An International Student: Work Opportunities

Jawad Hassan becomes an online French language tutor.

An International Student: Work Opportunities

Choosing to pursue university education abroad entails an opportunity cost. Not only are you choosing to remove yourself from the job market and depriving yourself of potential earnings, but it is also a significant investment of your time and finite financial resources.

It also entails balancing risks relating to uncertainty with regard to the potential future rewards. You might find yourself often ambivalent, stressed, and burned out as a result of factors such as family matters, loneliness, and the difficulty of integrating into a foreign and unfamiliar environment.

One way to diminish all of these negative aspects is to take control of the factors that you can directly influence. These include assiduity, or the character of being meticulous with your studies, relying on psychological support offered by the university, being outgoing and talking with as many people as possible, but also trying to take control of your finances by creating a separate stream of income. Parental support, scholarships, state grants, and loans might not always be available or could be subject to external effects.

As a university student, you have access to some skills that can be monetized once you find your niche market or the demand for them. Speaking of myself, I come from a pretty precarious situation financially speaking. 2019 saw the financial and economic collapse of my country Lebanon and as a result, my income stream coming from the country has been greatly affected. It was therefore imperative for me to acquire a separate revenue stream that would allow me to sustain my educational pursuit.

The first step in this journey was to evaluate my skills and think about which ones I could provide for other people in exchange for monetary remuneration. Coming from a trilingual country, I had the fortune of possessing an academic level of Arabic, English, and French. Three world languages with varying levels of demand. My immediate thought was that I can put these languages to use producing texts, translations, transcriptions, and teaching.

The second step was creating a link or a medium with the demanders of my skills so I had to find my market. Luckily Russia offers cheap and relatively fast internet if you subscribe to a data plan, also free Wi-Fi is present throughout the University’s different campuses as well as the dormitories. My costs therefore would be minimal.

I began looking online for services that join together demanders of these skills with the ones who offer them. Some simple online searches yielded numerous and diverse platforms for this particular thing. As my dear reader might know, we are in the midst of a sort of renaissance of the so-called Gig economy, hence an individual with a particular skill can link up with gig offerers via applications and websites.

The third step would be to select which medium is most convenient for you. We are not only talking about the availability of jobs here, but the job seeker has to make sure the demand for his skill exceeds the offer for it. Minus a good track record or some heavy credentials, a new entrant to the Gig market is at a disadvantage if he does not possess unique or rare skills. This was especially true for the type of work I was looking for. As an example, the internet is ripe with highly competent English skills that could perform the tasks I was offering. The offer far exceeded demand. As I pursued my search I came across the fact that in a globalized world, many people are looking for good teachers to acquire languages instead of having to rely on someone else for language skills. So teaching languages is an avenue with an important demand.

I also noticed during my search that teachers of French or Arabic are much more demanded in some regions of the world, than teachers of English and vice versa. So I made sure to offer to teach the language which I perceived is not only rarer but also more demanded and popular. In Russia which is the country I currently study in, that happened to be French. The good thing about online platforms however is that they do not restrict you to the country in which you reside in terms of clientele, which means that I could access international students in spite of me putting Russia as a country of current residence.

I then proceeded to create accounts in gig offering services such as Fiverr, Preply, and Upwork. Fiverr and Upwork are websites allowing you to offer various gigs from design, translation and transcription, writing, etc., while Preply is a language learning platform.

When creating my accounts, I made sure to write an attractive and inviting resume, in which I listed my education, skills and why exactly should a potential client choose me over other offerors of the same work. For me it included my long history of juggling three languages on a constant basis, using them not only academically but also professionally and in my private life. I described my multicultural background of being a Francophone African on my mother’s side, an Arabic-speaking Lebanese on my father’s, and being raised in a country where trilingualism is the norm among educated young people. On Preply I made sure to create a short clip of 3 minutes where I present myself and invite students to choose me. The tone I chose was a mixture of friendliness and professionalism in order to both give the impression of competence as well as amiability.

After this, I waited to see which service would guide the most customers my way.

I found that Preply was guiding an average of 2 customers per week while it was a lot slower for other sites. The rate of customers increased with time to the point where I had to come up with a structured plan of time management as well as organizing lessons specifically tailored to each student as opposed to a generic one. The traffic of customers was not as sustained on the other platforms but that does not mean other people with different skills would not have higher success than myself.

When it comes to time management the confinement due to the coronavirus crisis provided an opportunity as I did not have to commute during the day to my campus. Work and study were only a matter of having quiet in my room and a working laptop.

Preply allows you to set hours of availability where students can pick the time that is most convenient for them. The hours were also adjusted according to the time zone of each browser of the site which removes the need for direct coordination.

It took me a few classes to come up with a teaching plan adaptable to every student’s needs and character.

Generally, I worked up a system where I would focus on reading and listening comprehension, acquiring vocab, developing speech, and improving grammar. Each student was allotted a different portion of time for these skills depending on their studying objectives as well as level. I made sure to make my lessons as fun and interesting as possible by asking students their subjects of interest, education, lifestyle, and by gauging their personality.

So far, through this strategy I have managed to acquire and retain about 11 students of various nationality and maintain a revenue stream sufficient to fulfill my basic consumption needs and lower the financial burden on my family.

In conclusion, offering your acquired skills online would allow you not only to solve unexpected financial difficulties but also save up money for future plans, be they vacations or spending on their own wellbeing as well as gifting themselves or their loved one’s gifts. I would even recommend using the separate revenue streams generated through online gigs in investing either in financial securities, cryptocurrencies, or by building up a saving account. For a young student going through the unpredictability of the 21st century, the tried and tested hedging strategy of diversifying your portfolio of revenues, investments and even skills are a necessity for achieving security and wellbeing.

Text by
Jawad Hassan