Claudiaexpat has compiled a list of what she thinks are the plus we gain from living abroad.
A while ago, a friend asked me to write a post for his website, in which I explain what skills and strengths life abroad gives us, and how we can use them in the professional arena. It took me a while to put the article together. I realised that the benefits you gain from living in another culture are not so easy to explain. But then I concentrated on how I felt and feel every time I have to learn to function in a different context, and a lot of things came to mind: things that you cannot always ascribe to specific situations, but that with time hone you into a specific being, i.e. the mobile person.
Let’s have a look together at what I feel are the most important and tangible skills and benefits you gain from living abroad, and how you can employ them in your work. I would be delighted to hear your thoughts about this and add your skills to this list.
- Flexibility: living in a different culture means continually having to understand and accept diverse and sometime unfamiliar behavioural codes. This is an almost unconscious process when we live abroad, and it does make us more flexible when faced with change, more adaptable. This is a hugely important resource in the present working scenario, where we are often confronted with significant and sometimes sudden changes. Those of us who are used to adapting to different realities, and maintaining flexibility at work, will be more successful because we won’t need to waste too much energy on adapting to changing scenarios.
- Increased knowledge of ourselves: when we relate to a new culture, we take ours as a starting point for comparison. For example, when we observe how people greet each other in our new country, we realize how we do it in ours. This is just an example, but everything we do in the new context sends us back to our culture, our country and ourselves, thus increasing our awareness of who we are and of our limits. This makes us stronger, more focused and assertive, and makes us stand out in many contexts, including professionally, and particularly within a team.
- New languages: learning a new language, besides opening a privileged door into a different culture, makes our minds more flexible and agile. Some of the languages we learn abroad are useful for more than one country (I am thinking of Spanish, for instance), but even if we don’t actively use them again in our life, they still constitute a plus in our baggage of knowledge. In many working scenarios, being fluent in more than one language can really make a difference.
- Network: we widen our circle of contacts. Living in a foreign country also means creating a social and affective circle outside our national context. In many cases, it means increasing our chances of meeting and becoming friends with people of several nationalities. This can have useful when looking for a job, launching a new project, or seeking professional advice or specific information.
- Creativity: learning how to function within an unknown system pushes us to take decisions on the basis of few or no elements, often quickly and spontaneously. This process has incredibly effective consequences on our mind and our capacity for improvisation. In our work we become quicker, defter, more proactive and enterprising.
- Self-assurance: when we get to a new country, we are like children – suddenly all our experience and knowledge is deleted, we have no means or tools to interpret our new environment and learn how to live within it. Initially it is a continuous trial and error process. Getting to know a culture implies making endless mistakes. These mistakes, however, make us stronger and more self-assured. In the working arena, people who are unsure and hesitant often suffer because they stop, albeit unwillingly, all development and growth processes. A self-assured person, on the other hand, will be appreciated in all working areas.
- Relationship capacity: in a sedentary kind of life our relationships are generally more “protected”, because they develop within a familiar cultural framework and through known communication codes. On the other hand, relating to others abroad means integrating an element of the “unknown”, which weighs on our relationships. We have to pay attention to what we say and how we say it, in order to avoid offending others, and we continually strive to properly communicate and to understand beyond cultural and linguistic barriers. This practice widens our capacity to listen, relate to people, empathise and culturally understand. All of these characteristics are useful in a working environment, to better function within a team, but also in a one-to-one relationship.
- Context analysis: we learn to better analyse the context, something we do not need to do when we are at home where everything surrounding us is familiar. Living abroad, we need to quickly take in all possible symbols, attitudes and signals, so that we can speed up the process of properly relating to the new culture. This a necessary process for our survival, but it contributes to our analytical skills, to our being able to evaluate single elements and to come up with a global vision of the whole context. Needless to say, such skills are useful in many working situations. When meeting a new client, analysing the market, launching a new project and evaluating a website, the depth of analysis we acquire abroad will pay dividends.
- Freedom from prejudices and respect of diversity: there is nothing like getting in contact with diversity to realise how many prejudices we have and how easy it is to dismantle them when we approach what is not known. Living abroad helps us understand how diversity is an integral – and beneficial – part of our world. In international working settings, an open mind free of prejudices will help us welcome and sustain new ideas and different approaches.
- Practical/logistic skills: lastly, we learn to manage practical and logistical situations effectively. Our organisational skills find the perfect place when we have to move from one country to another. What and how much to bring, how to ship it, how to move, where to stock what we leave behind, how to pack things, when to travel – all these are elements that we do not necessarily consider when we are sedentary. A mobile life is full of logistical details that we have to learn to deal with. Besides resorting to creativity and practical skills to cope with a thousand aspects, we learn a lot about moving companies, shipments, packing, storing, and much more.