This was originally published in Rutgers University-Camden School of Business's newspaper, Minding Your Busine$$, Fall 2010.
Whether you realize it or not, you are competing in a global environment.
When you graduate and enter the job market you will not be competing with only the graduates from New Jersey or even from the entire United States. You will be competing with graduates of universities across the world. In this interconnected world economy, companies some-times select employees to be sent to different countries for assignments. These men and women are known as expatriates. There are many questions you may have if selected for such an assignment.
What does it mean to be an expatriate?
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an expatriate as one ―living in another country,‖ but that only skims the surface. To become an expatriate, you must leave behind the familiar setting of South Jersey and cross into unfamiliar territory for a prolonged period of time. This can be anywhere from six months to a year or longer depending upon a number of conditions: duration of work permits is what typically determines your allowed stay. Your family, friends, and favorite foods typically remain at home while you are abroad. Your career can take you to a land you have little to no understanding about, one whose language you don’t even speak (yet). Challenges aside, becoming an expatriate is a wonderful opportunity to experience a culture outside of the U.S. There is so much more of the world to see. Every country has several factors that make it a whole new adventure. Also, for the pay-check oriented, exchange rates can work in your favor, allowing for a substantially lower cost of living.
So how do I prepare?
Your employer will likely invest a great deal in training to help you adapt to your destination’s culture. The training will commonly include language lessons. However, not all employers will have the resources for such training and there may not be enough time before the assignment begins. If you are not given training before your departure you will have to learn on your own. Even if you are given training, the best thing to do is research your destination extensively prior to leaving. The more you know before departure the better off you will be.
What if I don’t fit in?
Culture shock is that feeling of "I don’t belong here." This occurs after the honeymoon experience of being in a foreign land, as the awe of seeing new places and experiencing the local culture begins to wear off. The most common phrase amongst disillusioned expatriates is, "Why did I come here?" For those wanting an extreme example of culture shock watch the movie, "Lost in Translation." Thanks to more people working overseas, expatriate support groups have sprung up. These groups can be a great reminder that there are other people in your shoes and they can help you transition to your new home.
Why even accept such an assignment? International assignments can offer both great risk and great reward. You get to see the world and will have the experiences of a lifetime. Think about it, you could be hosting a business meeting in Hong Kong, China, or partying at night in Bangkok, Thailand, or even using your weekends to climb Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. There many considerations and questions that must be answered before accepting an international assignment. Most importantly, you must ask, "Do I feel comfortable being on my own and am I open to new experiences?" Listen to your instincts, they will guide you best.
If you are considering a career involving international travel...
GenXpat: The Young Professional's Guide To Making A Successful Life Abroad by Margaret Malewski. This book focuses on the social aspects of living abroad.
Another book worth reading is Expert Expatriate: Your Guide to Successful Relocation Abroad--Moving, Living, Thriving by Melissa Brayer Hess and Patricia Linderman. This book is a more general guide that covers topics GenXpat does not, such as dealing with packing up your belongings and what to expect when shipping them elsewhere.
The more experience you gain and research you do now, the better off you’ll be if you are one of the lucky ones picked for an international assignment