December 15, 2009
News & Opinion: 8cr Global: Angels Abroad
8cr Global is a series of guest posts from around the world, discussing ideas about business from a variety of perspectives. More info about each author is located at the end of each post, and you can recognize each 8cr Global entry by the title and logo at the top of each post. Today's entry is by Adam Daniel Mezei. Enjoy! --- ANGELS ABROAD #1: So You're Looking To Work Abroad? by Adam Daniel Mezei With the domestic job market slumping as badly as it has been this year, it's hardly a surprise how young American and other Western graduates are increasingly on the prowl for more lucrative employment opportunities abroad. A controversial August 2009 New York Times article described the particularly curious phenomenon of young US college grads seeking out greener job pastures over in the People's Republic of China, what with the explosive growth of the Chinese market in recent years, despite how the global financial crisis has particularly affected the West. While experienced travelers may boast about the magic formula on how to contend with life as an "angel abroad," there are legions of newcomers to the international job marketplace who will shortly be taking their first tentative steps into the global employment fray armed with nothing other than a Lonely Planet guidebook and the best of intentions. Since leaving home is never an easy thing to do -- even for the most seasoned travelers -- the inveterate expat roadie can be relied upon to act as a veritable font of bankable knowledge and experiences about what corporate life is like abroad, so that's where this post comes into the picture. As US citizens, we must dually contend with the ignominious reputation we have also somehow cultivated around the globe as "Ugly Americans," those stereotypical brash, bombastic, presumptive types who seem to have all the right answers but none of the humility nor deference which would otherwise be the comportment of the curious foreign visitor. Given how few all-in-one travel guides promise to address all your burning questions about expatriate job and life success, perhaps you're the kind of individual who's asked themselves at some stage: "hey, isn't there some kind of stepwise plan I can just follow that tells me how to deal with all of this stuff?" If this defines you in any way, you'll definitely want to read on. But, first, my friends, I present the facts: Fact #1: No one expat experience is the same. Just because things either worked out marvelously or bombed hideously for someone who blazed the trail before you, doesn't mean it'll work out exactly the same for you. How to Counter It: The reason no one experience is the same is because the situation almost always changes once you hit the ground running. Imagine the market as a living, breathing organism, dynamically interacting with you as you operate and make decisions within it. How you set the overall tempo of your life abroad is very much determined by who and what you encounter during your very earliest days, and it's this fact alone which contributes -- in my humble experience -- to over half of the attitude you'll eventually carry with you onward into the future in that particular market. How events may have transpired for you during your critical formative moments will very much determine how any and all subsequent events play out for you in the foreign posting, and this is the reason why no two expat experiences are exactly alike. Living in Prague as I have been for the past four years, I've noticed several trends which contribute significantly to a positive expat experience in the Czech Republic:
- Local spouse: having a Czech spouse to "fix" all purely local problems and challenges that may crop up over time will go a long way towards alleviating any potential stress you may otherwise experience.
- Robust network: barring a spouse or significant other, your maintaining a robust network of local Czech (and non-Czech expat) friends to assist you with occasional dilemmas that will most definitely crop up can be a tremendous asset in assuaging any negative feelings which might otherwise arise. Isolation is bad in any situation, but it's especially pernicious for the aspiring "angel abroad," like you.
- Speak the vernacular: while English is indeed the International Language of Business, it's not viewed with as much enthusiasm in all places abroad. Try to grasp the rudiments and grammar of whichever foreign language is to be spoken in your local market -- if it's not English. Also try to do this before you touch down, and if you can't, then get as quickly up to speed as can once you arrive. More than just a token gesture, this will go a long way towards giving you a lot of face and might even save your hide during certain rough patches. The locals will also respect you much more for trying, and this will give you lots of social capital and brownie points which you can cash in later.