February 16, 2012
By Dylan Alford
A lot of us dream of working overseas; after all, the idea evokes images of glamour and adventure.
The truth, of course, is that it’s not always so glamorous. Working in a foreign country is a big challenge.
But those challenges bring great rewards. Among them, experience that can help you stand out from the job-hunting crowd when – or if – you choose to come back home.
Here are a few of the advantages of working overseas as a young professional:
1. Creativity and resourcefulness
Every employer wants to hire creative problem-solvers. A September 2010 article in Harvard Business Review features research suggesting people who have lived in more than one country are better problem-solvers and display more creativity, especially if they’re not isolated from the local culture.
My own international work experience certainly made me more resourceful and outgoing. Right after finishing college, I left the United States to find work in South Korea. The first time I heard the Korean language spoken was on the flight to Seoul – and today I’m proficient in the language. I can speak, read and write Korean well enough to get by in a work environment. And I never took a formal Korean language class! How was I able to do it? Simple: Necessity.
When I started my first job in Seoul, I realized that if I ever wanted to leave the neighborhood where I lived, I had to learn some Korean. The buses had no English signs and I hadn’t run into anybody in my neighborhood who spoke much English. I asked one of my Korean co-workers to give me a crash course in the language. Then I forced myself to get out of my apartment on the weekends and after work and use my newly acquired (and fairly awkward) language skills. In other words, I was resourceful.
2. Exposure to people and projects
Stacie Nevadomski Berdan, author of Go Global! Launching an International Career Here or Abroad and co-author of Get Ahead by Going Abroad, says you can’t beat the exposure and opportunities you get working overseas. She credits the opportunities she took advantage of during her stint in the Hong Kong office of PR giant Burson-Marsteller with her rapid rise in the organization: vice president by age 27, managing director by 30.
“If your CEO travels to New York, there may be 500 people fighting for his or her attention,” says Stacie. “But in Bangkok, you may be one of just a handful of players making a difference for the company in that market. Likewise, it is not uncommon for a mid-level manager to counsel and escort traveling political leaders, members of the C-suite, and even client CEOs when they are on an international tour.”
If you’re a recent college grad, chances are you’re living with your parents again. You probably aren’t too excited about being mom and dad’s roomie. Going overseas to work forces you to cut the cord and live on your own. And in many expatriate work scenarios, you’re either given a housing allowance or housing is provided for you.
4. More disposable income
With a personal savings rate below 4 percent, most people in the United States live paycheck to paycheck.
But for most expatriates, that’s just not the case. Americans’ first $92,900 in foreign-earned income was excluded from U.S. tax in 2011, and tax rates and real cost of living in many countries are significantly lower than in the States. So even if you earn a smaller income before taxes, in many overseas markets you’re putting more of what you make in your pocket (and hopefully bank account).
5. See the world while you’re still young
One of the things that I’m most grateful for is the traveling I did while still in my 20s. I got to visit places and have experiences I probably wouldn’t have wanted to drag my young kids along for.
The reality is, starting a family will add constraints to your time and mobility. So take advantage of that freedom while you can. While I was living and working in South Korea, I traveled to more than 20 countries in Asia and Europe, plus a trip to Australia.
If you’re really passionate about working overseas, go for it. As a young professional, you’ve got little to lose and a world of experience to gain.
Dylan Alford is publisher of RecentGradsOnly.com. For tips on the best places to go to work overseas – and the single fastest way to get a job and get up and running – download his ebook,How to Work Overseas.