Are you ready to work abroad?
There is no doubt that the idea of working in a foreign country holds great excitement for most of us; the opportunity to travel, learn new skills, and grow our professional currency back home is tantalising indeed.
But traversing the oceans for a new job also means traversing different cultures – and success or failure in this respect is contingent upon how well you have prepared for the changes that lie ahead. Those of us who have lived and worked overseas will tell you that these were some of the most amazing experiences of our lives. And alas, some of the most difficult! But it doesn’t have to be so difficult. A little investment of time researching, planning, and preparing for life in your new destination will pay huge dividends in the long run and set you up for a happy and successful time abroad.
The benefits of working abroad
Spreading your wings into a new country brings many personal and professional benefits, including:
The challenges of working abroad
Of course, all this of this does not come without some challenge. Some things to consider and be aware of before you depart on your new career adventure include:
While it is important to be aware of these potential challenges, much of this can also be exciting to navigate, if approached with sensitivity and a positive mindset.
Below are a few things to consider before you embark on your new job abroad….or as you develop yourself for a potential future move.
Planning for working abroad
1. Research the culture of the country you will be moving to (or want to move to)
The deeper your understanding of elements such as the history, social norms and politics of your destination country, the greater will be your ability to build rapport and connect with people respectfully, avoiding inadvertently offending anyone. This will help you build critical networks during your time abroad. Understanding how people work and play (like standard work hours, norms for socializing – or not – with work colleagues, important rituals at work – such as taking lunch together) will help you understand what work will feel like in your new role and prevent unnecessary surprises.
2. Research the culture of the company you will be moving to (or want to move to) If you have an overseas post already secured, or you have set your sights on a particular organisation overseas, invest some time in researching their company culture. What does their website and/or other platforms indicate about their culture? Are their cited values aligned with your own? Can you talk to people within the organisation about what working in this company looks and feels like? If applicable, ask your new manager what it takes to be a successful team member in this company.
3. Understand your own working style
Understanding how you think, and your approach to work is the first step in identifying where you may need to modify or adjust your approach in a different cultural context. Take the time to elicit feedback from your manager, peers, and direct reports about how you work. For example, what kind of leader are you? Are you direct or indirect in your communications? Are you directive or participative? How do you respond to problems? What pitfalls might you face working in a culturally different context where people have the opposite approach to you?
4. Get ahead of the curve with respect to learning the local language (before you go!)
I cannot stress enough the importance of being able to communicate effectively with people in your new environment. Yes, you will learn the language (in time) when you are immersed abroad. But it is very difficult to build relationships with people when you can only communicate in rudimentary ways and the ability to share stories together is impossible. And building relationships in your new post and life is key to your assimilation. Not to mention the day-to-day difficulties of living in a new environment when you cannot speak the language. When working in France a few years ago I couldn’t even set the voicemail on my phone at work when I first arrived because I couldn’t understand the furiously fast Interactive Voice Response! And that is one tiny example of how the simplest things can quickly become overwhelming when you constantly need to ask for help because of the language barrier.
5. Enlist a relocation assistant to help navigate the tactical elements of your move
Engage a relocation specialist to assist you and your family (if applicable) to transition abroad. Having a local expert assist you in the search for appropriate accommodation and schools, and facilitating practicalities such as opening back accounts, will go a long way to streamlining your assimilation into life in your new location.
6. Set yourself some goals for your time abroad
Someone once highlighted to me before an overseas move the importance of identifying your key objective or objectives for your time abroad – and the importance of reminding yourself of this higher goal whenever things were tough. This was the best advice I ever received. Whether your goal is to become fluent in a new language, tick 25 new cities off your bucket list, or gain specific international work experience – it will anchor you and transport you through any moments of culture shock or loneliness.
So should you embark on an overseas post or start to ready yourself for working abroad, I make one final comment. The culture shock passes. The loneliness passes. But the magic, the memories and the invaluable learnings from your time abroad stay with you forever.
Need some support before starting your expat journey? Have a look at our expat optimiser coaching program
Author: Suzanne Jenner-Wall
Suzanne is an experienced international HR leader, coach and organisational development facilitator with a background in biochemistry.