Expect and Embrace the Challenges of Working Abroad
Working abroad is becoming popular these days for various reasons. Besides the more obvious benefits—cultural exploration, broadened network, new perspectives to the same job/industry, etc.—before you decide to pack up and move make sure you are also as aware of and prepared for the challenges. Often times these challenges give you the exact opportunities to grow and flourish.
Not being able to fully express yourself and understand others could be frustrating, let alone learning a new language. Living and working in an environment with language barrier requires patience and problem solving skills. One of the best solutions is to stay confident and curious and to push yourself out there to interact with locals. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don't be too proud to ask people to speak slower and clearer if situation allows.
It’s not uncommon to see expats with a tendency to stick with their own people who speak the same language. The potential disadvantage is that you won’t get to spend much time with locals, which leads you to grow further apart from their way of living. And you will be struggling to adjust to it.
We are wired to create and stick to certain habits—from body language and dining manners to lifestyle and social/workplace interactions. Living abroad could significantly shakens your old habits and routines (both mental and physical) that you feel most comfortable with.
For better or worse, change is never easy. Your first step is to accept that this is not home: your “should-be’s” are different from their “should-be’s” and it’s not always either right or wrong. It’s just different. Maintaining this open-mind is the key to staying sane and happy when you first move to a place where nothing seems “right”. In one culture it’s acceptable customarily kiss a business associate on both cheeks in greeting instead of shaking hands, in another culture it just isn’t.
Even for a seemingly identical role in an organization, you may still encounter new and different approaches to the same tasks. When you first enter a new market, some practices might seem counter-intuitive but it’s your responsibility to rationalize it first and perhaps think about improving it in the long run. Trying to just change and “improve” things when you’re fresh off the boat might frustrate yourself and people who work with you (UNLESS this is the main objective of your role).
Business practices is closely tied with culture, economy and some other factors. This part of your new chapter will require more research and time (and sometimes failure) before you get a really good grasp of workplace dynamics and customs. It’s important to stay alert, observant, and self-aware—observe how your colleagues handle things at workplace, adopt their approaches (and refine them into ones that work for you/your role), and ask for feedbacks to identify remaining gaps.
No matter how much you have mentally prepared yourself, there will always be unforeseen challenges that could frustrate you especially when they all happen at the same time. It takes a lot of introspection, resilience, and the courage to seek help/resources to smoothen your transition. And this learning process alone can be one of the most rewarding experiences you will have.