The benefits of working internationally


Whenever someone asks me the question: “Should I work abroad?”, it’s a no brainer answer for me. Of course, YES!!! I’m tempted to just buy the inquirer a plane ticket on the next flight out of his / her country.

Understandably, some people can be quite hesitant about working abroad for many reasons, including:

  • My work network is strong and established in XYZ city. If I move outside, I will have to start all over again, and that would set my career trajectory back.
  • My family and friends are all here. I won’t have a personal support network abroad.
  • I don’t speak the language. How will I even operate there?
  • The industries there are under-developed, and I want to learn industry best practices.

Working and living abroad (especially for long periods of time) may not be for everyone. However, gaining international experience even for a few short months can be tremendously beneficial for anyone from a professional and personal development perspective. Here are some reasons why you should do it:

1. Adopt a different perspective

I think the key to connecting with others and working well with them is to understand their perspective. Spending time in another country and in another culture forces you to develop a new perspective. For example, when I was living in Kenya, I realized how simple money transfer can be using M-PESA, which sends money to anyone through your mobile phone. In the US, people were still heavily dependent on writing checks or wiring money through bank tellers.

2. Become more adaptable and resourceful

This is a particular benefit you could gain from living in a developing country. In developed countries, you take many simple things for granted, such as good roads, reliable transportation system, or electricity. In a developing country, you learn to adapt when there are deficiencies, and I think that is an incredibly valuable skill. For example, in Northeastern Tanzania, there were frequent electricity outages, especially at night time. To adapt, keeping a solar mobile phone charger around was quite handy.

3. Develop patience

The other hidden gem from these experiences is that you learn to be more patient. I remember in India I was rushing to attend a meeting. However, there was a cow in the middle of the road that refused to move for 20 minutes. At this point, you realize that there are some things in life you have control over and others you simply don’t. There, in the middle of traffic under the hot sun, you develop patience.

4. Learn a new language 

If you’re really motivated and dedicated, then you could take the opportunity to learn a completely new skill, such as language. However, learning a new language is usually much easier if you are surrounded by people that don’t speak languages you already know. Even if you don’t become fluent in a certain language, I think there is still alot of value in acquiring basic local language skills: (1) you have basic survival skills, (2) you develop rapport with locals as people tend to appreciate the time / effort you put into learning their language, (3) you can better understand their culture (For example, I always wondered why our Indonesian colleagues would refer to a female as “he” until I learned that in Bahasa he or she is the same word!).

5. Gain interesting experiences

I believe you are the product of your experiences. Spending time in different countries forces you outside of your comfort zone and normal routine. As a result, you appreciate the varying wonders that this world has, and I think that  in turn makes you into a more interesting person.

6. Expand your network

A wonderful perk in living internationally is meeting people that have a completely different background and upbringing as you. These people also have a different social network compared to you, and connecting with them thus also significantly expands your network. At home, you would most likely mingle with people that you already know, so making new acquaintances would be more challenging. Abroad, you will need to make new connections to form friends and colleagues.

7. Enhance your employability 

We all know that we operate in a highly globalized economy. Companies big and small now operate across multiple countries in pursuit of growth opportunities. Having international work experiences and especially a language skill can open your career up to many more opportunities than someone who is more insulated. Additionally, if you’ve worked in a different country before, you have a higher chance of succeeding if your company decides to parachute you into Uzbekistan because you understand the nuances of working within a different culture and environment.

So stop thinking about it. Do it now (or soon). It could be interning abroad, taking a sabbatical, requesting an office rotation, or just applying for a new job abroad. It’s really a no regrets move! It also doesn’t have to require a ton of money to live and travel abroad. The key is to find a company that will pay for you to do so.

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