Can you give your career a boost by going overseas?

Going overseas definitely gave my career a big jump start — I went from covering local school board meetings in the Chicago suburbs to covering international conflicts within a few months.

This was in Moscow, where there were, at the time, two competing English language dailies.

One friend came to Moscow straight out of college, without a word of Russian. He did have a textbook that he picked up somewhere, though. He got a job at the Moscow Tribune helping the wire editor, looking for interesting stories in the mountain of paper the AP — and UPI, Reuters, Itar-Tass, and all the other wires we subscribed to — spewed out every day. After an exciting day of battling paper cuts, he would retire down to some Russian bar, get a newspaper and a dictionary, pick out words, translate them, and memorize them. Then try out his pronounciation on the Russian staffers the next day. He also picked up a Russian girlfriend along the way.

A year later he was working as a producer for Sky TV (Murdoch’s answer to CNN, big in Europe and Asia).

Other acquaintances have gone on to NBC (after covering the Moscow crime beat), U.S. News and World Report, the AP, and other international organizations. And why shouldn’t they get hired — they’ve proved they can work in Russia and that they’re willing to work dirt cheap. 🙂

There’s always a high turnover at the Moscow papers — staffers get snapped up by the big media organizations, or get tired of living in Russia and go home. Others are there because they’re spouses of diplomatic staff, or of business people temporarily posted in Moscow. Either way, they move on.

As an American journalist abroad, you’re on top of a journalism foodchain where the local press is concerned, and you’re almost immune from reprisals. You can still get in trouble with the local government but whereas the locals might be killed or jailed the worst that usually happens is that your visa is revoked. Again, this shouldn’t be taken as a license to act with impunity, but I was able to run stories that the local media often couldn’t do — our paper wasn’t censored and rarely read by petty local bureaucrats.

However, it was read by the foreign media that parachuted in — the big shots from New York, etc… who didn’t speak the local language or have a clue as to what was going on would read the English-language dailies to get up to speed — meaning we got great exposure. And we were rubbing shoulders with the top journalists in the world whenever we went out on assignment…

When Yeltsin sent tanks against the White House, and bullets were flying overhead, I was crouched behind a concrete barrier with a photographer from Time.

So, definitely I recommend going overseas to any young, ambitious, unattached reporter.