Sean Love, 27, traded a job as a medical research assistant in an “understaffed and underfunded” lab at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore for a similar job in Singapore. But the new position comes with better funding, happier co-workers, twice the number of vacation days, nearly free health care and a much higher quality of life.
Love’s girlfriend, who had spent months fruitlessly searching for a nonprofit job in the Baltimore-Washington area, had two appealing job offers within two months of moving to Singapore. Other friends who moved to Asia had similar experiences.
“Asia is without a doubt the new land of opportunity for those brave enough to buy a plane ticket,” Love says.
A 24-year-old New York native employed at an international bank in Jakarta, Indonesia, told me he frequently tries to persuade his unemployed friends back home to move East.
“The opportunity is in Asia,” he says. “Staying in the U.S. right now is not how you really up and make a name for yourself. . . . Asia presents you an opportunity to get out of the mess in the U.S. You can come out here and teach English and — boom! — you’ve got a job. You can come out here and start a rinky-dink startup and — boom! — you’ve got a job.”
There are more opportunities in Asia “simply because of the higher growth rate,” explains Megan Fitzgerald, an international career coach based in Singapore, who says young Americans are drawn to the money and the sense of possibility in the Eastern Hemisphere.
For American children of immigrants, moving back to their families’ countries of origin is increasingly appealing. Hong Kong is full of “ABCs” — American-born Chinese — who have returned to where their parents are from, in search of opportunity. Ditto for young Indian Americans moving to India, where officials report a major increase in ethnic Indians moving to India from abroad. In 2010, at least 100,000 people of Indian descent returned to India. They’re often called “repats,” or “returning expats.”
“There are a lot of entrepreneurial people moving back to India, living really well, starting things,” says Robin Mount, director of the Office of Career, Research and International Opportunities at Harvard’s Office of Career Services, who tells me that Harvard students of all backgrounds have grown increasingly interested in working overseas.
Anxious as my husband and I were about moving abroad, we consider ourselves lucky. Hong Kong has been quite an adventure, despite the sky-yellowing pollution and the insanely high rent. Instead of buying washed spinach at Trader Joe’s, I bargain for yams, pak choy and fresh tofu at an outdoor market. Instead of living in a one-story condo, as we did in Chapel Hill, N.C., we live on the 12th floor of a 24-story high-rise. Instead of driving, we ride a ferry across Victoria Harbour, skyscrapers gleaming along the shore like dragons’ teeth.