UNC Around the World

Entrepreneurs, social workers, teachers, actors and volunteers are among the 800-plus UNC alumni living and working abroad. Ten graduates share their stories following their life-changing decisions to take their talents to countries spanning the globe.

ErinTeacher in Shanghai ‘Getting Paid to See the World’

One of the things Erin Willet says when she speaks about her experiences in China and her world travels is they make her appreciate being born in the U.S.

She singles out Colorado, especially, calling it a great state.

Yet as much as she loved it, she also realized four years ago she’d rarely left it, save for vacations to Mexico and London. She grew up in Colorado, graduated from UNC in 2000 and went straight into teaching in the Denver area. Then a friend mentioned that she’d taught in Australia for an internship, and that internship turned into moving overseas. And suddenly Willet realized that’s what she wanted too.

“I wanted something different and exciting,” says Willet. “Why not?”

China pays teachers much more, something that’s helped her fulfill her goal to travel the world.

Video“I wanted to travel but I never had the money to do that,” she says, “and now every time I go on a holiday, it’s to a different country.”

Willet has taught first grade for four years at the Yew Chung International School in Shanghai. She knows a little Mandarin but teaches in English.

Willet says it took time to adjust. The yogurt and Goldfish crackers, for instance, aren’t as good, and other goods the Chinese consider luxury items are hard to get. She says she misses the clean, cool air in Colorado, that first fresh breath in the morning. She lives in a city with 25 million people.

Even so, she doesn’t think she could go back to the U.S.

“I’ve had so many real cool experiences over here, I just don’t think I could go back to living a normal life,” Willet says. “I’ve always wanted to see the world, and what better way to do it than while you’re working?” NV

—Dan England is a Greeley journalist.




• Learn a foreign language — Many get a job simply because they can speak the language over there.

• Get some experience abroad — A stint in the Peace Corps or internship overseas builds the résumé.

• Teach or volunteer — Opportunities abound in those two vocations, even for first-year teachers. If you’re willing to go anywhere, you will get a job, and usually schools will help you with the paperwork.

• Do it — It’s difficult, and the transition, especially at first, will probably be tough. But it’s worth every experience.

• Think outside the box — The jobs available overseas are probably different then in the U.S. But that means opportunity as well. Find a way to combine your skills.

• Go somewhere you didn’t expect to go — Many interviewed for this story wound up in a place they didn’t expect to go but also wound up loving their lives there.

• Use an agency — There are many agencies and opportunities online. Just be careful about which agency you use.

• Understand it’s going to be different — You left the U.S. to experience other cultures, so enjoy the differences and embrace them, even if that means changing the way you dress or act in public. Life overseas is a new adventure. Treat it that way.

—As told to Dan England by graduates
working abroad