Career

Usually, I would publish an end-of-month Behind the Scenes recap but given the circumstances (not having published one, like, since February) I figured – maybe this is the perfect time to post a big picture update! While it’s fun to come up with random stats (like minutes spent on a plane in a given month), this info becomes kind of meaningless when there have been so many other weird and wonderful things happening over the past 3 months.

I quit my job

Blue Sea in Tenerife, Spain

This was a tough one. I had a great team of extremely talented and fun people. We did some amazing things that clients and banks thought were almost impossible. Worked in a beautiful office in one of my favourite parts of London (Fitzrovia). Got invited to extravagant drinks and dinners. Flew across the Globe, ramping up frequent flyer miles like there’s no tomorrow and staying at hotels I could otherwise only dream of.

So, I had a project-based job that combined the creative and financial industries, paid the bills and allowed me to travel around the World – which I thought was all I wanted. But it turns out – it wasn’t. What happened?

To be honest, my decision wasn’t as much about enjoying my job but, instead, about a shift in my definition of ambition.

Over the past few years, I had grown to the idea that ambition was putting your career in front of everything else. But now I believe that my definition of ambition and success have evolved: they no longer means pulling all-nighters and constantly sacrificing personal stuff to deliver flawless projects or win over new accounts.

Don’t get me wrong: I still believe I’m ambitious – Maybe even more than I had ever been before. Now, I’m not willing to settle down for a life that doesn’t make me happy in more than just one aspect of my life!

I moved back to Spain

Hiking in Tenerife, Spain

Have you ever felt the need to simply reset

I had been pushing away this feeling for a while – after all, to me, London was for a long time the land of advancement and opportunities. But it was also a land of expensive flats, long commutes and cold rainy days. So, following my resignation, I gave myself a fresh start altogether.

Now I’m back in the Canary Islands as a resident (first time in over 12 years!). I wake up early, eat healthy and spend a lot of time with my family. I signed up for my local gym, go for regular walks / hikes and explore new beaches. After only 6 weeks, I’m already feeling more rested and energised. It’s like being in a retreat – but instead of being in India, I’m on a tiny island in the Atlantic Ocean off the African coast.

I read all the books

Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife (Canary Islands)

If there’s one thing I’ve done consistently every single day it has been this: reading. From crime to comedy and from business to psychology research (though mainly psychological thrillers!) – Here’s a list of some of my latest reads:

The girl on the train by Paula Hawkins – ♦♦♦♦♦

I’m a sucker for psychological thrillers but must admit that this one is among the best I’ve read over the past year – I literally couldn’t put it down!

Elizabeth is missing by Emma Healey – ♦♦♦♦♦

What first attracted me to this thriller was the unconventional narrator: an 82-year old woman with dementia. I was immediately hooked with this brilliant mix of mystery and dark comedy – highly recommended.

Snow white must die by Nele Neuhaus – ♦♦♦♦

I admit that, at first, I was put off by the title. However, this book (the #4 in a mystery series) quickly caught my attention due to its suspenseful setting in a small German town that deals with gossip, power and appearances.

The good girl by Mary Kubica – ♦♦♦

Another psychological triller – this one, however, centres around the abduction of a young school teacher. Although it’s not as twisted as others mentioned above, it does contain some brilliant surprises.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion – ♦♦♦

I’m not sure what just got into me. I must have bought this book after binge-reading thrillers until I could no longer sleep at night. Granted, I’m not strong on romantic chick-lit – although I admit that this one had its charm.

I’m currently reading Boo by Neil Smith and am loving how the characters and storyline so far (very imaginative!). After Boo, I’m short on books – any good recommendations?

I applied to Business School

Sunset in Tenerife, Spain

If money was no problem, I would be a student for life – not because of the parties and student discounts (ehem), but because there’s so much out there to dive into, that the thought of sticking to only one topic/career path to specialise in and work on for the rest of my life is a wee bit overwhelming.

I had been toying with the idea of business school for about a year now – and after months of thinking, researching, deciding (then not-deciding) and finally committing to apply: I’m done. Unlike many other MBA Applicants out in the blog world, I have only applied to one school: one I believe is a perfect fit. 

There are a million +1 reasons that led me to decide for business school, but probably the main one (together with the whole learning something new part) was the realisation that an MBA would open the door to plenty of amazing opportunities and provide me with a strong network of like-minded innovative and ambitious people from all over the Globe.

Maybe it was a risky move – there’s no guarantee that this will actually materialise, but I’m staying positive. *fingers crossed*

I celebrated my birthday (with lots of wine)

Wine in La Rioja, Spain

Two weeks ago, I flew off to Bilbao to spend my birthday weekend exploring the Basque Country – a place that, despite being so close, was completely foreign to me. It made me realise how much of my own country I still need to explore (and also wonder: why is it that we always tend to favour international travel when we’ve got so much beauty right here?).

Needless to say, the Basque Country was absolutely stunning. We went on wine tastings, visited some of the region’s most notorious vineyards, took a leisure hike to a waterfall, bought lots of wine and cheese (and by now, already ate about half of it!), explored industrial and historical Bilbao and took a day trip to Portugalete and Playa la Arena. The 3.5 days felt far too short and now I’m already planning my next  trip to Northern Spain later this summer!

PS: a post about my long weekend is soon to come, but if you’re curious about this place on Earth I highly recommend you visit Christine in Spain, who avidly blogs about her life in el País Vasco. 

So, what have you been up to the last few months?

“Confidence is the purity of action produced by a mind free of doubt”
– The Confidence Code (Katty Kay and Claire Shipman)

A few weeks ago, I finished reading The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance- What Women Should Know. The book carries an important message: “confidence” – it turns out – “matters more than competence when it comes to achieve success and getting ahead”.

Even though the book itself has quite a strong career focus, there are definitely parallels with other aspects in our lives  – travelling, hobbies, relationships, etc. The book is, in my opinion, a wake-up call for any near-perfectionist. 

As a recovering near-perfectionist, I thought I’d go ahead and share my personal take on confidence – Follow along!

Don’t ruminate – rewire

Don't ruminate - Rewire (Kate goes Global)

I’m not good enough. How can I still not pronounce literature correctly? I’m never going to get promoted! I don’t have enough savings. I’m not in good shape. I’m never going to run a race. Or ski without making a fool of myself. I just can’t do it!

Does this sound familiar to you? It definitely does to me! I’m pretty good at overthinking and giving myself a hard time when I don’t get things right on the first, second or third try.

After my first attempt at skiing, I swore never to step on skis again. Instead of laughing it off and continue to practice, I focused my energy on all the times I fell on my bum and couldn’t, for the life of me, get up again without help. I listed all the excuses I could come up with to not go skiing again (it’s expensive, it’s far, I don’t have a car, my friends don’t ski, and I don’t speak french! – yeah, I’m not proud of that one).

Looking back, I can only laugh at my behaviour – what made me think that one (snowy) day on a swiss resort without an actual instructor would bring out my inner Suzy Chaffee? It took me another 1.5 years to decide to throw my ski-insecurities down a hill and learn on my own terms and pace (and oh am I grateful I did!).

Confidence Tip: Overthinking and overanalysing stops us from taking action, stepping out of our comfort zones. What I do now to restrain myself from worrying too much and holding on to past mistakes is to focus on what I did well. You can only imagine how ecstatic I felt when I actually managed to ski down through 2 blues and 1 red without falling over (who cares if it took me 4 x as long to reach the base!).

Strive for progress – not perfection

Strive for Progress Not Perfection

When I was younger, I would crumple a paper and start all over again if I had made one only mistake. My hand writing was (and still is!) extremely clean and neat. When I sketch, I start with a 5H pencil and will gradually move to softer ones when I’m confident that the lines are where there should actually be.

As a perfectionist, nothing will ever be good enough. While my teacher praised the quality of my work, I couldn’t avoid comparing my architectural sketches to all the architects and designers in the room, and feeling like a penny.

Talk about unreasonably high standards!

Perfectionism does not only increase our self-doubt but also leads to procrastination. We stop ourselves from doing something if we know that the result won’t be even near to perfect. When I first started preparing for the GMAT, the course recommended me to take a first CAT (test) to assess my level. Instead, I didn’t do one until I was halfway through the books because I was worried about not reaching a minimum score I thought was reasonable.

But here’s the thing though: not reaching my desired GMAT score on the first CAT shouldn’t be seen as failure, but instead, an opportunity for progress and improvement!

Confidence Tip: Just abandon perfectionism. Seriously. Holding on to unreachable standards is a recipe for disaster. Instead, break your end goal down into smaller manageable goals and don’t give up – Focus on progress, instead of the end goal!

Step outside your comfort zone

Step outside your comfort zone (Kate goes Global)

We need to take more action, more risks and be willing to face failure. By simply stepping outside our comfort zones and realising that the World doesn’t end if we get the first step wrong is one of the most encouraging feelings you can get!

When I started to consider a career change back in early 2012, I was a nerve wreck. I pondered all the things that could go wrong (what if I can’t find a job? what if I realise I made a mistake? what if this is the closest to my ideal job that I can ever get?) and held on to my fear of getting it wrong for months before I took the leap. And guess what: once I did, the World didn’t end. Instead, it turned to open many doors I wasn’t even aware existed.

So what is constantly stopping us from stepping outside our comfort zone? Self-doubt, overthinking, fear of rejection and fear of failure all cause us to freeze and avoid taking action. But being confident doesn’t mean that you believe you are naturally good at something, but that you can learn and improve through work and repetition.

Confidence Tip: Take more action. And if the action itself is too big and scary to cope with all at once, divide it into smaller manageable actions that trick your brain into feeling no risk at all.


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Next month, it’ll be 5 years since I landed my first real job and moved abroad without a clear idea of when I would return.

Lavaux, Switzerland

Lavaux’s vineyards became my weekend escape

I remember the blend of contradicting feelings I had when I formally accepted that first job offer in Lausanne, Switzerland. On one side, I was happy to have a job in the field I wanted and excited about all the new experiences ahead of me. On the other, though, I was worried I wasn’t good enough for the job and wouldn’t fit into the new culture.

I was moving long-term to a new city, in a new country. I didn’t know anyone nor did I speak the language. And yet, I had to hit the ground running.

Skiing in Chamonix, France

Even better than hitting the ground running, was hitting it skiing

As I settled into my life in Switzerland, I learned a lot about self-sufficiency. Sometimes, I learned it the hard way – like that time I had to kick someone out of my flat using all the French words I had learned over those 2 years. But most of the time, all those new challenges – like flat hunting, moving or going to a doctor – were easier than I had thought.

Moving abroad has taught me a lot about what I can accomplish by myself once I break outside my comfort zone and step into the new and unknown. With every step I take outside, my comfort zone expands – and the more it expands, the bigger and more powerful the experiences I live.

Es Ram, Formentera, Balearic Islands (Spain)

Like that time I escaped the crowds in Formentera, Spain

At times, returning to Spain seems like an incredibly appealing idea – Spain is, after all, the heart of my comfort zone and London is, in many ways, the exact opposite of what I feel comfortable with – It’s noisy, big and crowded. But this kind of daily challenge keeps me on my toes. It pushes me to continue learning, developing and adapting every day.

London Eye, London (UK)

Of course, not all learning paths are a straight line. I have struggled, failed repeatedly and made a fool of myself – but most of the time I have come out on the other side knowing that this struggle has helped me grow and develop my strengths.

I don’t know how long I will continue in London or where I would go next if an opportunity rose. But I do know that I’m not done with being an expat – and I’m not sure I ever will.

In which ways has living abroad expanded your comfort zone?


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April was quite a month. I sprinted from one point to another, rushed through crowds, always thinking of to-dos and deadlines. I multi-tasked through most of my day and usually ate in front of my screen while typing yet another e-mail. I spent 8 hours a week studying the GMAT (which in my case meant 8 hours doing maths!) and brainstormed the future of my blog. I pushed myself to study or read something useful in the evenings, before falling asleep a few hours before picking up the entire race again.

Hiking from Afur to Taganana, Tenerife (Spain)

I knew this wasn’t going to last – eventually, something had to change. And I knew the time to reevaluate my priorities had come when, at the end of the month, my body collapsed of weakness.

It’s not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?
Henry David Thoreau

I had been so busy with my career and ambitions that I forgot to take care of myself. I had forgotten about things as simple as eating well, drinking water and getting a good night sleep. Instead, I was constantly being hard on myself for not getting up earlier, for not making more hours to study, for not being more active and for not feeling inspired to write.

After my roadshow finished, I flew home for a long weekend. Soon after, I was hospitalised with severe anaemia – and what was meant to be a short break became a week-long recovery.

Terrazas del Sauzal, Tenerife (Spain)

This was my wake up call, so I hit snooze and reevaluated my priorities. When did I allow to get too busy to listen to what my own body is trying to tell me?

At some point in the last few months, I became someone who glorified busy. I thought of busy as a status symbol – one that represents productivity and ambition. But the truth is, there was no end to it. There were always more tasks to tick off the to-do lists, and most of those tasks were self-imposed.

That was my first realisation: I was in this by choice.

It was clear to me that the way I made my choices had to change.

Tulip Festival in Morges

Learn to say no (specially to the things I want to do)

It seems obvious that there comes a period in your life where you have to learn how to say no to things that you don’t want to do, but I think the biggest, trickiest lesson in holding onto the stalwart commitment to your creativity is learning how to say no to things you do want to do.”

Elizabeth Gilbert – The Intelligent Channel interview

I’m curious and enjoy acquired new knowledge and skills. Maybe my only hope to beat overwhelm is to limit what I am willing to get overwhelmed by. This will mean saying no to plenty of things I want to do, like a photography course, blogging 3 times a week or drinking that 3rd glass of wine on a Thursday evening.

Be more intentional about my choices and focus

Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed with choices, but by aligning my choices with my core values, the array of alternatives are narrowed to those that are in line with who I want to be.

My goal is to learn to pick more wisely. Instead of constantly adding new projects to my to-do list, I want to choose what I really want to do and focus on doing that one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is evil, seriously. You might think you are being productive, but you’re actually doing things half-heartedly without being really present and involved in any of them.

I’m starting to realise that I’d rather have a few meaningful projects than a stressful over-scheduled calendar that doesn’t allow time to recharge my batteries.

Unplugging more often

Today’s technology has allowed us to be available 24/7 – which means that we never really rest from work on any day of the week.

I am conscious about my dependency on electronic devices (specially smartphones) and feel uneasy and sort of naked when I don’t carry my phones with me – it’s like leaving the house without wearing shoes.

And while I’m already on the path of creating a habit of limiting my plugged in time, I’m still battling against the unconcious reflex of checking for new e-mails every few minutes.


Everyone I know is busy. So, tell me something – What do you do to stay healthy and focussed?

If you’re feeling inspired, why not hop over and read a bit more about the glorification of busy and intentional choices? Below are my favourites:


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You choose happiness. You choose sadness. You choose decisiveness. You choose ambivalence. You choose success. You choose failure. You choose courage. You choose fear.

Stephen Covey – The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

After reading Sammy’s article on expatriate friendship, I took some time to look back at all the friends I’ve made during my years of expatriation. Some of us moved for career opportunities, others have been fuelled by pure wanderlust. But the truth is – it takes determination to leave a predictable life behind to jump into a pool of uncertainty and challenges.

They see challenges as opportunities

Mirador Las Torres, Torres del Paine (Chile)
My hike to Mirador Las Torres in Chile has been the most challenging hike so far.

Some of us see challenges as these maddening obstacles that keep us from where we really want to be. Some even feel so frustrated by them that they abandon their goal alltogether. Others, though, have learned to see challenges as opportunities to grow and learn, to strengthen ourselves. The difference between these two is a small shift in perception.

As an expat, each move will force you to learn almost everything from zero. Where can I buy a lightbulb? How do I say lightbulb in this new language? Where do I find an electrician that installs it? Is this price reasonable or am I being scammed?

There are times when these challenges might take the best of us and make us want to return to the comfort of home – but us expats, we hang in there and see these batches as opportunities to learn something new and test ourselves. In fact, there will come a point where challenges excite us.

They adapt to change

Huangzhou, China
I would probably find China not easy to adapt to – but wouldn’t say no to the challenge!

Flexibility and adaptability is the willingness to get out of one’s comfort zone and learn to adapt to the surrounding changes.

Expats keep an open mind and learn to adapt their behaviour to meet local policies and cultural norms. They make an effort to understand the habits of their adoptive home country, and understand the culture and lifestyle of its people.

Movine to another country will probably mess up with the routine you had in place in your home country – For instance, when I first moved to Switzerland, I had to learn to preplan my week’s food as most of the grocery stores closed before I left work. In London, I had to learn to become more of a morning person than ever before, considering that my commute went from a 10 minute walk in Switzerland to a 50 minute combined walk and tube ride in London.

They take (reasonable) risks

Los Gigantes, Tenerife (Canary Islands, Spain)
Seeing the statistics of hikers hurt climbing down the Masca Ravine, I knew there was a risk – but it was one I was absolutely willing to take.

I once read that the main difference between entrepreneurs and project managers was that, while project managers are risk averse and try to control every bit of it, entrepreneurs are willing to take reasonable risks to explore options and test their ideas.

Expats are like entrepreneurs – we are willing to explore and test ourselves taking reasonable risks (and each one of us knows which risks are within reason – as these vary greatly for each one of us). Reasonable risks for one may be to try local food or to experience a tradition of their new home country. For someone else, it might be to drop a well-paying job at home to try their luck in a country they’ve always wanted to live in.

As in any risk (as small as it may be) – there’s a chance of failure. Expats learn from their mistakes and don’t let them lead their way. We get up, shrug it off and always maintain this sense of curiosity and wonder that keeps us continuing taking small risks.

They are not afraid to ask questions

Lavaux vineyards, Switzerland
I was the one always asking for tips on new places to visit around Lausanne, Switzerland – and that’s how I discovered Lavaux (one of my favourite hotspots so far!).

Expats are curious and interested in learning something new. We are also often stuck wondering how to navigate the daily tasks in a new country – Which is the best bank to open an account with? Where do I buy milk on a Sunday? Is this neighbourhood safe? Where can I find a taxi? Or, how do I spell my new street name to the cab driver?

We can’t (and won’t) figure it all out by ourselves, so we reach out to fellow expats, locals or pretty much anyone who’s willing to help.

They are patient

Sunset in Phuket, Thailand
It takes a lot of patience (and mosquito bites) to get to admire a sunset like this one in Thailand.

Starting a life from scratch in a new environment takes a lot of time and energy. Acclimmatisation will not happen from one day to another. Expats usually go through 4 phases of culture shock and, depending on individual experiences, reaching the feeling of truly belonging to this new country may take years of work.

It takes time (and effort!) to become fluent in a new language, to make a new group of friends and to feel at home in a new country. There are a lot of misunderstandings and miscommunications as well as terribly awkward moments, we learn from our mistakes and keep working hard. We know that persistence and determination will help us to reach our goal.

What other habits do you believe highly effective expats have?

Remember how, not so long ago, I was craving for some stability and predictability in my life? How I was so tired and drained of being unsettled? Sure, I still made the best of all that uncertainty that shadowed me throughout most of 2013, but the truth is I was pretty happy to suddenly have figured myself out.

Or did I?

Playa Papagayo, Lanzarote, Canary Islands (Spain)

Now that I’m on a slightly more stable position than a year ago (I guess anything is more stable than an unpaid work experience with no future employment opportunity), I find my mind wandering off into spontaneous decisions to bring in some adrenalin and excitement. This makes me realize that, as much as I want to fight it, I’m just not cut out for routine.

Torres del Paine, Chile

While I thought I was kind of settling down – Subconsciously, I’ve been taking decisions that would break my daily predictability:

  • I joined a profession in which I might be pulled into 2 weeks travel on a super short notice (like 3 days notice!).
  • I’ve moved to a flat on a rolling short-term let agreement, which allows much easier (and quicker) moves across the city.
  • My weekends are as spontaneous as my wallet allows them to be.

All those months I thought I just couldn’t deal with another day of insecurity and instability, and now I come to believe that this unpredictability, freedom and change are precisely what fuels my energy and motivation – and my gut already knew about it all this time!

Sailing in the Canary Islands, Spain

Maybe I do need some uncertainty after all.

Today marks the one week count-down to my departure from Barcelona. Aside from a week exploring Costa Brava and another week back home in Tenerife, I have no further travel plans. Nor life plans, as a matter of fact. I am moving out of Barcelona and into some kind of expat limbo.

It feels wrong, but also right – for the first time, I don’t have a plan (a major accomplishment for someone who tends to pre-plan everything up to her free time).

Swing dancers in Vila de Gracia, Barcelona

Barcelona has been an unforgettable and highly rewarding experience. I fell in love with the City the first day I arrived and have never felt any other way. I know I could live here for the rest of my life.

So then, why leave?

There are still many places I want to explore and many experiences I want to live before returning to Spain. I want to spend time indulging in outdoor sports and nature, learn a new language and be inspired by other cultures. I want to continue to evolve and be challenged by the World – adopting new skills, interacting with new people and adjusting to new cultures.

Certainly one of the traits (or possibly drawbacks) of being a Gen Y – seeking for constant newness.

What next?” is a question that has been popping up for the past month at least once a day. The truth is: I have no idea what I’m doing next. My Excel Planner – a financial manager’s alternative to an old-fashioned notebook – is overflowing with tabs, color codes, lists and calculations. My calendar shows a wedding in India late November that I can’t yet RSVP to due to not knowing which country or even continent I’ll be flying from. This is what Barry Schwartz must have meant with The Paradox of Choice.

September 25th, the deadline I’ve set to make a decision, is quickly approaching. In the meantime… any suggestions?

 

BCN2013

A few months ago, I announced my sudden move to Barcelona. I needed a change of light and perspective, and the opportunity of working for an events agency at the 15th FINA World Swimming Championships Village came right on time. Being part of it has only confirmed my passion for the events industry.

Not everything was glitter and glam, as we tend to believe when seen from the outside – there were weeks of 16-hour work days and the constant feeling of high pressure and accountability. Of course, every day had a little crisis: a sudden power cut right before a live broadcast, the need of a quick solution for the hottest day of the year, heck, we even had a Catalan manifestation for independence!

But living and breathing the Championships does not only mean last-minute problem solving and crisis management – there is some space for fun in it, too.

Xop (the mascot) posing for me at Planet Water Village

BCN2013

Celebrating Spain’s stellar performance in the synchronized swimming finals

BCN2013

Seeing Olympic legend, Michael Phelps, up front

BCN2013

Watching some of the best divers jump from 27 meters height

BCN2013

Admiring the swimmers (this already says enough, right?)

BCN2013

Promoting Fideuà outside the competition venues

BCN2013

Celebrating the end of shift with a glass of ice-cold gin & tonic

BCN2013

Experiencing BCN2013 in such an intense way has been inspiring and energising.  There have been moments of near despair and moments of uncontrolled joy and laughter – and I would never doubt a second to go through it all again.

Life rarely goes as planned

Swing dancers in Vila de Gracia, Barcelona

The day I quit my job in the finance to pursue a career in corporate communications and events, I knew it was going to be tough to adjust to my new lifestyle lifestyle. I knew I would have to climb down a few steps of the corporate ladder and adjust my expenses to a lower salary.

But what I did fail to think of back then was how hard it would be to get a job in a new industry in the first place.

Although I secured a 3 month internship to gain industry experience, I know that this is only temporary and soon, I’d be facing uncertainty again.

Do this, move there, give up or go home.

BCN2013

My worries had been blurring my vision. I wrote lists of options, pros and cons and juggled with my future. The easy choice was to quit London and move somewhere else. The more painful alternative was to stay in London and continue to send out numerous job applications hoping to get a response.

None of them felt quite right.

And then I realised there was a third alternative. I reached out to my network – friends, alumni, family. If I could get one more experience in the industry, I would, hopefully, be fit for London’s competitive job market. Soon after I started, things began to fall into place – I got in touch with someone I knew from Uni who had also changed career paths and had landed a job in a small events agency in Barcelona. A few calls later, I got a temporary contract to work at the 15th FINA World Swimming Championships!

So, what’s next?

Cadaqués, Costa Brava (Spain)

For the next four months, I’ll be living and working in Barcelona. Sure, at the moments it’s something temporary – but it’s also the invaluable industry experience I am currently short of. It’s 4 months in a city I had never visited before, so I’m surely covering my need of travel and adventure as well. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that this city happens to be in the Mediterranean coast side and offer some of my favourite dishes in every corner bar (pincho de tortilla, anyone?).

In contrast to many bloggers that make a living out of their travels, I travel internationally because I have job, live frugally and save money for my adventures. I might have been able to live this lifestyle from my home island, but I chose against it. After all, despite not being a full-time traveler, I do consider myself a traveler of sorts. An expatriate traveler, maybe.

Rainbow after the Rain, LondonThe view from my previous office.

I enjoy taking time to explore a place and experience the local culture, but also like having a routine and pursuing my career, which is one of the many reasons for which I chose to become an expat. Many believe that moving abroad is risky and reckless:

You should be grateful: There are thousands of candidates that would kill for your job

Don’t be foolish: It’s already hard enough to get a job at home – you are doomed to fail if you try abroad

It will kill your career: You will go backwards in your career as you will have to accept a lower position and lower pay

Sure, moving abroad is challenging. There were times that I’ve felt frustrated, misunderstood and lonely. There were times I’ve even hated my adopting countries, and could only think of packing my bags and go home. After over 5 years of living abroad, though, I’m still an expat – and can’t imagine wanting life any other way.

I’m a firm believer of working and living abroad as a way to not only growing personally, but also professionally. I will write about the personal level some other day, but for now, here are the 5 reasons why moving abroad will help you professionally:

It proves flexibility.

Having the courage to up your sticks and move to not only a different company but a different country all in proves the ability to adapt to diverse work places. Having worked in 3 countries (Spain, Switzerland and the UK) I can assure you that each of them has different conditions and a contrasting approach to work.

I admit that, when I moved to London, one of the hardest things to get used to was commuting. I felt as if 1.5hrs to 2hrs of each work day were completely wasted. You see, a 45 minute commute to work in Switzerland was a sin – hardly anyone lived further than a 15 min drive away from the office. In London though, a 45 minute commute is completely normal (and almost a privilege!). I had to learn how to make commuting work best for me. The same goes for lunch breaks!

It increases your cultural awareness.

At first, I found the UK an odd place to work. People didn’t arrive on time – they arrived before time. The offices were mostly quiet spaces, interrupted by the fast tipping of its employees. In the kitchen, there was always someone looking outside the window and grumbling something about the weather.

It’s a cultural thing. The english value their time. If their work hours are from 8am to 6pm, they will do everything to avoid spending any minute after 6pm in the office. I can now perfectly understand this culture and am not shocked anymore – if I still have a long commute home after work, I will also want to get out of there, pronto.

You will learn how to communicate better.

I’m sure you’ve seen this: a communication misunderstanding that took a complete different route than it should have taken. E-Mails, specially, can be dreadful – is he/she ok with it or just being sarcastic? what exactly does he/she refer to with this request?

Add a group of co-workers that have english as their second (or third!) language and you’ll quickly learn how important it is to express yourself politely but clearly. You’ll become more patient and understanding, and will develop an important 6th sense: you’ll learn to perfectly grasp puzzled sentences from non-native english speakers.

You will build an international network.

Having friends spread around the World is damn cool, but having an international network of professional contacts is equally important. Previous professors, managers, co-workers, suppliers and clients; as well as people they have met in conferences, dinners and drinks – all of these are potential employers, business partners, mentors and friends.

A globalized agenda of contacts will open more doors than you could ever imagine.

You might even learn a new language.

There are plenty of non-english countries in which english is widely spoken for business, such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Geneva. This would allow you to pursue and practice your french or chinese, without the initial language barrier affecting your career. Then there is Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Germany, where the normal level of spoken english on is almost fluent, too. Even in countries that are known for a lesser level of english (ehem, Spain for example), you can find companies that work in english – it only takes some research!

Have you ever worked abroad? What skills do you think you’ve improved from this experience?

It’s funny how life continuously tests your limits.

Most of us were told that if we studied hard, we would get the job we expected; and yet, when it comes to today’s work life, nothing really seems to go as planned.

Hiking from Seaford to Eastbourne, UK

Each time I start to feel a certain confidence and security, the ground begins to move again, reminding me that I live in a World that is not predictable anymore.

A degree no longer leads to a job. An MBA no longer guarantees a generous salary increase. And a career in banking is no longer a stable choice.

This is really not how I was told it was going to be.

Chamonix, France

I’m a devoted planner. I began working on a 2, 5 and 10 year goal a few years back, when I was going to graduate from University. These goals from back then haven’t changed significantly, but my strategy has taken a U-Turn. Instead of working backwards from my perfect job, I choose a direction I like and work on it. There’s no guarantee my perfect job will still exist 10 years from now – but a direction never will. There will always be the need for a planner. A leader. A negotiator.

Sometimes, though, it’s hard to accept that you’re vulnerable to future developments. That you can’t plan and control your way into your dream job anymore. There’s no straight line to becoming who you want to be, but instead, a rocky path full of strong curves without warning signs.

These rocky paths are part of the adventure. But staring at the strong curve without seeing its end makes me nervous and unsettled.

My old self would have a plan lined up. My new self, though, wants to test my sense of adventure.

Walking on Lava, Tenerife (Canary Islands, Spain)

Am I capable of walking the entire curve while enjoying the path, without worrying about what’s at the end of it?

Phew, Five years – that’s easily said.

Lavaux, Switzerland

I first moved abroad when I was at University. Deciding to study European Business Management meant that half of my time would be spent abroad. For me, abroad was Germany. During this time, I also took the chance to do a 6 months internship in Zürich, Switzerland. I loved the city, the landscapes and the people I worked with and always promised myself I would return some day…

After graduating from my Master degree in Madrid, that opportunity came back to me: I had an offer to move back to Switzerland – this time, Lausanne. Even though it was hard to adapt to at the beginning, I fell head over heels with this lakeside city, its views over the french Alps and nearby vineyards. After two years, time had come to move on. And here I am, just celebrating the end of my 5th year abroad, from London.

So for this 5 year anniversary, I’ve prepared a list of 15 life lessons I’ve learned (some of them, the hard way).

  1. Ask questions. I used to be the sort of person at school that hoped for someone else to raise my question, or otherwise, ask after class to avoid possible embarrassment. The thing is: there is no reason to be embarrassed – There is really no such thing as a stupid question.
  2. Follow your gut. Whenever confronted with a decision that has to be made: follow your instinct. Something that doesn’t feel right is certainly wrong.
  3. If others think your ideas are crazy, then you must be on the right track. Not everyone will understand your choices and support your ideas. Don’t ever let this pull you down. The only reason to quit is because you feel it’s the right choice – not because others don’t believe in your dream.
  4. Do it, even if you don’t get paid for it. Getting paid to doing what you want is great, but very often you’ll have to start doing it, as I would say, por amor al arte (literally meaning for the love of art, or fun the fun of it).
  5. It’s OK to fail. You don’t have to be right the first time. You can be right the second. The third. Failures provide us with great learning experiences and prepare us for our big success. Never stop doing something because you’re afraid to fail – remember: the secret of winning is playing often.
  6. The most interesting experiences usually happen when you get off the beaten path. In your career and while traveling, it’s good and comfortable to have a plan – but always be ready to get off that plan whenever it feels right, as the best is waiting for you somewhere completely unexpected.
  7. Your reputation is the most valuable asset. After quitting your job or graduating from Uni, you might feel like throwing a nasty email to your boss or that competitive class mate, but this will never pay off enough to cover the huge hole you’re creating in your reputation. They say never burn the bridges. You never know when or where you’ll meet them again.
  8. You choose the way you view the World around you. A swiss village can be dead boring or incredibly charming. London can be too crowded or full of buzz. It is all in the eyes of the viewer.
  9. Laugh. Often. Laughter is the best medicine. Surround yourself with people who will make you laugh out loud and cry of happiness. I’m pretty sure you’ll have less wrinkles and live longer.
  10. Languages are a virtue. Languages take you to places. Today, it’s quite common to see job offers asking the candidate to be able to write and speak a second language – sometimes even a third. Even when english is widely spoken, languages are very much appreciated and will open many doors!
  11. Stereotypes are only that: stereotypes. We’ve all heard about them. Spaniards always sleep siestas. The swiss clockwork punctuality. German’s don’t joke and all Latin-Americans dance. Well let me tell you something: I know Spaniards that don’t take naps, swiss that were late and germans that made me pee in my pants. Oh, and I’ve also met an awful lot of Latin-Americans that can’t dance! Always keep an open mind.
  12. You’re not as different as you think from everyone else. As soon as I started to tell people who I was quitting finance to move into events, I started to realize that so many others are on their second life or have a dream career they’d love to approach. Finding something in common with someone is much easier than you think.
  13. Learn to enjoy your own company. Do activities by yourself. Immerse in a book, go for a walk/run, visit an exhibition. Travel! Don’t wait for others to join your plan, otherwise, you’ll never do it.
  14. Stop checking your phone when you’re with other people. Seriously, I can’t think of anything more disturbing and disrespectful than sitting with friends or colleagues and realizing everyone is more engaged in their online life than in what is happening right here right now.
  15. You can do anything you want, but you can’t do everything you want. Time is precious, so think about you really want to do, prioritize and do it.

What valuable lessons have you learned, living abroad?

While I work my way through the over a thousand pictures I took during my trip to Argentina and Chile, I thought it to be a good time to take a look at what 2011 brought me.

2011 was the year I learned to appreciate winter, got promoted, moved to London and traveled solo for the first time.

January

Sunset from the Empire State, New York

I kicked off last year in a steampunk themed underground party. After years of resentment, I revisited Paris and remembered what made me fall in love with the city in the first place. At the end of the month, I travelled to New York with my best friend and experienced one of the most beautiful urban sunsets from the top of the Empire State (at -17ºC, but it was totally worth it).

February

February was a busy month at work – I traveled to Amsterdam and Rotterdam, and attended a week of cocktails in London. Aside from gaining at least 2 kilos from dunking anything possible into a massive chocolate fountain, I drank champagne at London’s Natural History Museum and had dinner at the city’s oldest restaurant!

March

Edinburgh, Scotland

In March, I went on my first solo trip – a long weekend in Edinburgh. I learned that travelling solo doesn’t mean being solo all the time, as I met lots of interesting people throughout my stay (among them, Kash from Budget Traveller and Keith from Traveling Savage. Great whiskeys. Great company!

April

Tulip Festival in Morges

We had beautiful weather in April, so I spent a lot of time outdoors. I visited Morges during its yearly Tulip Festival and, over Easter, drove around Switzerland discovering the Mont Fort – a peak from which I could appreciate 3 countries (Italy, France and Switzerland).

May

Switzerland

I celebrated my 27th Birthday throwing a massive expat BBQ party at Lac Leman that went into the late hours that night. May was a perfect month in so many ways – filled with sunshine, wine and beautiful walks along the riverside.

June

Royal Ascot Horse Race

In June, I had my first taste of English culture at the Royal Ascot horse race – celebrating 300 years of this royal tradition. I quite quickly lost all the money I was ready to gamble and focussed on spotting the craziest hat and outfit!

July

Lavaux, SwitzerlandHoping to find the most appropriate way to say goodbye to Switzerland, I spent most of July revisiting my favourite corners of Lausanne and hiking through the Lavaux vineyards overlooking the lake and the Alps. I also hiked the Aletsch Glacier – which is my favourite day-hike so far!

August

Es Ram, Formentera, Balearic Islands (Spain)

In August, I had a fantastic time with 3 girlfriends in Formentera – a tiny island off Mallorca, frequented by Shakira and Giorgio Armani. We visited every beach, hired a zodiac to dive into remote coves and swim in crystalline water and celebrated every sunset with a perfect made mojito at our favourite beach water. Ah, heaven!

September & October

St Paul's Cathedral and Millennium Bridge, London

In September, I left my swiss life behind me and moved to London. Life in the city hit me hard and I was an emotional wreck – the crowds, the fog, the rain, the wind, the commute, the anonymity… I was missing Lausanne like crazy.

November

Whale Watching in Tenerife

I managed to escape London for a bit of home-therapy in November. Aside from soaking up some sunshine, I took a boat ride to watch whales along the island’s coastline.

December

Penguin in Isla Magdalena, Chile

December passed very quickly as I counted the days to go on a trip I had been dreaming of for so long – Southern Patagonia. I went hiking in Torres del Paine, visited an island inhabited by penguins, hopped on Cape Horn and watched glaciers tearing apart. There was no better way of closing this year!

What are your proudest moments of 2011?

Rainbow after the Rain, London

I watch the news every morning while I’m having breakfast. I read the Economist on my bus ride to work. Once at my desk, one of my screens will shows the latest happenings in the economic and financial markets. Let’s say – I’m exposed to lots of new information, all the time. I love reading articles on new scientific discoveries or successful business cases. However, in current times, I find it increasingly difficult to spot some positive news.

With the thought of an eventual break-up of the euro, constant talks about a double-dip recession, Greece’s possible default, fears of Italy following (and being too big to be bailed our by its neighbors), top french banks being downgraded, I find it hard to keep my attitude positive.

Now that the euro zone is in a death spiral*, how can anyone remain optimistic?

I took the picture from my office on one of those miserable days filled with hopeless news. It reminded me that, in the same way that after the rain there will be a glowing rainbow; things will eventually get better – dark, wet and cold days won’t last forever.

*Source: The Economist, 9th of November 2011.

I’ve been keeping a secret from you, but can’t hold it back anymore.

I’m moving to London in September!

London Eye, London (UK)

I got the offer to move within the company and the current department I work for to London. Although the tasks and projects will still remain the same, this is a big jump in my career. In the new office, I will no longer have someone sitting next to me whom I could ask anything in case of doubt. I’ll be responsible to develop new business opportunities with UK-based bankers, I will be in between our in-house metals and energy traders and the external financing resources.

Thoughts and emotions have been roller-coasting in my head.

Can I hold up to my company’s expectations?
Do I want to move into the exact opposite of Switzerland?
Do I want to go through all the phases of culture shock, again?
Will I be able to deal with all the fog and rain?

Some of Switzerland’s characteristics I’ve loved before even arriving in the country, and others I’ve learned to appreciate with time. But, as any other place in the World, there are cultural aspects that, although I have partly learned how to live with, I do not share.

There will be countless peculiarities I’ll miss from Switzerland – more than I had ever thought I would – but there are also some luxuries I’ve missed from living in big cities. Not to mention about living in a country where I can make myself understandable without pointing on things and making ridiculous descriptions.