Stuff Nation Assignments Abroad

As a bit of background, I'm now 10 months into a long-term assignment abroad with my US bank's local office in Brazil. While there have been plenty of highs (just got back from a beach weekend on the island of Ilhabela pictured here), there have been some unexpected hurdles and obstacles during my acclimation period as well. I've boiled these down into 6 points which anyone considering working abroad should contemplate before taking the plunge. Not all international assignments are created equally!

1. Will the assignment be a success even if the career portion is a disaster? Set aside the career-advancement aspect for a moment. Will you be happy in your new city and country, regardless of how your Monday-Friday plays out? Given you will be dealing with a new market, culture, and (possibly) language, there is no guarantee you will get the work experience you may envision. And while an international assignment may differentiate you on your MBA applications or perhaps in a stack of resumes, unless you're headed to Sub-Sahara Africa, there will be a well-beaten path of thousands of ex-pats who came before you with the exact same "international business" experience. You'll be unique, but not "write your own ticket on your return" unique.

2. Are you moving with a spouse/significant other? I believe this issue make or breaks the experience for couples moving abroad. More often than not, the accompanying spouse will not receive the legal right to work, and is left to work under the table or spend all day pool-side. I have a friend who recently moved to London and his wife, previously an accountant, is now working in a butcher shop to fill her days. You will most likely have a small support system abroad, so two years without work can be very quiet and lonely. My advice: don't move abroad unless you have secured work/volunteer/child raising duties for your partner, or you will most likely returning to your home country early.

3. Do you know the local language? Bi-lingual since birth? Awesome. English spoken as the primary language in business settings? You'll be fine. Moving somewhere where you need to learn the language (such as Brazil) and you will need 6-9 months to get up and running. This has been the most frustrating part of my assignment as I continue to learn Portuguese. In fact, it's been such an obstacle, that I would almost argue not to move abroad unless you already speak the local language. I was told I could just "learn as I go" by my bi-lingual bosses, who have forgetten it took them 20 years to speak English fluently and have no idea how difficult it is to speak a new language at a business proficient level in less than a year, no matter how much you study.

4. Can you financially afford to really enjoy yourself? More senior ex-pats are often offered lucrative packages including a full housing stipend, use of a private car or driver, and private schooling for children. However, below the executive level, it's usually a "take it or leave it" package. While you may be okay with "breaking even" for a few years, ensure that you will be paid enough in the local currency to not only enjoy the haunts of your local city, but have enough left over to travel around your new continent.

5. Can you handle a lower standard of living? While a lucrative ex-pat package (mentioned above) can alleviate this to some degree, no amount of money can force stores to stay open past 8pm, Sundays, or holidays. Specifically for those who grew up in the U.S., you have grown accustom to the best infrastructure, customer service, online commerce, public transit, and healthcare in the world - all at relatively cheap prices by international city standards. There will absolutely be inconveniences that you will face on a daily basis, and you'll have to decide whether to play the "ugly American" card or embrace the quirks as a part of your experience.

6. Are you ok with being out of the loop for a few years? Not only will it be nearly impossible to fly back for every big event, you will be doing yourself a disservice by trying to "live in both worlds" simultaneously. This can be tough when you miss weddings, births, bachelor parties, holidays (Thanksgiving here was the toughest day I've had so far), but this is part of the deal when you sign up. That being said - DO NOT miss weddings of your best friends and siblings. You will regret sharing that moment with them a lot more than you'll miss the $1000 you spent on a flight.

While an international assignment won't look anything like the paradise of your summer "studying" abroad, I highly recommend it for anyone who is cut out for this type of adventure. This is a lot easier to do in your 20s before you have children, and coming back to the States before you're 30 with a few years of international business experience won't hurt either. As I told my wife, would you rather live the last 60 years of your life in the U.S. going to the same bars and restaurants, or spend 57 of them in the U.S. and 3 of them exploring another part of the world?

Никто не проронил ни слова. Он снова посмотрел на Джаббу и закрыл.  - Танкадо отдал кольцо с умыслом. Мне все равно, думал ли он, что тучный господин побежит к телефону-автомату и позвонит нам, или просто хотел избавиться от этого кольца.

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