In a society where sushi is casually eaten for dinner, kung-fu crosses over into comedy, and saris are sold in artist markets, it isn't unheard of to fly overseas to spend spring break shopping in Hong Kong. But what if your desire to travel isn't quenched by a week of cheap clothes and dim sum? Are you ready to spend one year working amongst the locals?
Even if you live in a multicultural city, what you see only scratches the surface of the food, music, dress, language, and traditions of a given foreign culture. If you're planning on working abroad, get ready for the culture shock! Here's some advice to prepare you:
Believe it or not, this decision should be based on your personality as much as your career pursuits. Living abroad will change your character for better or for worse. Before you dive in, make sure you can function well in stressful environments, accept different ways of thinking, and manage change effectively.
This assignment comes in two parts: finding a program that fits your needs and knowing what to expect about the destination's local culture.
Do your research and get accustomed to their lifestyle, recommends Amy Lu, an ESL teacher in Korea who has since returned to Canada. I'm familiar with it, so I had no problem. But others not exposed to it will find it overwhelming or uncomfortable. Talk to people who taught English before and see if it's really something you want to do and commit to.
Work abroad programs have become mainstream, so choosing one is as easy as scoping out your university's career fair or Googling reputable organizations. In any case, most programs offer on-ground support systems for their participants, which makes a world of a difference when you don't know safe from sketchy in your destination city. Secondly, have you already thought about what's eaten for breakfast, what the local accent sounds like and mannerisms that are considered offensive? These should peak your curiosity and excitement.
To native speakers, you may sound a little silly at first, but they will definitely appreciate your effort to communicate with them. Language difficulties often represent the most significant challenges'they restrict your abilities to communicate personally and professionally.
Members from the world's largest student-run organization, AIESEC, frequently encounter this struggle during their internships abroad. Just ask Alberto Uriel Sanz, an AIESEC member from Spain coaching other members in Toronto on marketing and advertising skills.
The worst part of this new life is not to be able to communicate my ideas properly, says Uriel Sanz. At the beginning it was very frustrating for me when I had to give speeches in meetings, or when someone used to ask me about things that [require an] answer with a complex answer. I was only able to respond with very short and easy sentences.
Thankfully language assistance is easily accessible through tutors or language-based clubs on your campus; alternatively, you can pick up an audio or print tutorial at the bookstore. Be wary that languages like Chinese and Arabic are considered harder to learn for English speakers, therefore more time and support may be required. Whichever method you chose, be prepared.
Of course, you'll never be completely ready for every adventure abroad. Be accepting of everything you come across, especially the things you deem as unusual. For example, in some countries, visitors have to rethink their notions of personal space or their perception of time.
Frustration is a feeling that usually comes from misunderstandings and miscommunication, says Emily Nguyen, an AIESEC member who is working in Oman as a part of the operations team. She explains that at the beginning of her term business partners would frequently use the Arabic phrase Insha'Allah, meaning ÔÇÿGod willing,' to answer proposal requests or deadlines. This often meant that Nguyen had to walk away without definite decisions being made. But as she soon realized, Business [in Oman] is about relationship building and a slow cultivation of connections through important people.
As a foreigner, you're now within a population's minority, so try to respect the local way of life. At the same time, build friendships with organizers, colleagues and community members you encounter. Chances are, there are others who've moved overseas for an opportunity similar to yours. Not only will they be available for you when you're feeling vulnerable, but you can also explore the city with them in a proactive way.
After spending several months abroad, you will undoubtedly develop an affinity for your host country. You've been immersed in the local environment, eating the local food, speaking the local language and experiencing the local traditions. You'll also almost certainly leave with a tear in your eye, even if you're breathing a sigh of relief. Still, upon your return you'll have to readjust. When speaking to your friends'who'll of course be happy to see you'understand that they may not be able to relate directly to your experiences. Avoid being too pushy when telling them stories.
Most people will tell you that working abroad is a life-changing, eye-opening experience. There are lessons learned overseas that would otherwise remain a mystery. And what may have started as a spontaneous adventure might end up as the beginning of a long and meaningful journey.