"Heading back": Considerations: from abroad into the work place

August 04, 2015 9:17 AM | Deleted user

Stephanie transitions home to the US –                             

Here’s a follow up from Stephanie, our student abroad whom we’ve followed in this blog over the last months.   She is speaking with a potential employer, reflecting on her take-aways from her abroad term.  

She mentions that being away from her home culture helped her develop skills as a better observer of others and other cultures and impressed upon her the importance of staying curious and open.  She notes that considering other views and ways of living will be important resources for her as she enter the work force in the US.

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When I arrived abroad, everything was new, outside of what I was used to.   When I was a Freshman in college in the US, I’d already experienced leaving home.  But the newness at my study away site was different, a different layer.  Looking back, I had a very positive learning curve, which, for me, meant that some things were pretty hard.

For example, it was difficult getting comfortable with being, in many instances, uncomfortable!  That’s a phrase that was common at my abroad site where I had a lot of support making sense of things – the history, the architecture, common customs such as Sunday closing of shops, or how the locals are slower to warm up to deeper friendships.  I was able to have a better feel about how Americans are, how I fit in at home.  Some of the strategies that I ‘d used to shift away from daily stress in the US came in handy when I was away:  a routine around the gym, getting a decent night’s sleep, checking in regularly with my friends and family.   

So, I do expect that transitioning into a new work environment will involve time and experience, asking questions and connecting with the new staff and mentors.  I’m prepared for the new environment to take time to feel right, that I’ll need a transition period to become engaged and productive.  Studying abroad helped me develop skills for being comfortable with change.  I’m prepared and excited to bring these personal skills into this position.

I learned that no one’s an expert at studying abroad, that coming into this company will be a process too, one that I’m up to.  I expect to learn and share; I’m comfortable asking for the perspective of others and for guidance.  I think I used to be more defensive about the idea that there was only one way to understand or experience things.  Studying abroad really shifted my perspective and I feel both more mature and more skilled in a complex, intercultural environment now.

When I returned to the US, I discovered that family and friends would ask, “How was studying abroad?” and that they often couldn't relate to my full experience, even with photos or my Skype calls filling them in throughout the term.  I expected my US friends to have changed too, but I had to adjust to some changes in the ways we related and connected.   Studying abroad involves more than a linear description, and my experiences contributed to my flexibility engaging with a wider variety of people and cultures, and with a wide variety of responses from others.

Being abroad becomes a personal story; for me, it was often about relationships.  I found out that I felt challenged when I interfaced with other students around the world.  When we met up at local cafes, English ended up being our common language – at first that seemed strange because I didn't have to try so hard and others, whose first language was Chinese, Spanish, or German, seemed to be accommodating me.  I saw how my country had such a huge impact on others my age around the world.  I was in an international city, one that stretched my perspective and broadened my curiosity and compassion for others.  Becoming comfortable with the ways others communicate has been a huge positive for me.

I also want to share here that I discovered that being effective at work is not about how much time one has, but about how much energy one has.  And being full of positive energy is a skill – it takes thoughtfulness, mindfulness, to plan one’s day so that when I arrive at the office, I’m rested and energized.  In order to be my best, I’ve learned to schedule in exercise time, friend time, and time alone.  These things are important to me and I realized this when I was studying abroad.  Where everything is new, the stimulation of not missing out is huge. I had to experience my own over-filled, exhausting days abroad to realize that I perform best when I tap into my own positive energy.

I wanted not just to go outside my comfort zone, but to be outside my comfort zone.  I wanted to stand where history was made and develop language skills.  I wanted to feel what it would be like spending time, more than touring time, in another culture.

People say that studying abroad is the most amazing experience, and I learned that it can be, but not always in ways which mean “being happy” or positive all the time.  Being challenged, even with difficulties, is more where it’s at, and being in a place where everything is new was just the ticket for me.  I found that I thrived with daily problems to solve: finding my way around the city, working hard to get my language skills in tow so that I could communicate with shopkeepers and people on the street, managing communications with my roommates (where we all spoke English but still miscommunicated at times!).

I wasn't an immediate expert at living and studying abroad.  I was the kind of person that felt shy about asking for help or clarification – I didn't want to seem ignorant or failing at studying abroad!   But now I’m very open to seeking help.  This is an important way I’ve grown, and I want to be in a work culture that promotes shared learning.  Here are other areas which studying abroad enhanced:  I’m more patient, curious and capable about exploring on my own, good with a budget, and more aware that it’s my energy (not time) that matters under stress.