So you want to work abroad? Five questions, answered.
This article was written by Gemma Sowerby, published on 16th December 2016 and has been read 4600 times.
Take it from me: working on your year abroad is the best decision you’ll ever make. I knew I wanted to work but struggled finding a job — it’s certainly not easy. I ended up working as an Assistant Project Manager (and translator and interpreter and PowerPoint creator and Excel whizz and coffee-making queen) for a global logistics company, a few miles outside of Paris, donning my warehouse safety outfit upon arrival. I assisted with managing improvement and productivity projects around the region, something I never guessed I would’ve been doing in a million years. I loved every single minute. My French improved drastically — I gained so much confidence — and I became so much more employable when looking for graduate jobs. Most of all though, I had the best six months of my life: taking a break from studying, living in Paris, working a 9-5, and slowly but surely becoming une vraie Française.
I am always asked loads of questions about what it was like working abroad, so here’s what I get asked the most. If you fancy it, take the jump — you won’t regret it.
1. How can I find a job?
First stop, your university’s year abroad department, who might be able to give you details of students’ jobs in the past. Have a look online for internships and especially ones that require English skills — use your natural talents! Use all the contacts you can get from everyday life: ask your lecturers, friends’ parents, colleagues, or family friends, attaching a draft email to send on to anybody they know. Don’t lose faith if you get a few rejections: in most countries there is a huge shortage of paid internships, and they’re not easy to get! Make sure you tailor your CV and cover letter to each individual job, and most importantly, think outside the box — I never for one second considered working in logistics before I got the job, but it’s important to remember that any job in a different country and culture is a massive asset to your CV, so don’t get stuck on job titles or ‘cool’ jobs.
2. Will I fit in?
Culture shock is a real thing, and it’s true that in can be hard to adjust, especially without the safety blanket of fellow students. Yes, you might have colleagues who bring twenty slices of raw beef for their lunch (happened to me), or bosses who tell very dirty jokes 24/7 that you don’t ever know how to react to (also happened to me), or just genuinely not understand 50% of the conversations around the office until your fourth morning coffee (every day…) but that’s ok, and it’s all part of the amazing set of global skills that working abroad can bring you. You will make friends with your colleagues, no matter how different you are or how much you understand them, and you might always be the token foreigner, but that’s a gift when it comes to conversation starters — believe me!
3. How will I make friends?
It can be worrying when deciding to work that you won’t have the certainty of making lots of friends that you do on Erasmus or teaching alongside other language assistants. My advice? Do not fear! Hopefully you’ll be blessed with lots of lovely colleagues who will entertain you all day long, but you might still be lacking in ‘weekend friends’ (because remember, one of the best things about working is your work-free, guilt-free weekends!) Check in with staff and students at your university to see who else from your course is living in the same place as you, and you might be lucky enough to make some new pals to take back to your final year. If there’s a local university, try and contact their Erasmus or ESN office — they should have loads of events where you can meet local and visiting students. You can also create a whole new friendship circle based on your housemates and their friends — try and live with people around your age to make things easier.
4. How much will my language skills improve?
Short answer: so much! I can compare studying and working in this respect, and it’s safe to say that working a 9-5, taking part in meetings, constantly meeting new people, writing reports, and translating lots of your boss’ emails into English will improve your French so, so much. Lunch hour is also a strong contender for the part of the day where you learn the most — at first I found it so hard to keep up, but the amount of vocabulary I learned over lunch was often more than in the office! Try and keep a list of all the new words you’ve learned, and never be offended when people correct you: that’s the only way you’re going to improve! Ask any colleagues you’re close with to go through any reports, presentations or translations with you to give you notes, and listen to what they say — you should be able to identify your weak spots, and once you’ve done that, you’ll fly.
5. How will it make me more employable?
An internship abroad does what it says on the tin, giving you valuable job and life experience in a new environment, demonstrating your ability to adjust and adapt to change. Your language skills obviously boost your employability, and working gives you a whole new way in which to use them. If you do your best to get involved in all aspects of your company or team, you’ll pick up endless transferrable skills that are gold dust when it comes to graduate jobs, giving you lots to talk about in interviews and applications — especially the challenges you’ll face in the first few weeks! You’ll start to really value the importance of teamwork, organisation and attention to detail, as well as all the job-specific talents you’ll gain over the course of your internship. You never know, your year abroad job could be the key to landing you the career of your dreams.
Working abroad is a worthwhile challenge and an incredible experience, giving you all the skills you need to launch a career, travel around the globe, and open your eyes to the rest of the world. If you’re planning your year abroad, or any foreign travel, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have a huge range of resources to help you plan your trip away. Follow @FCOTravel on Facebook and Twitter, and search their website at gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice for up-to-date information on travelling or living anywhere in the world. It’s important to be safe and healthy abroad, so use the FCO’s advice and stay TravelAware.