Yes, certainly some nice vacations. But imagine obtaining all your five senses again. This is how invigorating it is to work overseas as a young professional, both personally and professionally.
When I graduated from college in 2007, I was adamant about working overseas. I had spent a semester studying abroad in Japan, falling in love with the culture, and after giving up an internship in Tokyo for a relationship, I realized that I wanted to work in Asia while I was young and had the energy instead of being uprooted from family and environment at a later age.
All the professors discouraged it saying it was impossible and that I “needed experience first” and “couldn’t be picky”. In spite of the majority of influences in my life, I bought a one-way ticket to Singapore, gave myself a budget and two months and promised my mother I would return if I didn’t find a job before either ran out. (Deep down inside, I promised myself I wouldn’t let either run out). In three weeks, I had five job offers. The last job offer I was waiting on was from Toyota. For three years, I worked for Toyota in Singapore as the only Caucasian in the 250 person office.
During a talk on a campus in North Carolina recently, I was shocked when a student asked me, “You were white, young, female and American. You faced so many difficulties. Why would you do it?” I guess I didn’t get my point across well.
What can a young person gain from international experience?
It is valuable for every individual to travel to another country. To disagree would be foolish. To work overseas, however, requires a particular character. If you possess this character, the benefits of having international experience are above and beyond what any MBA will give you.
1) Career Propeller
For recent graduates, working overseas may be the single best way to launch your career despite the economic downturn. As Senior Executive Officer at Toyota, I was conducting Kaizen operations improvements in the Philippines and India. Within three months of working, I was running a team of ten people, managing expense accounts, and reporting directly to the country heads of operation. I was only 22 years old.
With the growth rate of emerging markets, Multi-national corporations need hard working, well educated staff that have energy and are innovative — Oh, and are cheap. Thus, you have American graduates in demand.
Big companies are spending trade accounts less on expatriates compared to before the 2008 financial crisis. With new graduates, they don’t have to deal with bottom-line management egos or children’s educations. (Usually when top management get sent overseas, the company has to pay for the housing, car, children’s private school, bi-annual trips home, etc). Rather , they can have bright young talent that are willing to work hard for the company at a minimal cost.
2) Learn to See
When you live and work abroad, it’s like learning your five senses all over again. Imagine how invigorating that would be! To learn to taste, see, touch, smell and hear!
Letting down the walls built by society of what is deemed right, you escape into a new freedom. The freedom to eat things that are otherwise abnormal, to listen to new instruments that would otherwise be defined as toys, to feel plants and animals that don’t exist in your suburb, and to amplify your taste buds like never before.
You learn to see that there are other beautiful ways of living. You learn to see that our way is not always the best and to choose not to combat ethnocentrism is doing you harm rather than good.
3) Expand your Personal Horizons
By divesting yourself of possessions–your luggage is simply not big enough for your flat screens and leather couches–you simplify your life, ultimately finding what’s truly important to you in life: family, relationships, contentment.
People often ask me if I missed family. Of course I did. It was terribly difficult to tell them I was leaving – my mom didn’t speak to me for almost two months. But it was being away that made me think more deeply about family and the role it plays in my life. It made me realize the importance of family in a stable and healthy life and made me desire it to be more close.
Most of all, you learn deeply about yourself when living and working abroad. When pulled out of your comfort zone, you’re forced to understand why you do what you do and come up with solutions faster than when you are at home with high school friends at your local Starbucks doing and talking the same old thing. Adaptability becomes your greatest asset.
Is Working Overseas right for you?
You owe it to yourself and your family to be able to answer this question. There is big debate whether working abroad is beneficial for all. To travel or spend time overseas, I absolutely agree there is something to gain by all. However, to work overseas is a different story. Working overseas is not for everyone and before you make the decision, you need to spend time considering the real purpose of your work abroad. Is it because you just got out of a relationship? This probably isn’t the best move for you then.
Adaptability is the No.1 skill necessary to work for any market overseas. If you go into any country, much less Asia, applying your norms as a Westerner, you will fail and fail fast. Conveying ethnocentric thoughts and actions onto a local operation will find out wound up in distrust, bitterness and embarrassment.
Think about how you deal with change. The one thing shared by people who are successful overseas is that they all enjoy change. Those who like change allow it to drive curiosity. Combined with patience, this makes you an ideal candidate for working overseas.
What are the other skills necessary?
- Sensitivity (to other cultures)
- Interpersonal communications
Reap the Benefits
The international lifestyle is intellectually stimulating and rewarding. You will create and foster memories that will forever stand out in your mind. Your relationships with people will impact the way you treat others and your perspective on life, transforming you to become a global thinker advancing you years ahead.