How to invest in yourself while working abroad

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Time working abroad either as an expatriate deployment or on a short term internship, for example through the IAESTE program as I did when I worked in Mongolia, certainly it isn’t an opportunity to be wasted. However, especially if it is your first time living and working abroad, it can be daunting and the temptation can be to withdraw into your comfort zone. My advice is: DON’T! With a little determination to turn any experience into an even greater experience – and one that counts on your CV. How can you invest in yourself in order to make the most of your opportunity?

  1. Get as much practical experience as possible. Soak up new information like a sponge. Constantly ask questions. Take advantage of any opportunity to learn something new; often you might find yourself with time on your hands so make sure you fill it in the best way possible. Would it be beneficial to do a little bit of deeper reading? Is there anything practical you could be doing? Do any of your colleagues require assistance? If nothing seems obvious, chat with your supervisor and ask for some more work or maybe even a small personal project to work on. Make the most of the working week, developing your work ethic – this obviously makes a good impression on your employer, and ultimately benefits you by giving you more practical experience to talk about in future job interviews.
  2. Network, network, network!!! On big international internship programs such as IAESTE or those run by multinational corporations, there is usually the opportunity to connect with both locals and other international interns involved with the program. Likewise, you will be surrounded by colleagues who can be any mix of locals and expats. Many people return from their time abroad having made lifelong friends (make sure you are one of them!). What a lot of student trainees going abroad on placements don’t realise is that this may actually be their first experience of professional networking. Networking is not some schmoozy exercise in distributing as many business cards in as short a time as possible. Networking is the building of lasting and meaningful relationships that have the potential to be highly beneficial to either party at some point in the future. Going along to organised social and cultural activities should be a priority (and if none are organised, take the initiative and organise your own). Such meetings are the ideal way of getting to know other students and young professionals without the added pressure of being “professional”. Make sure you get to know your work colleagues as well – and maybe even some people completely unrelated to your work – you never know when someone will have the perfect careers advice (or potential job offer) up their sleeve.
  3. There’s a first time for everything. Whether it is the local food, a colleague’s unusual taste in music, a popular cultural activity or the adrenaline rush of bungee jumping, working abroad gives you the opportunity to try many things for the first time. Doing so will not only give you plenty to talk about when you go home, but also broaden your worldview, which will enable you to be more effective in the international workplace. Besides: it could be a once in a lifetime opportunity – make sure you don’t regret missing out on it.

The bottom line:

MAKE THE MOST OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY

…whether it be professional, social or otherwise. Most people don’t get the opportunity to spend a significant period of time working abroad. Ultimately, by being very deliberate and making sure you get the most out of your foreign placement or deployment now, you invest in yourself in a way that will reward you well in the future. Enjoy your time out there!

Singapore light show

Singapore: I did a lot of networking with expats here as well as elsewhere in SE Asia.

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