by Michał Barć
Have you ever considered working abroad on an on-site project? Or maybe you have already tried it? Whether it’s one of your goals for the upcoming year or you are just curious what the pros and cons are, it’s always worth to explore other people’s perspectives and scenarios of their episodes abroad. So, based on a recent episode of mine, let me share a few thoughts on the topic myself.
Different kinds of professional life abroad
There are a variety of ways to get a feeling of what it’s like to work overseas. The first one is that you can get hired and work in a foreign country for a few years. Another option is to be employed by a company in your country, but work on a project abroad for, let’s say, half a year. Last but not least, you can travel to different places for just a few days on a weekly basis. My own experience below is based on a short-term contract with one of Grape Up’s US-based customers but can apply to any kind of professional experience in a foreign country in general.
Professional benefits of working on-site
While being involved in any type of project abroad you get to experience the global marketplace and have a chance to learn new ways of doing business. Interacting with people born and raised in a different country lets you understand their work culture, ethics and point of view. Failing to understand the culture norms is often a source of conflicts within geographically dispersed teams. For example, it takes time to become aware of different ways an email or conversation could be interpreted, both as a sender and a receiver. And although being on-site is not the only way to gain that experience, it is usually the most efficient and authentic one. Since you are able to meet face-to-face, you get to see the direct perspective of your international customers and peers.
Working on-site comes with all the benefits of a collaborative workspace. It goes without saying that it’s easier to explain something face-to-face rather than on the phone or, let alone, via email. Especially when dealing with complex or urgent topics. There are no internet connection issues, there is just one time zone and there is a space for body language, which is quite an underestimated type of communication these days. In fact, social and teamwork-style settings are a perfect way to boost all kinds of interpersonal communication skills. Also, there is probably no better way to learn a foreign language than to be around people who use it every day, especially when those people happen to be native speakers.
Potential challenges of working on-site
Even though most of us prefer to work in a team, there are also those who like to work alone. Actually, there is a very good chance that even the most active and social teammates will need a moment alone every once in a while. Just a moment to zone out, avoid the potential distractions, focus and get their creative juices flowing. And that’s not always possible when you work on-site. If you travel to another office for a relatively short period of time to meet your customer or coworker, you want to make the most out of your visit. So usually you end up spending most of the time actively collaborating with others and there will be little time for individual work. Not only is it more intense but it also takes a lot of discipline and flexibility, which some may find quite challenging, especially at the beginning.
Another thing is that travelling to one office means missing out on events and meetings happening in the other office. You are solving a problem of your absence in one place but at the same time you are creating a similar problem somewhere else. So, it’s always a matter of choosing which place is more beneficial to you and your company at a given moment.
Personal pros and cons of living abroad
What does living abroad really come with? Well, this part can vary in as many ways as there are people who have ever lived in a foreign country for a while. Some point out the ability to explore new places, cultures and cuisines. Others are happy to learn or practice their language skills. There are also those who do the exact same things as they would do in their hometowns, with the exception of leveraging the presence of local people and resources. Whether you choose to immerse yourself in a country or not, living abroad always gives you new perspectives and new ways of looking at things. And that’s gold.
Of course, there are also the downsides of being away from your home country. Depending on what your current situation is, it very often means that you have to leave your home, family and friends for some period of time. You need to learn how to live without some people and things you got used to having around, or you can find a way to take them with you. For some people it can also be overwhelming to deal with all the cultural differences, local habits and the number of new things in general. It all depends on how open and flexible you are.
Getting a taste of living and working abroad has become very popular these days – and not without a reason. For one, it is easier than ever before, and it also gives you countless benefits and the kinds of experiences you wouldn’t gain in any other way. So, if it has ever crossed your mind and if you ever come across such an opportunity, don’t hesitate to take it.