This is Not a Drill: 8 Reasons Why You Should Work Abroad

by Dea Martinjonis July 04, 2018

“If I am an advocate for anything, it is to move,” the gifted travel storyteller, television host, and chef Anthony Bourdain once said. “As far as you can, as much as you can.” When I talk to people who’ve chosen to travel and work in other countries they tell me the same thing. All of them urge others to try it, too. Because moving abroad turns out to be the best teacher about life, career, and relationships.

I remember vividly the “growing pains” when I arrived in Lisbon and tried to teach the Portuguese service providers about the Estonian way of working — to be quicker, more punctual and less bureaucratic, just like I’d been used to in my homeland. Naturally, the Portuguese did not change. I did. And I could not be happier about it. Not only did I become more flexible, learn a new language and a whole culture on top of it, I also understood there is something to be said about the Portuguese way of living. They take their time to enjoy the simple pleasures like a prolonged lunch in the sun with a glass of wine and they don’t take work too seriously all the time. Carpe diem!

For this post I browsed through many articles and studies, talked to people who have used Jobbatical to work abroad, and recalled my own experiences studying and living in Finland, Sweden, and Portugal.

And here you have it — 8 Reasons Why You, too, Should Work Abroad 👇

1. If You Move Abroad You May Find Your New Calling. Or Get a Promotion

People who have international experience or identify with more than one nationality are better problem-solvers and display more creativity, suggests a study led by William Maddux, an associate professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD, one of the world’s leading and largest graduate business schools. What’s more, the researchers found that global citizens are more likely to be promoted.

Andrea Bratu quit a steady finance job in her native Romania to look for a bigger purpose. In a matter of months she found it — a jobbatical at a Zambian social enterprise that led her to discover a passion for the region’s microfinance. A field of work she still pursues today, now at a company in Berlin.

Andrea Bratu made great friends with her colleagues at the African microfinance startup she joined. And she also found her purpose. Photo credit: Andrea Bratu.

Taking a jobbatical has influenced Andrea’s decisions a lot. “I went to Africa thinking, let’s see how it works out. But then I chose my next challenge exactly in that area I was introduced to. So I do encourage everyone to take a jobbatical. Just do it! There is not much to consider nor a reason not to do it. Just apply, go and experience the world!

Thiago Pappacena moved from Brazil to Italy and took his wife with him, too. A year later he got promoted to a CTO position at the company he joined. Photo credit: Thiago Pappacena.

Brazilian software developer Thiago Pappacena found a new job in Milan, Italy as a back-end engineer. One year later, he was promoted to a CTO position at the company.

Thiago couldn’t recommend working abroad more: “Do it. Choose that country where you always wanted to live, pick a job there and go. Discovering the differences between your current life and the life in that other country is priceless. And the new experience will for sure make you a better professional.

2. The Journey of Moving Abroad Changes You and Others

Arnaud Castaignet, who worked as a digital strategist and communication officer for the former French President François Hollande and is now the Head of PR at the Estonian e-Residency, says: “Any experience abroad brings a lot of value to your career but also your personality.”

Arnaud Castaignet gave PR-advice to former French president François Hollande and when he withdrew his candidacy from the next elections, Arnaud found a professional challenge in Estonia. Photo credit: Arnaud Castaignet.

Arnaud also advises prospective global citizens not to look at the usual destinations. “Revolutionary projects may have come from Silicon Valley, New York or London in the past but they will soon be born in Lagos, Medellin or Bangalore.”

3. Moving Abroad Gives You the Liberty to Experiment and Experience New Things

Senior Developer Rüdiger Roach who moved from South Africa to Estonia, suggests not to overthink the move and to have a back-up plan. “A back-up plan makes you more open for the new opportunities — doesn’t matter how hard you’ll fail, this is a safe time period to experiment with life. Don’t be afraid to take the very weird and strange leaps, you have a back-up plan to fall back on.”

South African Rüdiger Roach has learned and experienced so many new things in Estonia — like taking a swim in an icy lake. Photo credit: Rüdiger Roach.

Rüdiger for example has learned to love new foods in Estonia. Like black bread and fish — both foods being uncommon in his native Pretoria. “I’ve become almost a fish-lover — take herring for example. I like it a lot. We’re also eating a lot more sour cream and pickles. With everything.”

4. Moving To A Foreign Country Allows You To Be Immersed in Different Cultures

Software Developer Vandesh Jajoo who moved from India to Estonia loves working in a multicultural environment across different time-zones. “You get to learn a new thing every day, not only technically, but also about people and their culture.”

Vandesh, in fact, is so immersed in the Estonian culture that he strolled around without a beanie and gloves even when the temperatures plummeted to -15°C in the winter. “I got away from the constant heat in India and I like it,” he says.

Vandesh Jajoo may have been used to the beach life at Goa but he finds the winters in Estonia just as chill. He doesn’t even use a beanie or gloves. Photo credit: Vandesh Jajoo.

Kirill Slavetski, a Ukrainian UX-designer who’s lived and worked in Serbia, Israel, UK, Russia, Sweden, Belarus, Egypt, Netherlands, and Turkey and doing so currently in Estonia, is used to working with multinational clients and teams. “First and foremost I’ve found that having a diverse team increases the efficiency in the workplace by making collaboration more efficient, too.”

Kirill, like Vandesh, is a man who prefers colder climates and appreciates the peace that smaller countries and cities provide. “I like that most of Estonian people give you personal space,” says Kirill, adding “In the Southern countries they’re used to intervening in your personal space and talk too much. In that sense Estonia is perfect for me, I’m not a very communicative person myself. Although I did have a bit of an experience during my first weeks in Tallinn — I thought that the barista in the coffee shop where I get my morning coffee hated me because she never made eye contact. But I was explained by my colleague that it was actually a good thing, that the barista most probably didn’t want to bother me and was trying to be polite.”

5. Moving Abroad to Live and Work Makes You Smarter

Even if you can spend just one time in your life working abroad, do it,” says marketer Alex Wellmann who moved from Washington to Estonia. “I can already recognize that it’s going to change the way I think about things. I can take that with me wherever I go. I can’t put a price on how valuable that is.”

Alex Wellmann moved from Washington to Tallinn and took his wife Kayla Lahti along — she keeps working for an American company remotely. The couple has settled into their new homeland well and even took a dog! Photo credit: Alex Wellmann.

This article in Time magazine quotes Angela Leung, an associate professor of psychology at Singapore Management University, a researcher who has investigated the psychological effects of living abroad. She reports that people with more experiences of different cultures are better able to generate creative ideas and make unexpected links among concepts.

The same article points out another interesting test performed at the University of Florida where creative thinking tasks were administered to three groups of undergraduates: students who had studied abroad, students who were planning to study abroad, and students who had not and did not plan to study abroad. The students who had actually studied abroad outperformed the two other groups in creative thinking.

6. Moving Abroad Makes You a Better Person

American HR professional Rob Pappas, who moved from San Francisco to Finland, says going somewhere new is a good challenge to take on. “Everything is just a liiiiitle bit harder. But in retrospect that’s all actually positive. It makes you better, more patient and more humble as a person.

Rob Pappas jamming at the Yousician office. Photo credit: Rob Pappas.

Rob considers working in a new country and different culture beyond useful and not even necessarily from a career standpoint or professional level. “I think it makes you a much more complete person, because you struggle, a lot. At least I do, and I think that makes you really empathetic and more understanding. A person that can connect with people on a different level.

7. People Who Move To Other Countries Learn To Be More Self-Sufficient

Marketer Nicole Tan moved from Singapore to work for a tech conference in Estonia and says she learned a lot about herself, about what she can do and what she could potentially gain. She also became self-sufficient in the process: “It taught me practical stuff about life like how to live alone and fix the little things that go wrong in the house — like my light bulb!”

Singaporean marketer Nicole Tan learned many new things in Estonia and even got the chance to try out her dream job — DJing! Photo credit: Nicole Tan.

Every mild inconvenience you face in a foreign country will make you harder, better, faster, stronger, knows my colleague and fellow marketer Maria Magdaleena Lamp who has lived in Brussels and London. She shares her experiences of getting on the wrong bus or trying to figure out how showers work in a specific country (these things can be tricky!) in this hilarious blog post.

Here’s my colleague Maria experiencing deep immersion into the Belgian culture. Photo credit: Maria Magdaleena Lamp.

8. Moving To A Foreign Country Can Make You Happier

Ukrainian UX designer Kirill Slavetski suggests people consider Jobbatical’s slogan Work Where You’re Happy when in doubt about whether they should work abroad. “You can never guess where place that could be, try to go and see the world, and have no prejudice.”

Ukrainian UX designer Kirill Slavetski has lived and worked in many countries and couldn’t recommend it more. Photo credit: Kirill Slavetski.

So, there you have it. Personal experiences and honest advice shared by real people who have worked abroad (most continue to do so). Read their stories more in-depth to understand the journeys better before making your own leap.

To summarize what globetrotting feels like, I turn to the late Anthony Bourdain again: “Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”

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