I recently returned to the place where I took my first expatriate assignment right out of college. What an exciting experience to return to the island where I gained so much experience and cultural insight. My trip back to Crete, Greece reminded me of how much I grew and changed during my time overseas. During my stay on the beautiful island of Crete, I reflected on the reasons why someone should absolutely go on an expatriate assignment. For those of you contemplating an international assignment, here are a few tips of why you should run, not walk, to the airport for your exciting experience abroad.
Grow and Change
Get ready to challenge yourself to grow in ways that you may never experience without leaving your home country. My first day on the job at a Greek resort company, my manager told me he not only wanted me to DJ at the resort but he also needed me to speak German. At the time, I did not speak German but I spoke English and Greek. I did have experience as a DJ but that was the last thing I expected to be doing at the resort. I learned German on the fly, as we say, and went to Germany to take German language classes during the winter season. Change is good and also difficult but you will look back and realize how much you grew not only as professionally but personally.
Enhance Your Cultural Awareness
By living in another country, you have the opportunity to increase your cultural awareness and open your eyes to other ways of doing things. Working in Crete, I was on a team with people from Belgium, Germany, Greece and The Netherlands. The clientele in the resorts were from all over Europe. I quickly realized that I would have to learn how to work with a culturally diverse team and cater to European guests. It was exciting and challenging at the same time. I gained cultural insight working with cultures different from my own. Some of the tips I gained I still use in my every day life. Gaining cultural awareness is a skill that will help you not only interact with other cultures more effectively, but when you return to your home country, you will gain an enhanced ability to interact and to work with people with different interests and backgrounds than your own.
Learn to Adapt
Learning to adapt is no longer an option to work effectively in a global marketplace. It is imperative for future global managers and leaders to understand how to work with other cultures. Working in another culture will allow you the opportunity to adapt to other ways of getting things done. Learning to adapt is vital to one’s path toward global success. This is a skill that can best be learned when you are ‘thrown’ into an environment that you are not used to and do not understand. We tend to get used to the way things get done in our own environment. When we leave the country and work somewhere else, everything is different. We must adapt and change to the new way of doing things.
Manage the Unexpected
When we think of working in another culture, rarely do we immediately think about the variety of experiences and changes we will go through during our stay. As a Greek-American, I grew up in a household where olive oil, bread, and tomatoes were foundations of our diet. Moving to Crete, I grew a stronger appreciation for the healthy Cretan diet. I lived on fresh fruits and vegetables and the delicious Cretan olive oil. I also learned what I needed to survive and be effective in over 90 degree heat day in and day out. I worked outside most of the time and believe me, if you are not used to working in this heat, you will learn quickly what to eat and what to drink (Cretan mineral water) to have the right amount of energy to get through the day. In other words, when you are living and working in another country, you are faced with unexpected challenges and it is up to you to find the solutions.
Increase Your Marketability
If you work in another country and come back to your US headquarter office with a set of tools to work effectively across cultures, you will be more marketable. Being able to manage, to negotiate, and to communicate across cultures is a key to success for global managers. Mistakes will be made and can be costly if companies do not have managers with the skill set to work with other people from around the world. Less than half of the United States population holds a passport, which means they do not leave the country. I once trained a client who was relocating from the company headquarter location in the United States to Singapore. Before he started his new role in Singapore, headhunters from Asia where calling him for his next opportunity!
Understanding culture and how culture impacts business is very important.
So say yes to that assignment whether it’s 6 months or 3 years and pack your bags. Expect to change and enjoy the process of growing your global mindset. Find a fellow expatriate to talk to if you need some reassurance. You won’t regret your exciting opportunity to grow, to change, and to enhance your global mindset!