Not the Usual Desk Job

by Damon Brown
Not the Usual Desk Job

After graduating from the University of Iowa, Andy Sternberg decided that he wasn't ready to have a conventional nine-to-five job. Instead he looked for alternatives that would support him financially while allowing him to work in a creative environment.

He currently works as a TESL (Teach English as a Second Language) instructor in Spain.

"I've selected jobs outside of the full-time realm in order to offer myself more varied work experience and flexible schedule," Sternberg says. He has been able to travel the world and do meaningful work, while not setting himself back professionally.

Most recent college graduates choose to pursue one of the following options: career, graduate school, temping or freelancing. However, there are alternatives available that can provide meaningful opportunities as well as build professional skills.

Teaching English Abroad

Dozens of programs seek to place English-language teachers in countries such as Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia, China and Mexico. Programs typically last at least one year, but many contracts can be renewed for two years or more.

Typically, teachers receive a salary, health insurance, vacation time, and a work visa, as well as help finding accommodations. Most positions require only a bachelor's degree from an accredited university, although some people with teaching credentials and experience may receive a higher salary. You will also need a valid passport and, for some programs, a driver's license.

For more information, check out the following organizations:

Peace Corps

More than 168,000 people have made this two-year commitment to volunteer overseas. A bachelor's degree is generally required and applicants must be U.S. citizens. Volunteers must undergo a three-month training program in their country of service, during which they receive intensive instruction in that country's language. Prior foreign language skills are occasionally required.

In exchange for two years of service, volunteers receive:

  • A stipend to cover basic necessities - food, housing expenses and local transportation
  • Medical and dental care
  • Transportation to and from your country of service
  • Two vacation days for every month of service

While you are a volunteer, you can defer repayment on the following types of loans: Stafford, Perkins, Federal Consolidation or Direct. If you have a Perkins Loan, you can also receive a 15 percent cancellation of their outstanding balance for each year of service.

For more information, contact the Peace Corps at (800)424-8580 or go to

Travel Guide

More rigorous than camp and more challenging than working at a resort, travel guides are required to think on their feet and be prepared for any situation. Most travel guides must also deal with financial and scheduling logistics, skills that are highly valued by potential employers.

There are many options available for travel guides, from leading luxury tours to Europe to chaperoning groups of students abroad. Some positions require foreign language skills and cultural knowledge of the country your group is visiting. Applicants who possess knowledge of particular regions or fields of interest (e.g. natural history, cultural expertise, food and wine, etc) have additional opportunities in specialized programs.

Most positions require guides to be over the age of 21 with a valid driver's license; guides must also be physically fit and experienced travelers.

Compensation varies among tour operators. Travel guides might receive a daily pay rate or be paid on a per-trip basis. Lodging, meals and transportation during a trip are paid for by the company. Trip leaders also get to keep any gratuities they receive from clients and guests. Most companies offer health and dental care, and some even offer a 401k program.

For more information, check out Back Door Jobs, which lists outdoor job categories with links to related organizations.

Additional Options

These opportunities available to recent college graduates also involve travel:

Cruise ships

Put your degree to work while traveling around the world. A variety of positions require specific experience or a degree in a related field: ship photographer (Photography), ship newsletter writer (Journalism/English), entertainment production manager (Theater Production), fitness instructor or director (Physical Education/Fitness Management).

Crew members typically receive a salary, free accommodations, medical insurance, gratuities and often a travel allowance.


You can also volunteer in a non-profit organization somewhere in the United States. Placements range from national organizations such as the American Red Cross to community homeless shelters. Other opportunities include: environmental conservation, family crisis centers, disaster relief, care for the elderly and public health. Required service ranged from 10 months to one year, and most assignments are full time.

Americorps*VISTA volunteers receive a living allowance, health insurance, training and relocation expenses. You will also receive an educational award of approximately $4,725 to use toward graduate school, vocational training, or student loans, or you can choose to receive a stipend of $1,200.

For more information and unusual job listings, check out:
  • The Riley Guide -- Links to job postings and job sites specializing in travel and tour guiding
  • Cool Jobs -- Lists alternative careers with links to related organizations
  • Cool Works -- An extensive list of outdoor job listings, organized by category

Even if you're not ready for a full-time office job, you can still find fulfilling, exciting work experiences that will develop skills that can be applied to any future career path. Take the road less traveled and reap the rewards!

This article originally published on

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