A self-proclaimed travel-aholic and aficionado, fully subscribing to the ‘wanderlust’ mentality, I can say with confidence that international work experience is one of the best moves you can make for your career. Swapping the backpack for a briefcase is a new type of travelling, one that helps hone existing business skills and acumen, and is certainly an eye-opener to different cultures and business environments. Plus, it’s fun!
My career started in a rather unconventional way – I was offered a job in Beijing, China. Speaking not a lick of Chinese, knowing absolutely no one in the city, and alarming both family and friends, I decided to take a chance and booked a flight to start my career in a completely unknown country. After all, experience in an emerging market is always a bonus, right? Luckily, my somewhat dubious and risky choice paid off, and that decision kick-started a 4-year whirlwind of international work experience, forever changing my life and career for the better.
After China, I worked in India, Hong Kong and Australia – certainly a break from the norm for a Canadian girl hailing from the prairies of Alberta. It became evident over the course of my international assignments that working environments differ vastly per country, but the lessons learnt are the same.
Expect the unexpected
It goes without saying that when living in a new country, you get used to the surprising day to day of ‘un-normalcy’. What you are used to in your home country, for the most part, will not translate into the customs of your adopted country. Different countries and cultures have a huge impact on daily life, but it certainly keeps you on your toes and makes life rather interesting. The same can be said for your new working environment and business culture. By expecting the unexpected, you develop the transferrable skills of being dynamic and versatile, able to respond to pivots and changes with ease, and to think on your feet. You will also get a hilarious story or two to tell.
New country, who dis?
You evolve and change when you move to a new country for business. When you travel, even if you stay in a place for an extended period of time, your mentality is different from when you work abroad, and this is reflected in the resulting impact on your values and attitude. I learned the importance of connections, and how to develop and maintain relationships when you move across the world. Battling time zones, long haul flights and busy work schedules is hard for existing relationships with family and friends, but something you learn to value that much more. I also learned the value of new connections in your adopted country. When you establish a network, professional and personal, is when you truly start to feel at home. Your attitudes also shift. I became more out-going, confident, adventurous, understanding and compassionate. Living life from a new perspective changes your perspective.
You become a cultural mosaic
When you adopt a new country, you also adopt some of their customs and culture. In Canada, we say that we are a cultural mosaic, celebrating and representing every culture in our country. A metaphor I think holds true for people who work abroad. You not only begin to understand and respect the culture of your new country, but also to love it for yourself. I am now a certified Bollywood superfan, obsessed with Chinese calligraphy and traditional music, a complete dim-sum snob and packing a few too many Diwali and Chinese New Year decorations to continue the celebrations in other countries. Experiencing new cultures also allows you to recognise and appreciate your home country’s culture, and that certain je ne sais quoi that makes home special.
If you are a homebody, crave stability, or the idea of an international assignment never really appealed to you, I recommend you take a page from my book and experience working in a new country. But I’ll warn you, it’s addictive!
In the words of my favourite writer, J.R.R Tolkien, “Not all those who wander are lost.”