The Perks and Pains of Expat Life

expat life
Downton Addis

 

“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign.”

― Robert Louis Stevenson

Raw foods are not really my thing.

So when I found myself on a breezy Friday with a group of expat colleagues, taking a deep breath and about to start eating minced raw beef (Kitfo)– served with greens and assorted spices – it seemed like time for a little introspection on my life choices. After a fleeting reminder that I might need a will, I chewed, I swallowed, and I enjoyed it. Kitfo is delicious!

Having worked in four different countries on three continents, grown up in five other countries, and sampled countless new dishes, I can honestly say it has all been a great learning experience – working and living abroad brings with it a number of professional and personal advantages.

expat life

Delicious Ethiopian Tibbs

You Will Adapt To New Work Styles

Every country has different professional values and customs. In certain countries I’ve walked into meetings where everyone automatically assumed the administrative assistant was my boss – simply because he was male. Très annoying.

As an expat, you have two choices:

(a) be miserable and constantly monitor the price of airplane tickets to your home country

(b) learn to adapt while maintaining your personal standards.

The latter is tricky, but if you master the skill, you will have rightfully earned a platinum plaque for the ability to work anywhere on earth or outer space.

You Will Expand Your Professional Network

Being alone and a foreigner in a new country forces you to make connections with people that you would perhaps otherwise never admit into your friend circle. So don’t think its weird that the weathered 50-year old ex-military European consultant, the Chinese construction manager, and 70-year old Haitian church deaconess are suddenly your great friends.

expat life

Do not dismiss these seemingly odd friendships; a random encounter with a bag maker in the Netherlands, proved invaluable a few months later when she introduced me to her Asian contacts who worked with small businesses in East Africa.

Plus, remember this: you will never be homeless so long as you can afford a flight ticket to your nearest “friend.”

You Can Move Quickly Up The Corporate Ladder  

Working in your home country may be limiting and frustrating when senior colleagues believe that by virtue of your age and gender, you are not capable of handling complex tasks.

However, you can develop your skills faster by taking a job, for example, as a code developer in a foreign country with few code developers. I have gained a more nuanced understanding of the issues on which I work by working internationally and this has helped me enhance my area of expertise and boost my professional confidence.

The truth is, although prejudices exist against women and youth in many countries, not every country is equally biased against you, and choosing to work abroad can be your fast track to greater opportunities.

expat life

You Will Improve Your Communication Skills

Working in a foreign country teaches you how to more effectively read other people – understanding body language and what is left unsaid. This skill can improve your ability to network with total strangers, give work presentations and even negotiate a salary increase.

There are also other professional benefits to learning a foreign language. Speaking more than one language expands the range of countries and clients that you can easily work with – research shows that people who speak multiple international languages receive up to 20% more in salary.

Tell me that doesn’t sound appealing!

expat lifeSome Challenges To Consider

living and working abroad is not all weekend getaways and fancy expat parties, there are a number of challenges to consider:

Moving to a new country is a lonely experience. Make sure that you are comfortable with being alone with yourself. I have moved to a different country nine times in my life and each time I needed to find new friends, new activities, and new daily routines.

Finally, being an expat throws your identify up in the air, making it quite challenging to return to your home country. In the time that you are away, professional connections, friends and family, and the business and social environment that you were used to would have changed considerably. So remember that when you come back you will also need to adapt and adjust to a ‘home’ environment that is now ‘foreign’ to you.

Would you consider being an expat?

Written by Adedayo Bolaji-Adio

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *