Saturday, December 19, 2009

Considering a job outside your home country?

I thought I'd mix it up a bit and take on a more generic topic in this blog posting ... working in another country.

As a native New Yorker and resident of 3 other states over the years, I knew an opportunity to live and work in Switzerland for 3+ years could potentially propel my career. I also knew that it was much more than a career-related opportunity. Any chance to get immersed in another culture is an opportunity that can’t be over-stated. It’s an obvious eye-opener in terms of really experiencing how other people live. It will also likely have an impact on you in ways you won’t realize for many years to come.

I started my career (many years ago) by taking a company-sponsored Dale Carnegie course that focused on “expanding your comfort zone” -- as that invariably helps you in demanding, stressful business situations. Working in another country is like taking that course every day for the entirety of your stay! By the end of it, you are surprising yourself in terms of how so few things make you uncomfortable.

On my very first day working in Zurich, I was rushing past the regional head of HR in the halls of headquarters and said “Hi Stefan, how are you?” and kept walking. Five seconds later and 20 yards away, I heard him say in a serious voice … “if you are so interested in how I am, why did you keep walking?”

Different idiomatic expressions, the absence of rampant consumption, taking trains and watching other people’s reactions to announcements in a foreign language, an unexpected 30-minute intermission first time at the movies, 5-year olds riding bikes alongside cars as if they were in the movie “ET”, getting a fine for mowing our lawn on a Sunday (considered noise pollution), 2 channels in English on TV, having an assistant that speaks 5 languages and pilots planes to Africa … all became routine experiences.

My strong recommendation for those preparing to work outside their home country (wherever that is) is to live among locals -- in their neighborhoods -- and try your best to learn at least some local language basics … vs. simulating your home country experience. Your ever-expanding comfort zone will translate into a far better work experience as well. Some of your new colleagues will be more inclined to “have your back”; i.e., collaborate effectively with you --- which is critical for your success.

Before you know it, you’ll be stopping long enough to hear the answer when you ask “how’s it going?”

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