Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Six Reasons to Become a Writer Abroad

I admit it. When I decided to move to Switzerland from Richmond, VA over three years ago, the prospect of being called a “trailing spouse” was my worst nightmare. Before I moved, I constantly wondered if quitting my job, selling my house and car, not to mention giving up my support network and favorite stores like Target and Pottery Barn all so my husband could pursue a work opportunity in a foreign land was really the right thing.

To keep positive, I tried to view the whole move as an adventure and opportunity for myself as well, and I wasn’t disappointed. Over the last three years, I landed a job as a copywriter at an ad agency in Zurich, expanded my freelance writing career writing essays for publications like the Christian Science Monitor, and was offered a job as a columnist for Swiss News, the National English Journal of Switzerland.

Needless to say, living abroad as a writer can open a lot of doors. If you need any more convincing before buying your one-way ticket to your writing dream, here are six reasons to become a writer abroad now:

1. You differentiate yourself. There are thousands of writers in New York City. But most editors want fresh perspectives. It's easier to be memorable when you can write about things from a different viewpoint. Not to mention, an international perspective is highly regarded by many publications.

2. Stories. You barely have to try to find ideas when crazy things happen to you every day. When you have to bring your Christmas tree home on a bus or your neighbor insists on power-washing your balcony for you (as have both happened to me in Switzerland), stories just come naturally.

3. Characters. If you're into writing fiction, there's no better place to live than abroad, where people have habits and styles of communicating that challenge what you're used to and create possibilities for characters you never would have thought of before. Like a 73-year old Swiss woman whose idea of being neighborly is to criticize your inability to clean the communal dryer’s lint filter properly.

4. You'll want to write all the time. Especially if you live in a country where English isn't spoken, writing becomes an escape and a daily drug that keeps you sane.

5. Travel Writing. Not only will you understand your surroundings better than a tourist, but it's easier to carve a niche out for yourself as a travel writer if you live in an exotic land. With slashed budgets, publications are more and more likely to hire someone that's already living in the local they want to cover so they can avoid paying travel expenses. If you’re between 18-34, you could also apply to be a Correspondent for National Geographic’s Glimpse publication, something that I was honored to be involved with last spring.

6. Less Competition. Chances are, wherever you decide to live abroad, there will be English publications. And if you're in a non-English speaking country, you will have less competition for those jobs. So if you're good, your ideas are more easily accepted and you'll most likely be able to find some steady work (for example, I was able to land a column in Swiss News, the National English Journal of Switzerland) while you keep reaching for those dream publications.

This post was originally written for the fabulous blog about freelance writing, The Urban Muse.


  1. Okay, I'm ready to buy that one-way ticket RIGHT NOW!! I'd even welcome being called a trailing spouse just for the chance to live abroad and write :)

  2. Yeah, the trailing spouse thing isn't all bad. But I think we "trailing spouses" need to come up with a new title for ourselves. Because it's such an old-school term. Any suggestions?

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Hi Chantal,
    I read your One Big Yodel blog and was excited to see this new one! I studied engineering in College and never considered myself a "writer", but living in Zurich has made me want to write all the time! My friends and husband's coworkers actually get mad when I don't post on my blog for a couple days:) I have really enjoyed it and like you said - it is easy to find content when you have such odd things happening to you all the time! I look forward to reading this blog too!

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