26.4.10

Living and Working Abroad

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This is not some theoretical piece about how you might do if you decide to live and work abroad. I’ve been ‘doing it’ for more than 35 years now, it was in 1980 that I left my home country, Germany, and in all humility, I am an expert. I spent seven month in India, lived three years in Greece, another three years in England, and I have been living in Mexico for the past 20 odd years.The years in between I roamed the world.

I have not been with any multinational company that sent me to those places. I’ve been doing it on my own, sometimes with money, sometimes without money, sometimes in company, most of the time alone.


When I started off I didn’t have a profession. I was a laborer, but I was (and still am) disciplined, so I usually had no problems, in England or Greece, to find a job on a building site or in the fields, picking this, that and the other.


I started to develop myself at the beginning of the nineties as a language teacher, since by then I spoke several languages. And over time I turned into a successful teacher and translator.


Let me tell you right from the start, it wasn’t easy. In fact, sometimes I was downright desperate, because I found myself in a foreign country, not speaking the language, not knowing anybody, and on top of it, broke.


But looking back over the past 30 odd  years, I wouldn’t change my life for anything else. If you understand that living your life to the fullest implies taking risks, expanding your boundaries, and yes, suffering, then continue reading.


If you are the type of person who likes to work in a team, you are with a company that’s expanding and which needs to send some of its staff to some subsidiary abroad – do it! There is very little you can lose, and everything you can gain. Unless you are the first team member setting up that new subsidiary or field office, you will, on arrival, be greeted by your colleagues. They will teach you the ropes, what to do and what not to do in the particular culture you’ve been sent to. The human resources department will take care of your immigration issues, accommodation will have been set up most likely, and your new friends will tell you where to go in your free time, which places to visit, which restaurants to avoid.


The drawback here is that you will have left your home country only partially. You will be celebrating Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, and your lifestyle on the whole will change very little.


Not that there is anything wrong with it, I’ve met plenty of executives who had been sent by their company to Mexico, and they are doing just fine. In fact, most of them don’t want to return, because here they’ve got the best of both worlds – living in a different culture and enjoying all the perks they would enjoy at home while getting paid more.

Maybe you are a schoolteacher, you’re kind of content with your life, but it doesn’t really feel as if you are living your life. Sometimes you have the feeling that you are ‘being lived’, and time just passes by. Maybe your kids have just left home, and you need that challenge. There is nothing worse than looking at your life and feeling ´Is that all there is?’.


There are plenty of openings for teachers all over the world, google it, look for it, find it – and then go for it! You can always come back…….


On a personal level, as far as growing as a human being and learning is concerned, I hesitate to imagine what would have become of me if I’d stayed in Germany. I don’t know what life is about, but I might as well live it while I’m around. And that implies looking for and finding my limits, getting to know myself as I really am, and not some weird idea I have of myself. If you like self-discovery, if you’re interested in finding and developing your potential, go for that ‘stint’ abroad.


Another scenario is that you might either have lost your job or you are worried about losing it. If you have some skill, you’re a specialist whose knowledge is in demand, let’s say in India, then you might not be at all thrilled to leave your home country. But here my advice would be the same – go for it. Most of the times the things we like the least turn out to be the ones that are best for us, particularly if it is something we haven’t done before. If you’re worried about going abroad, your worries are most likely based on hear-say.


Find out for yourself.