are a few ways to find a job overseas and, as almost every student who has been on a working holiday will tell you, it is best to have a job sorted out before you even leave home so you can start earning as soon as you arrive.

For those of us who don’t have family abroad to find jobs or provide accommodation, the next best thing is to find a job via a website, such as, or go through a student travel organisation like the South African Student Travel Services (SASTS). These agencies have jobs ranging from waitressing
in Washington to ski instructing in Sweden. The sites generally have full descriptions for each position, information about the different countries and forums where you can chat to people who have already found jobs with the agencies. They can give you advice about the best decisions to take and the pitfalls to avoid.

The services will also help you choose which country to go to and as many countries have limited visa availability or a limited length of time in which you can work in the country and require you to apply for social security cards, it’s best to be fully aware of the administration before deciding on the country you will call home for the next few months. Aretha Phiri of SASTS says that a place like Canada, where a visa is valid for a once-off period of a year, is a better choice for recent graduates who can get the full benefit
out of the visa. Somewhere like Ireland would be a better option for undergraduates looking for summer
jobs, as this visa lasts for six months and is renewable should you wish to return to work for another holiday.

An advantage of going through an agency is that your employers are (or should be, if the agency is any  good) bound by a contract to uphold any promises made on the site. So if you expected a R500-a-day au pairing job and ended up with a R5-a-day gig scrubbing some old bat’s floors, there is something you can do to get your money (and dignity) back.

Once you have found a prospective  employer, it is imperative to keep in contact with them until you are ready to go. Ask as many questions as possible and research them through the Internet. Check out their website if they have one and ask for the contact details of previous employees to get an unbiased, first-hand account of the working conditions you are about to encounter.

Beware of any jobs offering a disproportionately high wage as this could be a hoax. The general rule for job
hunting is that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. When advertising, employers tend to distort the truth and since you will not physically be able to see your future workplace before it is too late, it is vital to gather as much information as possible. Herein lies another advantage of using an agency to  organise your vac work – if you should encounter a problem, there is always someone to ask for help. “SASTS has reps on the other side who are available to help you if you encounter any problems,” says Phiri.

One thing that you will have to deal with yourself, however, is the management of money. Although you are going for a working visit, everyone’s objectives will vary. Some students may be there just to enjoy a change in environment and will be less worried about spending money on going out or accommodation. However, if you are there with the sole objective of earning some money, it is fairly easy to make enough to cover your costs and have some cash put aside for a rainy day.

If this is your plan, you have to be prepared to work hard. SASTS representatives recommend taking on
more than one job at a time, and not to expect any luxury when it comes to accommodation. Be prepared to share rooms with people you might not know very well. “At one point,” remembers Phiri, “there were  four of us girls living in one room of this lady’s house, and we were renting the other room to another foreign guy.” It may not sound like the most comfortable arrangement, but Phiri assures, “It was one of the best times of my life. And we made a lot of money!”

If travelling on your own sounds too terrifying, it’s probably best to go on your expedition with a group of friends and share food and living costs in a small apartment or hostel. It may also be preferable to find a job in a group and employers are usually willing to hire a small group of workers, especially over the busy Christmas season. In the Northern Hemisphere, the local students are only on holiday for about two weeks, so it is an ideal opportunity to pick up extra jobs which may even pay more than usual over the
festive season.

Finally, it is essential to get a job that you will enjoy in a place that you would like to visit. A working vac,
when well-planned, can enrich your view of the world, provide you with wider job opportunities and will most certainly look impressive on your CV. So, what are you waiting for? You canhave a vac filled with  cooing relatives or six weeks in a new country, meeting new friends, exploring new cities and arriving home with a bulging pocket? It’s your choice, so make it now, before it’s too late.

SASTS will be holding more information sessions on August 22, and September 3 and 19, while another
agency, Chilli Adventures SA, will be holding a seminar on September 26.

Some ideas to get you started:

Teaching English in South Korea
This is the perfect job opportunity for post-grads who wish to take a year off and explore abroad. Basic
requirements are a BA degree and good communication skills in English. The salary is 2.1 million won. Generally the rand is stronger than the Korean won.

Au Pairing
This is a job that can be done all around the world and is best suited to those who don’t mind getting
their hands dirty. Usual tasks include babysitting and light housekeeping duties, and the salary varies
from $101 – $200 per week. Visit for more information.

Packing fish in Alaska
Here’s one some of you might not be too keen on, but if you have a total lack of experience and don’t mind the icy weather then packing fish in Alaska is the thing for you. You have to endure the smell of fish all day and freeze your butt off, but at $16 per hour, it’s worth it.


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