5 Ways Working Internationally Can Boost Your Career

June 18, 2021

The world needs what you have — your talent, your ideas and your energy.

As it turns out, the world also has what you need.

Specifically, venturing into the international work community offers you five irreplaceable advantages that can both boost your career and help you find your life’s purpose.

#1: Learn to thrive in a globalized world

The world is becoming increasingly globalized.

As believers, our purpose statement is to go and make disciples of all nations. With globalization, the Lord has teed up the opportunity for us by connecting us to the nations in truly amazing ways.

Even in our relatively isolated country, the healthcare and IT sectors are highly infused, if not outright dominated, by talent from other countries. Those same countries often have honor-shame cultures, which operate much differently from the United States' more direct, guilt-and-responsibility culture.

Working internationally often gives you firsthand experience in shame-and-honor societies, helping you understand much better how to relate to new situations as well as the professionals who grew up there.

You’ll learn, for instance, the art of confronting important issues with grace without offending the people involved. In our culture, directly confronting issues, or people, that are holding up a project is considered good management. In honor-shame cultures, that can alienate you from your teammates —permanently. So, you learn to put relationships first (think of Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well in John 4). You learn to compliment people and how to consider well how you’ll be perceived before hitting “send.”

In addition, in your new culture, you will learn how to operate as a minority who has to overcome all the cultural disconnects while still succeeding in your job.

After operating successfully for two or three years in that environment, you will know far better than 95 percent of the world how to lead multicultural teams, how to instantly adapt to the communication styles of those various team members and how to address cross-cultural issues before they become true problems. That’s adaptability.

And if the global workforce needs anything from leaders, it’s the ability to flex and adapt.

#2: Learn flexibility and adaptability

If you’re like me, you organize your life. You plan carefully. You manage your time well because meeting your goals requires maximizing schedules and efficiency.

And then you move to Latin America and learn a whole new definition of time management.

I’ll never forget a three-and-a-half-hour meeting I once had with a businessman in Guatemala. I was working for an inner-city outreach there, and I wanted to talk with him about sponsoring our soccer program. For three hours and 22 minutes, we talked about everything but the soccer program — baseball, family, you name it.

We only got down to business for the last eight minutes.

For someone like me, coming from the high-energy healthcare technology sector, that was murder. But that was the culture there, and I was either going to learn to play ball by those rules or strike out. No question about it.

Prioritizing relationships and community, much like Jesus did with the people he ate and talked with (see the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19), is something most of the world values more highly than we in the U.S. do. But internalizing that value has served me well.

So now, if you throw me a curveball and say, “Hey, can you pop into this meeting? We need to make a shift,” I can pop in, and we can shift. It doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it used to, and it’s because I had to allow myself to truly adapt to Guatemalan culture. My purpose was no longer driven just by my values; it was reshaped by the community there.

#3: Challenges prepare you for success

And that’s the thing about adapting to new situations. Like tempered steel in the fire, working overseas will refine you. Those cross-cultural challenges that you face and overcome will set you up for success like nothing else can or will.

Take the case of one oncology nurse we placed in the Middle East.

This nurse was treating a woman who was dying of cancer, but he wasn’t even allowed to tell the woman that she had cancer. In that culture, it was assumed that the men of the family would try to protect this woman, even if it meant keeping her in the dark about her own terminal illness. She had no control over her own health care, and he had no choice but to comply with the family’s wishes to keep her blissfully ignorant.

In our HIPAA-fied, autonomous culture, that scenario would never occur. But there, the nurse had to find a way to treat his patient without revealing the truth to her or openly questioning the family’s tactics.

Can you imagine?

But if our purpose is to make disciples of all nations, part of that process is living as a worthy ambassador of Jesus in love and humility, right? When you overcome challenges like the ones that nurse did, in the power of Christ, people see that. They notice something different. And they respond positively to it.

If you can successfully navigate challenging waters like our nurse friend did, what challenges could you not overcome? What situation could possibly overwhelm you?

#4: International exposure matures you

It’s that kind of trial-by-fire in cross-cultural living that matures someone — especially kids. Of course, this doesn’t apply to everyone, but l can tell you that for our children, our time in Guatemala was incredibly beneficial.

In some ways, third-culture kids grow up faster. They learn new languages. They get to experience things that other kids simply don’t — some great, some not-so-great.

Our kids experienced grief and loss, and we had to work through that as a family. We had to have talks about safety that other 6- and 7-year-olds in the U.S. probably don’t have. On the flip side, we also got to lose a lot of our consumerism and materialism. I mean, who wants to open 20 Christmas presents when your local friends don’t even get one? That was freeing, to say the least.

The Apostle James says in his letter to consider it joy when we experience trials because they produce endurance. I can attest to that. The trials of living in Guatemala gave us the ability to endure all kinds of things that we probably wouldn’t have otherwise.

Through it all, our family’s experience forced all of us to grow and mature. We were exposed to a brand-new place with all of its challenges — and also, all of its fun.

#5: Enjoy the adventure!

In fact, that may be the one thing about working overseas that people don’t consider enough: the fun of a new adventure.

I think of one woman we worked with who got a job as a nurse practitioner in the Middle East. Because she was getting paid well, in the four years she lived there, she was able to travel to 45 countries on vacation!

But it’s not just vacations that are thrilling — it’s your everyday life. If you’re living in an ancient culture, it’s an adventure every day! If you’re riding a motorbike in Southeast Asia, you better believe it’s an adventure every day. So, while you’re learning all the things that sharpen you as a leader and help you adapt to cross-cultural teams, you’re having the time of your life.

So, don’t wait. Find out what cross-cultural employment can do for you.

Curious about what it would look like to take your job global? Explore our global jobs board or connect with a coach on a 10-minute Discovery Call!

By: Sam Golden, President of a global recruiting agency placing professionals across the globe

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