“You’re going to teach English overseas eh? Sounds cool. So what kind of ‘real’ job are you going to do when you get back?”
I hadn’t planned that part yet, but my friend’s comment stung a bit and made me second guess my decision. Maybe he was right. My overseas experience would be a useless footnote in my work history and would put me a couple of years behind my friends on the path to a career, marriage, kids, and the white picket fence. That’s the way it’s supposed to be done, right?
Luckily, I didn’t let the comments and uncertainties sway my decision, and the fact that I didn’t have a concrete plan was one of the best things that could have happened – creating myriad cultural and professional possibilities. In the span of five years my working path zigzagged to Japan-Australia-Canada- Japan-Canada. My one year plan of working overseas quickly turned into five and taught me these five important skills:
- When In Rome – Working overseas develops your coping and adaptability skills on a daily basis. Whether it is teaching in flip flops and shorts near the beach in Australia, or routinely sitting through 3 hour meetings in Japan, learning to adjust to different work environments is essential. You have to adapt to the system, it won’t adapt to you.
- The Global Village – Effective intercultural communication skills are important in a workforce that is increasingly multicultural. I developed an appreciation for the lengthy meetings in Japan where relationships are centered on group harmony. These skills have been invaluable to me in developing and maintaining positive working relationships with different personalities and backgrounds.
- How do I get out of this one? – Living and working overseas is a great test for your problem solving skills. Trying to sign up for a cell phone in a country where you have a minimal grasp of the native language could lead to a three hour ordeal with endless paperwork and have you questioning what you actually signed up for. Being able to solve problems effectively is a part of any job, and it is a skill that is quickly developed and refined overseas on a daily basis.
- The yoga approach – Flexibility is a valuable commodity in virtually all workplaces and working overseas will force even the most rigid personality to stretch and go with the flow when required.
- A dynamic resume – The transferable skills that are obtained working overseas should not be underestimated and should be highlighted throughout your resume along with your technical skills. Your experiences can also be great for interview stories. I’ve had employers ask me questions about my overseas experience in both teaching and non teaching interviews and may help separate you from the pack and land that coveted position.
Working overseas provided some of the most enriching and memorable experiences of my life which positively impacted my career path. People can expect to change their careers many times during their life, and the ability to successfully adapt is no longer a useful skill, it’s a necessary one. Working overseas provides a core course in adaptability and flexibility. Here are some useful links to get your voyage started!!
Greig Baird (Practicum student for SFU’s Career Development Practitioner Program)