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Posted abroad

A few pick up and go to stay; most accept short-term assignments. Americans with jobs overseas describe their corners of a new world.

By Sara TerrySpecial correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / September 16, 2002

When it comes to job opportunities overseas, Kraig Rice knows what he's talking about. As a researcher and coauthor of the book "International Job Finder: Where the Jobs Are Worldwide" he has spent several months over the past year finding out what jobs were available where, and how to get them.

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"I encourage people who want to work abroad to do so," he says. "I think it's an excellent adventure and it's great experience." Mr. Rice is so enthusiastic about working overseas that he wound up taking his own advice – and moved to Kiev at the end of last month to take on a job he actually found while researching his book.

"I couldn't pass up an opportunity like that," he says of his job with the International Research and Exchanges Board, a nongovernmental organization that administers development programs in several countries.

As a former student of Russian history and Slavic languages, Rice had always wanted to work in the former Soviet Union but had kept getting sidetracked.

"I got a second chance to do what I'd always planned to do years before," he says.

Rice isn't the only one on the move. Hard statistics on Americans working abroad are difficult to come by, but experts in the international job market say that, in the long term, last year's terrorist attacks have done little to deter overseas-minded Americans from taking on new international postings – or from staying put in foreign jobs they were working in before last September.

In the wake of the attacks, a blip of panic prompted a small number of Americans working abroad to return to home territory, experts say.

But anecdotal evidence suggests most of those returnees went back to their foreign posts within a few months, rejoining a workforce and reentering a lifestyle that continues to hold a strong pull for as many as an estimated 1.5 million Americans working overseas.

What has changed since last September, say experts, is a heightened awareness among those working overseas of possible turmoil where they are stationed – and of the increased risk of being targeted for attack as an American.

"Many people not previously used to having to think about physical safety are now having to think about it," says Timothy Dwyer, national director of international human resources consulting at KPMG LLP, a professional-services firm based in New York.

Steven Shepherd, author of "Managing Cross-Cultural Transition," spends much of his time traveling abroad and consulting with companies about the special issues surounding work abroad.

He says some of the overseas employees he's met are considering options for other jobs or possibly returning home if security threats increase.

But for now, he says, they're staying in their assignments and "becoming much more aware of the issues that could affect the country they're in."

"I was just in Beijing," he says, "and found a heightened awareness among [Americans] there of the fact that there's a significant Muslim population in China."

That had led some to wonder where that particular Muslim population stands in its view of American citizens. "But no one is pulling out. The awareness is just heightened, and that's a good thing," he says, no matter where a person lives.

Experience with unrest

Although the events of last September brought terrorism home for perhaps the first time to the average American, experts point out that Americans working in many countries actually have a much savvier attitude about potential security risks.

Workers in the energy and oil business, for example, particularly in Africa, have long had to protect themselves against domestic political violence.

American executives in South America have often been the target of kidnappers. And even workers in European countries like England and Spain have had to cope with terrorist bombings by groups like the IRA or Basque separatists.

Still, security companies like Vance Executive Protection, which provides security details for high-profile individuals traveling overseas, say they've been inundated with requests for information about how to safeguard employees traveling and living abroad.