So You Think You Want To Be An International Advisor? (Part II b)

Part II b.  The Bad Continued…

Note:  In this segment we consider some additional factors that can make living and working overseas a challenge.

I realize this isn’t politically correct but if your health isn’t good, you are morbidly obese or you have some disability (mental or physical) working overseas, at least in a dangerous location, probably should not be for you.  Surprisingly you can probably get a job overseas because of the employment laws in the US.  But be aware you may have to work in very physically and mentally taxing environment.  You may be in a very hot, non-air-conditioned or a very cold, unheated environment.  You will have to walk a lot more than you do in the US.  You might have to run, lift and carry things or even crawl.  Unless your contract entitles you to military medical care, the care you get will not be what you are used to in the US.   You may not be able to get prescription medicine overseas and what you can get may be of dubious quality and origin.  I have actually worked with people overseas who were well over 100 lbs over weight, their joints were shot, they had back problems, diabetes, etc.  No one wants to help you carry your things, or wait around on you, and no one wants you taking up more than your share of valuable space.  Do everyone a favor and if you are not healthy don’t be a burden to others, stay home.

The free market is alive and well in the international advisor field.  If you work as a contractor (and most of us do), you can bet that your company will know exactly what the minimum amount is that they have to pay someone to work in a specific place.  They will not pay you a penny more.   If the place they send you is really bad, it will pay really well.  If the place is nice it won’t pay very well.  What does this mean?  Afghanistan, South Sudan – lots of money.  Europe – a lot less.    For example, in 2010 I was offered a direct hire job in Afghanistan which would have, with overtime, paid about $300,000 per year.  I turned it down and instead took a job in Kosovo (SE Europe) which paid a lot less, and I mean a lot less.  Instead of living in a shipping container and dodging mortars and bullets I lived in a decent apartment in a nice part of town and spent my occasional free week-ends sipping drinks on a beach in Greece.  Was the loss of income worth it?  That’s a decision you have to make.

On the subject of the contractors you will work for.  Their concern is making money not making you happy.  You are a short term resource to be exploited.  I have heard horror stories about people signing a contract getting on a plane to their new job and when they arrive being told they aren’t getting paid as much as their contract calls for, or being sent off to do a totally different job then they were hired for.  Do not expect your employer to care about you.   They will not do anymore for you than they are required by your contract, maybe less.  No one is looking out for you but you.  I have had good luck so far with the companies I have worked for and have no major complaints, but go into this with your eyes open.   If you don’t like something your contractor does and you complain about it you should not be surprised if the only question they ask you is “Window or aisle?”

It seems inevitable that you will have to work with someone with absolutely no redeeming qualities what-so-ever.  For some reason CivPol (Civilian Police)/ Rule of law work seems to draw some of the biggest jerks and idiots you will ever meet.  As an added bonus they may be your boss.  I do not understand this but the Peter Principle is alive and well in this sector.  My personal theory is that since most contracts are for one year and it is such a pain to find a new person if they fire someone, companies would rather keep an asocial moron than go to the trouble of finding someone new. – As long as they don’t directly cause the company grief.  These types of people are able to move around yearly and stay in this field.  They lied shamelessly to get the job in the first place then every year they get to add a new important sounding position to their résumé.  I cannot over stress this, I have met two of the biggest freaks I have ever known doing this work.  To be fair I have met a lot of good people and made some good friends doing this as well, but most of the friends I have made who work in this field will tell you the same thing.

Finally for those with spouses and families you have to consider the ramifications of being absent from them for at least a year.  Are the events you might miss in your children’s or grandchild’s life really worth the money you will earn?  Being away for months at a time generally doesn’t help a solid marriage and can be the death knell for one on shaky ground.   Are you here to get away from your wife?  Putting off dealing with problems at home is seldom the best way to deal with them.  Being overseas puts you at a distinct disadvantage if your spouse decides to divorce you while you are gone.

I am not joking about any of these issues, please be sure you understand the gravity of what you are considering.  There are more potential problems but I am way over my 500 word per article limit.  Suffice it to say yes there are things you may not like, but many people successfully makes the transition and find working overseas rewarding.

Next:  Part III.  Getting Hired

©2012 by Steven Fenner


6 thoughts on “So You Think You Want To Be An International Advisor? (Part II b)

  1. Steve, I just started reading your articles and they are dead on. I worked in Kosovo in 1999-2000 and returned home due to young children after my one year contract. I loved the job. You are correct on the peter principal but upon returning home and moving and going to work for another law enforcement agency, that same principal is still alive and well back in the US (well CA anyway) I am looking to go back over sea;s and would love to go back to Kosovo and work.

  2. How true it is. I am pretty sure I know the “non redeeming quality” type of people you speak of. I hope I am in the latter as a good person and friend. For sure you have to make decisions on money or quality of life when accepting a mission. Sometimes you take the money and later the quality of life location. I would like to say that I had a little help in your decision for Kosovo, but ultimately it was your decision and I believe a wise one at that! I wish you well.

  3. Nice article Steve, I can tell you are one of the good ones by the quality of your writing. You have put a lot of thought into it and organized it quite well. I have worked in Russia, Ukraine, Georgia as well as a successful career in the U.S. in LE. My last gig when I retired was a year in Cairo. Very interesting experience….nothing gets done and it can be very frustrating. Lived among the locals and loved it and can affirm all that you wrote. It really is what you make of it and learning to see the world through others eyes and not through that of an American.
    I currently have several applications out to do some more contract work overseas. We will see what happens. Best to you! Ed

  4. Steve, your articles are dead on accurate and a definite read for everyone even considering taking a “contract” and going outside the U.S. to work.

  5. Steve, can so easily relate to what you’ve written. Worked Kosovo 1999 – 2000 and other Balkan/Eastern EU regions since, but these days more Central and East Asia. CIVPOL bemused me as I failed to understand why a few retired officers, hired through private companies, felt the need to rush to a PX to buy 4 Stars or bars for the collars on their ‘pretend’ uniforms which bore no resemblance to their former positions. I agree with the Peter Principle, but make no mistake, within half an hour of meeting one of these ‘pretend generals’ any truly professional officer will quickly have the measure of them. Unfortunately you are correct when saying that they can hold management positions (well at least in the beginning, but hopefully they are eventually placed in charge of counting pencils or something useful like that when their incompetence becomes a real danger to officer safety).

    I occasionally work with a Police Colonel when in central Asia, really nice guy who is educated to doctorate level. He does not suffer fools gladly, has been on study trips to other countries and is confident to the level where he doesn’t feel a need to prove himself. But, as ‘is their way’, you can expect to be ‘interrogated’ in a subtle way, during the first few meetings as they establish are you being truthful about your credentials. If you are quoting from a book or have to keep referring to materials or dodge the issue then they will question ‘why’ are you there at all – they can do that by themselves. I don’t stray outside my areas of expertise as I simply don’t know enough about for example Public Order policing and apart from avoiding embarrassment, it isn’t professional nor ethical for me to claim I do. Alas, as intimated in your article, their are those who possess neither professionalism nor ethics and are so thick skinned (or arrogant?) that they don’t realise when its time to be embarrassed and leave.

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