I’ve just finished my fifth season working overseas. Fifth season! One thing that always surprises me is that I took the leap and started working overseas with not too much of an idea of what I was stepping in to. I knew that I wanted to work abroad and I also knew that I wanted to do so before I felt I was too old (side note – this would be a great time to read my blog post, Am I Too Old To Do Seasonal Work).
Cut to five years later and I definitely know a thing or two about working overseas. I’ve worked mainly on French campsites, and for most Brits this may conjure up an image of a field in the Lake District where you pitch up your tent and the facilities are nothing more than a toilet block. However, many French campsites couldn’t be further from this picture. Imagine instead mobile homes with manicured pitches, swimming pools that in some cases could be more accurately described as water parks and most of the facilities that a hotel complex would offer. On most campsites you’ll find a bar, restaurant and takeaway. Some have their own spas and I’ve even worked on one campsite that has a bowling alley and laser quest.
I also know a lot about peoples misconceptions about the travel industry, working overseas and seasonal work. Whether this has come from colleagues or well meaning family and friends, here are some of the most common misunderstandings I’ve heard about this industry over the last few years.
It’s a Working Holiday
Part of my job in France is to greet new staff at the airport, introduce them to the company and help them to settle. Earlier this year I collected a member of staff from Nice Airport and on the drive to Port Grimaud she described her time overseas as a holiday approximately five times. She was a lovely girl, but ended up going home early, lasting just four weeks working overseas. Depending on which company you work for, you will live and work in some of the most beautiful places in the world. You are living in places that families spend all year saving up to visit and sometimes in places people have dreamed about visiting for years. If you work for Eurocamp or Al Fresco, as I did you, could be based anywhere from St Tropez to Sardinia or if cities are more your thing, how about being based near Amsterdam, Barcelona or Rome? However, you will also be expected to work. Hard. From experience I know that your days off will absolutely feel like you are on holiday and this has always been my favourite part of seasonal work. But the days you are working? You are working! Families save up and look forward to their holidays all year. They, rightly, arrive with high expectations and you will be responsible for not only delivering these high standards to every single customer, but also supporting them with any problems that arise during their stay. You’ll work hard, you’ll be busy and you will absolutely earn those days by the pool.
You Will Become Fluent in French
One of the most common misconceptions is that you will easily pick up the local language when you work overseas. Almost everyone that I have met in the travel industry over the last five years can speak English. The company I work for has a large percentage of British, Dutch and German customers and a lot of Dutch staff, all of whom can speak English incredibly well. This is great for staff or customers who might be nervous about a language barrier, but for me it was another unwanted obstacle to language learning. Learning a language requires commitment and dedication and unfortunately there are no easy hacks or cheats. You have to work hard and push yourself beyond your comfort zone. The opportunities to speak French with French people don’t just present themselves on a daily basis, you have to go out and find them. One of my colleagues, who also works in France and is fluent in French, told me that she often starts conversations at supermarket checkouts just so that she has the chance to use her language skills. If your main reason for working overseas is to learn a language, then a seasonal job in the travel industry may not be the best option for you.
That’s It’s Just For The Season
Like everything in life, seasonal work is what you make it. Of course, you can do one season and never return (this was my initial plan!) or you can continue to work for years as a Holiday Rep, which many people choose to do. There are many benefits to this lifestyle and it is easy to see why some Reps return to the same role in the same place year after year. However, if you are a little more ambitious, there are plenty of opportunities for you to grow and develop. There are Team Leader roles, Site Managers if you want to manage a team of ten or more Holiday Reps, Trainers and of course, the Overseas Area Managers. There are qualifications available, should you choose to study for them; I am now a qualified assessor and there are managers working towards ILM Management qualifications. For those dedicated managers that stick around long enough it may be possible for seasonal work to turn into permanent employment. This isn’t a quick fix though, my husband was offered a permanent contract after working in the holiday industry for eight years.
It’s Not Well Paid
If you complete a summer as a season worker in the South of France, you probably won’t be able to buy your own super yacht by the end of it. However, the misconception that seasonal work is poorly paid is not completely accurate. If you are lucky enough to work in France as a Holiday Rep you will be paid the French National Minimum Wage, which at the time of writing is currently €1,521.22, and more if you are in a senior position. Now, this may not allow you to travel to the beach by helicopter on a regular basis (helicopter and private jet sightings are common in the Cote d’Azur), but as you won’t be paying any accommodation charges, everything you do earn (after tax) is all for you. It’s the perfect opportunity to save a significant amount, pay off debts, or as many season workers do, reward yourself for all your hard work and travel around South East Asia for most of the winter. This rate of pay doesn’t apply to all countries though, so make sure you do your research before applying so you’re not disappointed.
It’s All About Ski Resorts, Drinking and Partying
When I first thought about applying for seasonal work, I started looking at ski resorts. I’m not particularly interested in skiing, but I didn’t know about other types of seasonal jobs. It turns out there here are hundreds of different opportunities for people that want to work overseas. One of the jobs I wish I’d applied for back in the day was Disney English, teaching English to children in China. Although, I do have an English degree and a TEFL qualification, so never say never! There is a huge misconception that people that work overseas or Holiday Reps are there for one big party and this may be true in some industries, it’s not true for everyone. I’ve said before that working overseas is very sociable and your colleagues quickly become your family and friends while your working overseas. People definitely enjoy a drink on occasion and I’ve found that the bigger the team you work in, the more likely you are to have more interesting social life! It always tempting to have a glass of wine when you’ve finished work, you don’t have to commute to get home and the sun is still shining. However, when you’re living in the middle of the French countryside, there’s a limit to how wild the parties can be!
So, there you have it, the truth about seasonal work! What do you think about some of these misconceptions? Would you consider seasonal work at any point?
Keep an eye out for my next post, where I’ll be looking at some of the things you need to consider before you take the leap and start working overseas.
Thanks for reading.