Why Everyone Should Try Living and Working Abroad
Accelerating your professional and personal growth.
I am coming up on 22 years at Microsoft. The most frequent questions posed to me by colleagues and friends center around my expatriate assignments for the company. People who’ve never lived abroad want to know what it’s like and if they should consider such an assignment. The career expats I meet want to trade stories, commiserate about the challenges we face, or celebrate the small victories, like finally opening a bank account or finding the store that sells your favorite cereal.
I am currently living in Sao Paulo, Brazil-an incredibly diverse and wonderful city with great people, culture. Still, it’s a place that poses significant challenges. This is officially my 3rd expat assignment for Microsoft having previously lived in India and Central and Eastern Europe. In addition, I spent a gap year prior to college living and studying in Israel after graduating high school. Like several of my colleagues, I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had and feel as if I’ve grown both personally and professionally as a result of my time living in such a varied set of countries.
Learning How to Live Abroad
But why should one actively seek out opportunities to work and live abroad? What is in it for you, and why is this a critical part of your career and personal development? There are many great reasons to take on this sort of assignment, but I’ll offer up a few that if I tie together all of my experiences ring true to me.
Learning How to Work Abroad
Everything is different at first when you start living abroad. Immediately, you are put in challenging situations, which will ultimately make you stronger. Everything from how to shop, walking the streets, getting around, interacting with the locals, and just getting things done from morning to night is different than you are used to. There was a moment when the movers closed the door to my apartment in Bangalore, and I realized “Wow-I live in India!” It’s a lot different than visiting India and staying at a nice hotel where you’re waited on hand and foot. The secret to success, I believe, is to embrace the change. Put aside your desire to live as you did in your home country. Live as a local. You’ll no doubt find it to be difficult at first- and frustrating at times- but the rewards are immense including breaking your fear of change and doing things a different way than you are used to.
Bringing This Learning Back Home
Not only does each country have its own cultural norms but workplace customs vary greatly. In India a colleague might greet you with a smile and a brief hello, while in Brazil it’s quite normal to hug and kiss on the cheek people you’ve seen for the first time that day. Depending on the country, meetings also run differently. In some places, the employee naturally defers to the leader for a decision and is reluctant to share an opinion with the boss in the room, while in other countries, furious and emotional debate is common with voices raised to the point where if you didn’t know better you’d think people were upset with other when in truth it is just the usual rhythm of a meeting. It may take time to learn how to jump in and join the fray. Diversity and inclusion means finding the right balance between being yourself while respecting how they do business in your new country. While others need to respect who you are and your unique workstyle, it’s important to recognize that you are a “guest” in a new country and others will watch to see how well you integrate into their culture. Doing so will go a long way towards winning the hearts and minds of your new colleagues.
You may choose after your experience abroad to come back to your home country. If you do, then you’ll undoubtedly be enriched as a result of your time away from home. One of the biggest fears people have of going abroad is whether they’ll find a job back at “headquarters” and will people remember them. I can tell you with 100% confidence that the people who say you will not repatriate successful are themselves probably afraid of going abroad or have not found the right opportunity to do so. Your learning from working and living abroad will be so immense that you will be looked at differently from your peers-in a positive way. You will now be the one in the meeting who people immediately look to when there’s a question about how to do things “in the field.” You will be the one who will be trusted to share your opinion even on matters having to do with countries you’ve never visited! Your experience will distinguish you from others in a positive way and you’ll now be known as someone who can operate under diverse and challenging circumstances.
Working and living abroad is an experience that is increasingly more common in a world driven by digital transformation. I cannot urge you enough to take the leap and try it yourself. You will not regret it!
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on May 7, 2017.