The opportunity to get international experience can accelerate your career, but you should do your homework thoroughly before committing. With the shift in economic strength shifting eastward, the number of people taking international assignments is growing.
From a career perspective, the right kind of international experience is an advantage for top level executive positions. However the wrong kind of international experience can hinder your career. Are you going to be exposed to the latest technology/best practices? Is the organization held in high regard? Will the assignment look good on your CV a few years from now? Can you use this opportunity to make your mark? An international assignment can put you in the spotlight or hide you away so that you are overlooked for future career moves. An assignment that was planned to last a year or two, could become long term, especially if you have school going children.
A successful international assignment requires several key skills. You need to be flexible in adapting to different cultures and customs without judgement. It requires accepting differences without labelling “different” as being “wrong”, just different. If local culture dictates conservative clothing in public, don’t dress like you did back home. Expecting the local culture to adapt to you is not going to get you very far in most countries.
You also need to be able to work with, collaborate with, and possibly lead, people who are culturally, religiously, and politically different. There may be nobody in your team who cares about the same sport or issues you are used to making small talk about. You have to constantly think about what you are saying so as not to offend anybody, which at times may feel like there is nothing to talk about!
You also need to be an expert in your field, together with the ability to adapt your practices to suit the new environment. Are you flexible enough to adapt? Are you prepared to move out of your comfort zone into an unfamiliar environment?
A lot of consideration goes into adapting to the assignment location. But you should also consider how you will adapt when you eventually return home. The place you come back to will no longer be the same as the place you left. Life will have moved on for the people back home, including family, friends, and your organization. You may not be assigned a job you like when you move back. Moving back home requires adapting once again, this time not just to the differences compared to where you spent your assignment, but also adapting to the changes that have happened back home.
Before you go, also consider what the financial impact will be. Is the salary package enough to make up for the pain of relocating your family, for "missing out" on life back home, for the hardship of adapting to a new culture? Be sure to take the cost of living into account when evaluating an offer. There is no point in moving for more money if it is going to be consumed by a higher cost of living.
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