During those whirlwind last few months of college when life becomes a sea of job interviews, final exams, and boozey late-night Journey sing-alongs, I somehow decided to move to Thailand. I had never been to Asia, never even studied Asia, but on a wanderlust-infused whim applied to a fellowship program, was miraculously accepted, and found myself preparing for a move around the world.
I admit to being more terrified than excited about the big move, but I clung to Mark Twain’s famous words and boarded a plane to Bangkok: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” After two and a half years in Asia, here are a few reasons why I now think working abroad is a must-do for everyone in our generation:
Gaining a global perspective. The 21st century world is a global one. Businesses have hubs on multiple continents, clients are scattered on the opposite sides of oceans, and a morning meeting with London and evening meeting with Tokyo is no longer the stuff of the future. Being able to relate to people around the world is now a massive professional asset and working and living abroad gives you the chance to get to know a culture from the inside. Working in Thailand exposed me not just to the culture of the Thai workplace but to the working culture across the region. I learned when and how to bow to my superiors, the appropriate way to assert my voice, and the truth that cultural awareness should always be on my mind. Working abroad broadens your scope, it makes far-off lands suddenly seem like neighbors, and instills in you a cultural sensitivity that is invaluable in a multicultural world.
Adopting more responsibility. Graduating from college and winding up unemployed or at an unpaid internship is disheartening but very often the norm. Choosing to work abroad often means more opportunities at higher-level positions. Being an American-educated college graduate and native English speaker is not terribly noteworthy on U.S. soil, but outside of the country those seemingly mundane facts of life are very marketable. To be fair, this won’t necessarily be the case if you’re looking for work in western Europe, but in Asia, Latin America, and Africa your inherent traits might be in high demand. Working in a meatier professional role abroad can mean learning more advanced skills at an earlier point in your career.
Learning practical skills for life. Office life abroad can at times be an isolating experience. Often I was the only American in a meeting, on a project, or even in a department. This meant finding new ways that crossed cultures to relate to colleagues and clients. Language barriers cause problems, cultural nuances are hard to grasp, and often the organization or order of things is new too. Learning how to deal with these situations instills problem-solving skills that will serve you for life.
Turning off the noise. A secret perk of working abroad is the time it gives you to figure yourself out. You are removed from the rat race you know, have fewer peers to compare yourself to, and the expectations of American society can be turned off with the television. This silence and space provides invaluable time to evaluate what you really want on your own terms. Removed from everything, you are suddenly given the priceless opportunity to step back, reevaluate, and reconsider. Distance, both physical and emotional, affords the chance to figure out who you really want to be, without anyone there to tell you who they think you are supposed be.
Photo Credit: puuikibeach