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Do You Have What it Takes to Work Abroad?

Have you ever thought about gaining some overseas work experience?  Do you wish to see more of the world and learn about other cultures?

The years I spent living and working in London culminated in an overall experience that profoundly changed the way I saw the world. My travels made me wiser, more knowledgeable and a lot braver.  Since these rewards are worth more than a pot of gold to me, it comes as no surprise that I consider working abroad a worthwhile endeavour.  

Yes, your career can benefit

Aside from gaining access to another culture and opportunities for travel, having overseas experience can also enhance your career.  In fact, better pay and improved job prospects are two common reasons for workers to relocate to another country either temporarily or permanently.

Of course, whether your particular career will benefit from such an undertaking depends on a variety of factors, including what your job is and where you plan to go. Therefore, it is vital that you thoroughly research the place you would like to move to before making any decisions.

Being a happy expat is not easy

Despite it being the best adventure of my life, those eight years away from Melbourne were not all happy years. My emotions oscillated wildly; sometimes I felt exhilarated at my new beginnings, other times I just wanted to give up and go home. 

By the end of my journey, I had come to learn that being a happy expat actually takes tremendous skill and willpower.  One has to clear hurdles that sometimes appear insurmountable.   

Hurdle #1 Being alone

There is something about being in a foreign country without family or friends that forces you to be more attuned to your surroundings.  Suddenly, you are terribly aware that you are the only person dining alone in a café or sunbathing solo in the park. 

You will obviously make friends in time but meanwhile, you will need to brave restaurants, museums, cinemas and all other ventures on your own.

Believe me, this is a lot more difficult than it sounds.  It took considerable mental strength for me to be light-hearted about the loneliness I felt, especially during the Christmas and New Year period each year, when central London became a ghost town as everyone headed home to be with their loved ones.  

But as they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I gradually learnt to enjoy my own company and mastered the art of keeping myself busy. I developed new hobbies, planned activities for every weekend in advance and said yes to most social invitations. Oh, and I always carried a book with me wherever I went.

Hurdle #2 Money matters 

Relocation is expensive, I know because it cost me thousands of dollars.

In hindsight, I should have done a lot more research and planning before heading overseas.  The fact that I failed to do so meant money was really tight for the first three years.  As a newly arrived foreign national, I was unfortunately not considered creditworthy, so making ends meet proved a monthly struggle.

The things I should have paid more attention to include:

  1. Whether I had enough savings to cover relocation expenses and sustain my new life until my first pay check.
  2. The cost of living in my new country of residence.
  3. Clearing existing debt back home such as credit cards, personal loans and anticipated tax bills. These obviously did not vanish when I moved from home, and I had no strategy for managing them from abroad.

Hurdle #3 When to call it quits

If you decide to work overseas, do you know how long you will go for?

My intention was to be in London for three years, but I ended up staying there almost triple that length of time.

I thought about going back to Melbourne often, even daily initially. 

The question of if and when to go home never left me.  Every setback from work, every date that didn’t work out and most annoyances would bring back the same old question: is it time to leave this place?

It was clear when I met with other expatriates that they were all asking themselves the same question on a regular basis.  The problem with this type of thinking was that it prevented us from feeling anchored, and to just enjoy being where we were.

While I couldn’t prevent doubts from surfacing, I gradually learnt to stop looking for a clear answer or give myself deadlines of when I needed to make a decision about going home.  I simply reassessed my feelings every six months, and reminded myself to have fun in the meantime. 

If you would like more tips about working abroad, here is a helpful article written by Diane Morgan, the former director of career services for the London Business School.

Photo: Phineas H

Flickr Creative Commons License

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