Thanks to many people, not least my amazing managers and colleagues at Oxford and the fantastic team at UC Berkeley, I’m just about to start Week 2 of my job exchange!  I’ve been a little overwhelmed to blog (and too scared to blog before I got here, in case I jinxed something and got declined at the border!), so the below is a little ‘how I got here’ story to set the scene for my posts over the next three months.

There’s so much that’s interesting here, I’d love it if people wanted to pop me a question in the comments which I can use to theme a future post – tell me what you want to hear about!

So how did I get to San Francisco?!

I put out a blog post last summer, after seeing my colleague Claire Conway do a three month job swap with Gregg Blachford of McGill University, Montreal a year ago.  Thanks to really supportive line management at Oxford, and a strong case that an exchange to the US would build both parties’ labour market knowledge, guidance toolkit, and awareness of different forms of service management, I had the ok from Oxford, but wasn’t sure how to go about finding someone willing to come to the UK in February for three months!

My blog post got a couple of replies, but meanwhile I was researching different services, and was particularly impressed with Berkeley’s Careers Center– having a really strong strategic direction towards technological innovation as well as customer service.  There were so many nice parallels, and key differences – and a very similar academic client-base too.  And, it just happened to be in sunny California, which looked like an excellent climate to learn to relax a bit and work smarter, rather than harder.

In speaking to colleagues, I found that our Assistant Director knew the Director at Berkeley, and thanks to Tom Devlin sharing my message with his staff, Anna Carideo got in touch to say that she’d love to take part!

From that point on Anna and I basically just set the wheels in motion through countless emails, google searches and Skype chats. We found useful people in both universities to help us work out visa routes (Anna’s here on a Tier 5 intern visa sponsored by GTI’s Tier 5 scheme, as we realised that was the only option that would allow her to do meaningful work, and I’m on a J1 visa, sponsored by Berkeley as a Visiting Scholar).  Once we’d figured out it was possible visa-wise (this took three months of hard research!) we had secondment contracts drawn up by our respective personnel departments to cover our agreement: both carrying on getting paid by our home institution, and using our accrued leave from home, but reporting to our new service’s supervisor. We’re really grateful to our respective services who paid our flights and visa costs (~£1200-£1400 each), and finally in mid January, we were good to go!

We’ve swapped pretty much everything (except other halves!) – flats, cars, bikes, SIM cards… the works!  I live alone, but Anna’s husband even agreed to move in with his mother for the three months! If you’ve ever wandered around duty free trying to find a present for a man who just gave up his marital home for you, you’ll know that Toblerones don’t quite cut it in terms of gratitude!

We both drew up a ‘Guide to Living in…’ with lots of details of fire alarms, what we should do if we break something, quirks of our cars etc, which was a tip from Claire, just to remove the “I’ve broken a cup… do I need to source the exact same cup to replace it?!” issues.  We’ve been lucky in that both our landlords agreed to the swap without a hitch, and Anna’s car insurance is very happy for me to be covered, and to cover her in my car if she needs it.

Other expenses were our own, and the biggest has to be medical insurance for the US: my ‘bargain’ plan from Berkeley is a whopping £350 for the three months!  I think Anna’s biggest challenge has got to be the weather in Oxford in February, whereas mine is probably driving on interstates with 7 lanes where undertaking is legal!

Professionally, it’s reassuring to see that guidance skills really are very transferable – and I’ll try to focus on some of the  differences in future posts.  As I’m still studying my PGCert/Dip part time, and all Career Counsellors have a 2 year full time MSc in Counselling here, I do feel wildly underqualified, but my colleagues have been great in not treating me any differently. We’ve been discussing the psychology/sociology roots of US and UK careers work (respectively) which kind of explains the difference in professional training, but I’m really keen to build my guidance skills surrounded by such expertise!

OK – so that’s how we got here!  I hope that was useful to anyone considering a similar exchange, and do feel free to comment below – let me know what you’re most interested in hearing about!