The gig economy is a growing concept that refers to a working environment that’s heavily populated by temporary employees. It is a natural home for students who need additional income, but can’t fully commit to regular positions. Students can juggle their classes and other schoolwork while doing these temporary jobs or “gigs” on the side.
Getting a gig is a useful way to bolster your funds. But what if you’re studying abroad? Are opportunities for non-traditional employment in the country accessible? Is it wise to seek a gig abroad?
The good news is that the gig economy is a worldwide phenomenon. Unless you’re going somewhere without access to the Internet, it’s highly unlikely that you won’t be able to get gigs to do, especially if the expertise or advice you’re offering can be delivered digitally.
Of course, there will be gig economy pros and cons, and knowing what they are will help you prepare for the “downs” and appreciate the “ups”.
PRO: Enjoy Flexible Hours
For most people who do gigs for a living, this is the best perk. Once you get a steady stream of work going, you’ll be able to adjust your hours to your lifestyle. This is especially useful for those in study abroad programs. Aside from your classes, you also need to spend time immersing yourself in the culture of the country you’re visiting. You’ll want to learn the local language because being in the country where it’s spoken is the best way to learn—and being able to speak foreign languages is a plus, saying you've had multiple opportunities to exercise both speaking and writing in another language looks great on your resume. You simply can’t do that with a regular 9 to 5 job. Working gigs will allow you to have a lot of control over the amount of work you do so you can allocate time to truly travel.
CON: The Inconsistent Cash Flow
The biggest reason why most people still opt to work in regular jobs is the steady stream of paychecks. Once you’ve gotten used to getting paid every month, it becomes scary to live any other way. We shape our lives to depend on that consistent income. When you’re working gigs, the money will come in less consistently unless you’ve already developed enough of a reputation that your customers are happy to line up for a chance to work with you. If you’re not there yet, you’ll have to learn to spend your money extra wisely.
PRO: Minimum Supervision
If you’ve ever had a boss or teacher looking over your shoulder every few minutes and hated it, you’ll love this. Working gigs means there will be little to no supervision from anyone else because you’re effectively your own boss. Your clients may ask for the occasional update, but unless you’re running very late, they won’t interfere while you’re working. If you’re in a study abroad program, you also don’t need to worry about the shock of adapting to a brand new working environment in a culture you’re probably not fully accustomed to yet.
CON: Low Job Security
The gig economy abroad works both ways: your clients aren’t legally bound to keep availing of your services past the terms of the current project. Now, you might think that there’s nothing to worry about if you do a good job—and you would be mostly right. If you impress your clients, it’s highly likely that they’ll have you work for them again and again. Still, this is different from a regular job where your employer is contractually bound to keep you employed. Maybe the client just needed your services that one time. Maybe certain developments on their side would result in them dropping you. They can simply do so without any explanation. This is especially worrisome if you are working abroad and have to rely on your gigs for daily expenses. Again, this can be solved by thinking ahead and putting away enough resources to tide you over until the next job.
PRO: You Earn As Much As You Work
In a regular job, your salary is pretty much fixed per day. If you’re working gigs, you have the freedom to take on as much work as you can handle and you get paid accordingly. You can, for instance, work on five gigs concurrently, and each will yield its own pay. If you’re in a study abroad program, you have the option to sacrifice more of your free time to increase your earnings. You can also cut down on the work you need to do at times when you need to focus more on your studies or if you’d like to explore the country and culture a bit more. After all, one of the reasons you’re studying in a different country is to learn more about the world! You’ll earn less, but aside from that, you won’t need to worry about getting reprimanded by an employer for taking too much time off.
CON: No Paid Leaves, No Holidays
While it’s nice to be able to work as much as you can and get paid accordingly, you would want to take a break at times. As mentioned before, you definitely can, but you won’t get paid. Regular employees get paid leave and holidays off. There will be none of those for you. If you want to take a vacation to explore the country you’re studying in, you’ll have to account for the income you’re not earning in addition to the expense of that trip. It’s even worse if you get sick!
PRO: Shamelessly Indulge In Your Comforts
Since you’re mostly working from home, you get to do away with a lot of the restrictions of being part of a formal office environment. Like wearing pants, for instance. You can stay in your softest pajamas all day and your client won’t care as long as the job gets done. You can stuff your face with the most sinful dishes the country has to offer without any fear of belching or needing to go to the bathroom in the middle of a meeting. You can spend the entire day in bed, indulging in local guilty pleasures while you work. It can be heaven!
CON: Being Alone
Some people crave the company of others constantly, and these people can definitely feel miserable doing gigs alone at home. Working alongside other people can bring a certain sense of belonging. Or you might just enjoy having officemates to be friends with. If this is the case, then work can feel extra tiresome if you’re just tapping away at your computer and doing jobs abroad all alone. The feeling of isolation can get even worse in another country if you’re still not accustomed to the culture. For most people, this feeling simply passes, especially once you meet friends at school or in social gatherings. It can get pretty rough at first, though.
Taking part of the gig economy is a unique opportunity for students who study abroad to earn some extra money so they can genuinely enjoy the experience of being in another country while also continuing to financial support themselves abroad. Whether your earnings go to a travel fund or just a way to buffer your funds, doing gigs is certainly a productive way to spend your time as long as you’re aware of what to expect.
Authored by: Jeanette Anzon