This article was written by an external contributor. Emma Taylor draws on her own experiences to discuss what working abroad can give you.
When I was 25, my younger sister, Hannah, was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.
I had also just started working for a multinational travel company within a successful marketing department. It paid well, the people were ace and I kind of enjoyed it, but my big dream was to try working abroad. It was a vague goal for me though, as I didn’t really know what area I wanted to end up in, so I kept one eye on international job sites to dip into when I felt particularly antsy. Nine months into this cushy new role and with my family riding the tumultuous chemo-coaster of Hannah’s treatments, a vacancy for an operational position overseas within the travel company’s ski brand came to my inbox via a business newsletter one rainy October afternoon.
The thing is, when staring into the grim eyes of mortality every day (sorry Han), your perspective on what you want to achieve sharpens. Life is unpredictable and precious. I had to take a swing at this chance as another one might not come around again. I got the job, tearfully said goodbye to loved ones and set off for the Austrian Alps.
The best things do happen outside of comfort zones
Clichés are clichés for a reason; because they are so annoyingly true. As a hardcore introvert with little to zero self-belief, my default setting is saying I can’t do something to stay safe and warm in my cosy circle of familiar comfort.
As pleasant as it is; the memories you’ll look back on aren’t made in that circle; the new community of support you need to build for yourself isn’t found there either; neither is figuring out how to work alongside colleagues from different nationalities or finding out whether or not you can drive a minibus down snow-covered mountain roads. Working abroad pushes you to take a risk and shoves your feet outside what you consider to be within your bounds of possibility, and that is something you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life.
You’re incredibly resilient
When you fling yourself hundreds of miles away, don’t speak the local language and have shaky confidence in your abilities at best, your mind switches on the defence; fight or flight. The smallest tasks seem overwhelming at first; even doing a simple food shop gets perceived as a mammoth chore. But once you’ve carved out a new way of living and settled, bigger challenges that you come up against, strangely, feel casually conquerable.
Sure I can put snow chains on in a blizzard. Yep, I’ll arrange evacuation for an elderly couple in France during snowmageddon who don’t have a phone or email address between them. To be frank, once you’ve been screamed at for several hours by a thousand angry diverted passengers, airport staff and irate Austrian coach drivers in Salzburg airport the night before Christmas Eve, anything else this life has to throw at you is a piece of cake by comparison.
Skills, Skills, Skills
Of course, you’ll inevitably pick up a fistful of skills when working abroad – a new language, international diplomacy and accompanying dance routines to certain Austrian après songs. But you’ll also acquire softer skills that aren’t as easily defined on a CV. I’ve found that employers look at your overseas experience quite favourably.
Unexpected things crop up in a job abroad. You may learn to solve problems quickly and stay calm under pressure. These ‘fluffier’ skills are just as important assets to keep in your work-life war chest as the actual job itself. Even if you do only leave with the basic ‘danke’ and ‘bitte’ under your linguistic belt, you’ll still be significantly wealthier in other skill areas.
During your time-off, take advantage of every moment to go do or see something that your new home has to offer as your free moments will feel like you’re on holiday. One day you could be dancing on tables shotting Jäger, the next eating delicious regional dishes in a hut straight from an exquisitely illustrated storybook.
My only regret from working abroad was that I did not take this advice seriously enough and wasted more hours than necessary watching Netflix or scrolling through Instagram. There’s a whole world out there and each unique corner is worth exploring. Make a list of all the touristy things on your doorstep and start there. Don’t take the opportunity to investigate and soak in what’s around you for granted.
Trust your gut
Another Pinterest-quote cliché I’m peddling with blind-belief. When you ultimately have only yourself to rely on and come through for, the feeling gets stronger the more you let it lead you. I don’t think I would have listened as closely had I not dunked myself into unfamiliar territories overseas with only me to fall back if times got tough.
I took a gamble and trusted my gut to apply for that job abroad even though I wasn’t massively interested in operational work. I believed that everything would be okay once my head stopped spinning after the first week. I also trusted my gut when it told me it was time to move on from seasonal work and chase another aspiration I had kept tucked away for years. It also tells me that this winter is going to be brutal not skiing every week, but I think I can tune that bit out.