Working or studying abroad is not always easy. You have to stand your ground when you are in a foreign country, surrounded by people from a different culture, far away from your family and friends. So it is important to make sure you are well prepared for the challenges.
Do some self-examination
An international career usually requires substantial investment of money and energy. More importantly, it demands competencies like flexibility and perseverance. You can only bring these qualities to the fore if you are clear about why you are taking on the challenge. So before you start making plans, your very first step should be to do some self-examination. Where does your desire to work abroad come from? What are you good at – and not so good at? Where do you see yourself working in five years? What would you be willing to sacrifice? For example: let go of your daily workload for a few days and find some quiet space to think carefully about the steps you want to take. Talk about it with people you trust. Visualize what your future might look like if your plan succeeds – and if it fails. Do you have a plan B?
Think about the practical issues
You have to comply with many rules if you want to work or study in Europe. Depending on your country of origin, you may need a work permit. You will also need to think about travel documents (such as a visa), insurance, housing and other practical things. Your future employer or educational institution is usually in a good position to advise you on your options. For example, if you study in Europe, there is a good chance you will have a job alongside your course, which will help you gain experience.
“‘You have to let go of your own judgments and certainties in order to be able to understand someone else’s point of view’”
Immerse yourself in the language
Familiarity with the language is essential to making yourself understood abroad. The level of English spoken as a second language varies depending on the country. On the English Proficiency Index (a ranking of countries based on people’s proficiency in English), Sweden, the Netherlands and Norway score highest in Europe. In the Netherlands, English is the dominant language in higher education, particularly in many master’s programs and in engineering and economics courses.
Immerse yourself in the culture
There are many cultural differences throughout Europe that are reflected in the organizational culture; this is something you will have to deal with if you work for a European company. In Southern Europe (but also in France and Belgium), the decision-making process is highly centralized. The so-called power distance (the acceptance of power differences) is relatively large there. Whereas in Northern-European countries, the power distance is smaller and there is more dialogue between employees and their managers. In Great Britain, leadership is considered more informal than in France and Germany, where leadership is more strictly organized. But there are also important differences between these two neighboring countries. In France, leaders are often autocratic, while in Germany, the word of the leader usually goes, but consensus is still sought. If you want to collaborate with people from different countries, you have to take these differences into account. Sometimes you have to let go of your own judgements and certainties in order to be able to understand someone else’s point of view. To build an international career, you need to be flexible, but without sacrificing what is really important to you.
Invest in your network
A strong network is one of the most important factors for a successful international career, your network can be a source of internships and career opportunities. But it is not all business, there is also a private element to your network. One factor which is often underestimated is how challenging it can be to build a life abroad. Feeling separated from family and friends can make it even more difficult to generate the energy you need to work or study. This is why it is vital to take action and get started on building a network.
Social media can play an important role in maintaining your network. But you can also go out; socializing, join associations or clubs and attend networking events and meetings.
An international career demands a lot from your adaptability. The circumstances you might end up in are unpredictable and your career progress is also difficult to predict. Sometimes it is just not possible to follow your plans, so you have to compromise and get as far as possible. If it is not possible yet to take a step forward, try to step sideways by looking for a job in another sector for example. There are no predestined paths in an international career and a small detour can be very helpful for achieving your goal. Flexibility is your most powerful weapon.
In addition to the challenges of a new language, culture and meeting lots of new people, studying or working abroad will demand a lot from you. The answer is continuous self-development. The inquisitiveness that took you overseas in the first place will help you overcome new challenges.
‘A strong network is one of the most important factors for a successful international career’
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