awareness

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?

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I’ve been an expat for one and a half years now, and had never before sat down to clear my thoughts and feelings on living in Switzerland. It’s not my first time abroad. However, it’s the first time that I left my country without knowing when I’d be going back. I didn’t care about not knowing one single soul in the whole country, nor did I care about my lack of french knowledge. I hardly blinked when it came to leave the comfortable familiarity behind and dive into the unknown. I was going to conquer the World (or at least, Switzerland).

The truth is – culture shock hit me deeper than I thought. It’s not only about learning how to copy with different social norms – i.e. learning where to park my bike and where not to (something I unfortunately learned the hard way). Culture shock continues long after becoming familiar with my new life.

Honeymoon

Lavaux, Switzerland

The Honeymoon phase is full of excitement and euphoria. You feel you can grab the World in your hands and do whatever you want. Every day is a new adventure – new faces, a different restaurant, a hidden shop, a cute small side street with boulangeries selling the best baguette you have ever tried. The public transport is reliable, the city is peaceful, clean and safe and people are kind and respectful.

You smile while you walk. Life is good. Actually, scratch that – life is amazing. You are so glad you chose to move and can’t imagine life any other way.

Frustration

Vevey, Switzerland

The shine starts to fade away. You realize that there are actually less than 5 bars where you can go to – either because of the crowds or because of the prices. It’s the fourth time you try asking for a glass of water with your coffee and you receive an arrogant look from the waiter. Maybe even a clueless arrogant look. You’re grammatical mistakes bothers them, and having to repeat the same word 10 times upsets you, too. You go to a hairdresser and come out with a messy cut (that doesn’t resemble a tiny bit what you initially had in mind) and realize that this trend disaster has left you completely broke.

At this point, you start to get familiar with the disadvantages of living abroad. You feel alone and misunderstood, disillusioned, frustrated and angry. Why did you ever even think this move would be a good idea?

Understanding

Water Fountain, Lausanne (Switzerland)

After a while, things start to look brighter – you are adjusting to your new home country. Those things that used to annoy you, are now small and insignificant. You start to see the advantages of having an early start on Saturdays and venture into new activities you never thought you enjoy before. You have set a routine and feel comfortable with it.

You understand the cultural differences with your home country and are learning how to deal with them.

Biculturalism

Sunset in Lausanne (Switzerland)

Although I have adopted some local habits and am adjusting to the new culture, I still don’t feel that I belong here – I feel like a foreigner. I guess the main reason for this is my ridiculous lack of french skills. I truly need to work on that! I envy those that have become bicultural – they are aware of where they came from but have fully embraced swiss culture. They never feel out-of-place.

This phase that takes a lot of understanding and an open mind.

Note: At the point of writing this post, I was in living in Switzerland experiencing the third phase – Understanding. Five months later, I was transferred to London. I have fond memories of living in Switzerland and hope to move back again in the future. Maybe this means that I finally did reach biculturalism – despite my french!