After her January 2009 layoff, Rebecca Cors, an environmental researcher from Milwaukee, gave job hunting in the United States her best shot. But competition for the university jobs she wanted was incredibly stiff, and the fact that she didn't have a Ph.D. was something of a liability.
Cors, 42, banged her head against the ivy-covered walls for a few months, then had a better idea: fulfill her lifelong dream of living and working in Liechtenstein, where her grandfather was born.
"A bit of Web surfing and chatting showed me that there were good opportunities to get experience with teaching and environmental education and research in Europe, so I went for it," said Cors, a dual citizen of the United States and Liechtenstein.
The gamble paid off.
"I am getting tons more interesting opportunities over here. I didn't have nearly the same response in the U.S.," said Cors, who is currently editing academic texts and pursuing her Ph.D. at a university in Switzerland, all of which she lined up after her July move abroad.
Cors isn't the only American looking to other nations as a way out of unemployed Dodge.
The Peace Corps saw an 18 percent increase in applications between September 2008 and September 2009. Lesser-known work-abroad outfits like the Council on International Educational Exchange, which offers overseas teaching programs in half a dozen countries, and Masa Israel Journey, which places recent college grads in internships in Israel, report similar surges in program demand since the recession began.
Gregory Hubbs, editor-in-chief of Transitions Abroad, a clearinghouse for international job advice and opportunities, has seen a significant spike in inquiries from Americans interested in expat employment since the economy began to tank in 2007.
"For many Americans, this moment in history represents an opportunity to pursue alternatives to traditional lines of work in the U.S. while gaining life-enriching experience," Hubbs said via e-mail.
"It's an opportunity to not have to live as close to the bone with your bill payments," said Margo Schlossberg, 40, from Vienna, Va., who was laid off from her U.S. marketing job two years ago and has been scraping by with part-time jobs and her own import business.
Although Schlossberg is reluctant to leave the States, she's been eyeing employment opportunities in developing Asia, where she worked as a marketing professional between 2003 and 2006. Thanks to her MBA and the fact that she's fluent in Bahasa Indonesia, she's a bit of a hot commodity there.
"The level of the job and the responsibility you can get is so much higher than in the U.S.," she said. "You're in a developing country that wants to move itself up, so they're really interested in your opinion."
Not so as a business professional in the States, she said.
"Here, you're just a dime a dozen."
Susan Adda, 45, who's lived in Paris with her French husband for the past decade, agrees that in the global business world, savvy Americans can attain almost rockstar status.
"That good old American know-how is worth a lot to people in other countries," said the self-employed event planner. "As an American, I am not only perceived as someone who has more international clout, but I am also able to capitalize on my knowledge of American trends."
Josh Simpkins, 34, an Ohio native who teaches English to business professionals in Bochum, Germany, agrees.