How a World Traveler from Egypt Found Her Dream Sales Job in Cyprus
Here is our interview with Jessi Shahin, currently on a jobbatical as a sales manager at Depositphotos in Cyprus. Originally from Egypt, Jessi has also lived in Saudi Arabia, Thailand, India, and Spain. Read all about how she used Jobbatical to find her dream job, a close-knit team, and a shockingly welcoming new home country that she’s fallen deeply in love with. Plus a bonus tip on how to avoid heartburn when enjoying the best food in Cyprus!
What did you do before you chose to go on a jobbatical?
I had been living in Barcelona, completing my post-graduate degree. Closer to the time I was supposed to leave, I started looking for jobs within Spain. But Catalonia was trying to become independent, so there were a lot of problems, there were a lot of strikes, immigration was not that helpful. I didn’t get an extension for my stay. So I started hopping on to the internet to see where the next place I could move on to would be. I didn’t have a specific target in mind. I thought that if the opportunity seemed good altogether then it would be something I would go forward with.
So I tried applying here and there on countless websites, to be honest. I would apply but I never really got a response for the applications that I sent across.
That’s awesome! So where are you from originally?
I’m from Egypt, originally, but I’ve been living abroad for the past 6 years. I go back briefly, then I move on again.
What other places have you lived besides Cyprus?
I started with Thailand because that’s where my mom is from. I stayed there for three months and tried to set up a life there. It didn’t work out, so I came back to Egypt and then moved to India for a year. I found a work opportunity there and it was honestly one of the most colorful travel experiences because India is very diverse. I went backpacking throughout India for 3 months; I visited 30 cities and also Nepal.
After my trip was done I went back to Egypt. It was about a year and a half that I stayed there before I traveled again. I applied for my postgraduate studies in business school in Barcelona, and I ended up staying for a year and a half. And it was there that I realized I didn’t actually want to go back.
I got used to living abroad. I liked the idea of moving from one spot to the other.
I’m not an EU citizen so there’s a lot of paperwork involved. I knew I had to look in advance to find something that suits me and when I hopped onto Jobbatical… I think it had taken about a month before I found an open position at Depositphotos. That very same month I had a Skype interview with them, passed my first and second interview, started my training, and things went on from there.
What did you know about Cyprus before you moved there?
Honestly, I knew nothing about it. It wasn’t one of the places I had considered, but my offer from Depositphotos was very good. It wasn’t something I was about to turn down because I didn’t know a lot about Cyprus! I just took it as a new experience.
This is normally what happens to me when I travel. I don’t know so much about the place, but it makes the learning experience a lot nicer when you discover how the culture is and what life is like there. Cyprus, in my experience, turned out to be a really lovely surprise because life here isn’t hectic at all.
Everything is peaceful, everyone takes their time with their pace. It’s extraordinary, honestly. I’m loving it.
What was your first month like in Cyprus?
It was very good. I mean, this was one experience that had gone smoother than I would have expected.
Although Cyprus can be a bit bureaucratic, everything did go smoothly. It’s a strange feeling when you go to a new place and you just feel right from the start like you’ve always been there. This is the feeling that Cyprus gave me.
I’ve come to fall in love with the country. The people here are exceptionally nice. You don’t find that everywhere. They’re welcoming of everybody, they’re helpful.
I remember one time I was walking back from the supermarket. I’m the type of person who would rather carry a lot of things in one go and not go back and forth. So I got a bit ambitious. I was carrying two big six-packs of water and its a ten-minute walk from the supermarket to my house. But it felt like 10 hours because I just had to stop every few steps to put my hands down. Some stranger who couldn’t speak a word of English just offered to help. He walked with me to a place that’s really close to my building. And then he said “thank you” to me!
Other than them being exceptionally nice, have you learned anything interesting about the Cypriot culture?
Cyprus is really close to Egypt actually, so the nature of the people is kind of similar. They’re a lot like Egyptians—old-fashioned, a bit. Conservative. They’re very hospitable, they’re generous. It was a surprise because I hadn’t had such lovely experiences abroad before.
When you emigrate, you have to fend for yourself a lot. You have to figure things out on your own, everybody’s a stranger. In my previous experiences, the people weren’t that welcoming. It was just straight-to-the-point kind of communication: “I’m here for an interview” or “I’m here for work, so I’ll just work my hours and I leave.” But in Cyprus, it’s just totally different. They’re just so Mediterranean.
One thing that really shocked me about Cyprus is how safe it is. It’s so relaxing, just takes off that extra bit of stress of everything else that you need to deal with. I’m very fortunate to find that here. It makes life a lot sweeter.
Tell me what you liked and what surprised you about your new team.
My team is small and cozy, we’re a team of just 5 people. Someone met me at the airport to drive me to my accommodation, and when I passed by the office the next day, my team was very welcoming of me. They’re funny people, and it didn’t take long for us to become friends and start hanging out during break hours or maybe seeing each other after working hours or on the weekends.
I love them all. It’s been six months and we’ve reached the point where we all have each other’s backs. It’s really a nice thing to have in the workplace because I’ve been working for 9 years now but I can say that’s rarely how it is.
So would you say this is the closest you’ve been to a team in your career?
Yeah, you could say so. I’ve learned a lot from them professionally. When I arrived at the company, they had a lot of value to add to what I already knew and how to do my job properly. I was also exposed to different cultures because they’re a multinational team. Just one person is Cypriot.
Speaking of something that my team members surprised me with, one of them actually helped me move. It was one of the colleagues I wasn’t speaking that much with, so that was a surprise. That colleague just happened to ask how things were going and if I had found a place to stay and I told her that I had. And she said, “I want you to feel at home here because it was really hard for me here when I came, so I’d like to help you move your stuff.” And she passed by where I was staying before I moved to my permanent place, and she helped me take everything to the apartment.
Has anything been challenging in Cyprus?
The one thing that is a little bit hard to do here is to meet new people. Not because of the people, but just because of the low population. You see the same faces every day. I’m based in Limassol, the second-largest city in Cyprus after the capital, Nicosia. If you take the bus at a certain time every day, it’ll always be the same driver and the same people commuting. All too often you meet people you know by coincidence. This is something I don’t think is easy, unless you’re from a really small town, which I’m not. I’m from Cairo, which is a massive city.
Meeting people outside my workplace is really difficult to do. I started taking up gym classes and we only started getting used to each other a couple of months ago. One girl from the class has started becoming my friend.
What would you take away from Cyprus? A souvenir, a custom, a memory, a place…?
I suppose my established friendships in Cyprus, as I normally do with every other place I’ve lived in. I’m still in touch with people I’ve known in India and Spain and in Thailand and even in Saudi Arabia where I grew up, so I’ve always managed to do that. I think this is the most valuable thing that I could be taking away from here.
How do you think your jobbatical will benefit your career in the long run?
I think it’s a window of opportunities. It’s helped me to do something that I really wanted to do. I’ve had a very smooth experience with it. I’m ready to always go back to it if I need to, it’s actually been my recommendation to a ton of people ever since I first got that interview with Depositphotos. I didn’t even wait until I came here, I was just telling everyone.
I always go back and take a look at Jobbatical because I know I have a lot of friends who want to share the same sort of experience. And I check the newsletters regularly because I sometimes send them to my friends and I know that it’s very trustworthy.
Do you have any advice for those who want to work abroad?
You have to be open to a new experience. It’s OK to feel afraid, it’s OK to feel a bit anxious about how you will settle and fit in in a different place. That’s normal. But you should not go with the expectation that it’s going to be a walk in the park, especially if it’s your first time. I mean, I’ve been out and about, so I think if I leave Cyprus and move on to somewhere else, it’s not going to be that tough for me. But for someone who’s taking this on for the first time, you just need to be open and embrace your experience with the good and the bad because when the experience is over you will learn to appreciate it.
This is something that I learned in India. I went there and I had a cultural shock. I was honestly not used to anything there—I wasn’t happy with the food, I wasn’t happy with how dirty things were, the air pollution… And I left India crying hysterically because I knew I was gonna miss it. So it’s totally different towards the end. You just have to embrace it as you go. You have to be attentive, obviously, to what you should be doing, what you should not be doing, but overall I think the biggest advice I could give is to be open to the whole experience. Take it as it is. Because when you’re done with it, you’re gonna love it just how it was, exactly how it was.
One last question. So if I come to Cyprus, what are three foods that I absolutely have to try?
Stuffed vine leaves are definitely a must, so is souvlaki. I would say moussaka as well. It’s an oven-baked dish, mainly eggplants. You slice the eggplants, fry them, and bake them in the oven with ground beef and tomato sauce. It’s delicious, but eat it with yogurt or you’re going to have a lot of heartburn.
Jessi Shahin was interviewed for the Jobbatical blog by Kayla Brown, Talent Community Manager at Jobbatical. If, like Jessi, you’re looking for your next career move, check out the latest tech and business jobs on Jobbatical.