The majority of expats travel for work. Usually to take on a job that they have applied for, sat through rounds of interviews for, and worked toward for a number of years.
Heading out to a far-flung regional office to run a prestigious project or take control of the high-flying sales team might be the pinnacle of a career. Or it could be the stepping stone that takes an expat from middle management into the boardroom.But being an expat is also about change, and taking the time to reflect on what you value in life. There’s nothing quite like separation to make someone realise what they miss, or don’t miss, about a location or culture. Expats tend to be more keenly aware of the things they hold dear and a lot more relaxed about everything else.
The process of paring back your life to a number of suitcases and boxes makes you keenly aware of the things you just can’t do without, and those things that you just can’t live without. More often than not, expats are happy to say goodbye to material possession but won’t compromise on values or the intangible things that make them happy.
So when expat careers go awry, or when careers at home stagnate, is it any wonder that expats are quick to mix things up?
Life is too short to spend it doing a job you find no fulfilment in, or wishing you’d chosen a different career earlier in life. The adventurous, go-getting spirit that drives people to bravely leap into another culture can see them switching careers at short notice.
But leaping into a new career, or even a new industry, does not mean leaping straight into a top spot. More likely than not, you’ll be looking to start again at the ground floor, building experience and reputation, laying the foundations for future expansion.
Of course, most of us hearing about internships will immediately think of new graduates working for free or very low pay in a company, completing menial tasks with little prospect of a job at the end. These bright young things may have studied for years, but they lack experience in the working world, specifically in their chosen industry. An expat changing lanes in their career will be in a very similar situation.
Job ads, even for starter jobs, often demand high levels of qualification, technical expertise and several years of experience. It’s difficult to accrue all these sought-after attributes, but that’s what internships are there to help with.
In addition to changing job role, company and industry, the expat also needs to prove their ability to work in a new country. An internship should be a relatively stress-free way of working out the dos and don’ts of working in another culture.
An internship is also the perfect place to learn the most valuable lesson of all: just how little you know about a given subject. Jump into an internship and start working out where your skill gaps are. You may need to get to grips with new software, learn a new language or gain vital qualifications.
What better way to figure out the next steps you’ll need to take in your new career than to work alongside the experts? In media or creative industries, a portfolio of work can be even more important than your qualifications, so getting time working on projects can give a new career a headstart.
Of course, you can always combine studying for these certificates with working in the industry itself. Many companies will be understanding of interns looking to fit a little work experience in around their studies, letting them pick up more hours during breaks in teaching or easing off during exam season.
But internships aren’t just for students. Although the vast majority of work experience places go to students or recent graduates, they are usually open to anyone looking to get experience of a job role. Expats looking to try a change of lifestyle have just as much right to apply. Trailing spouses may find that where visa rules restrict them from taking on paid work, there are no rule against them doing experience programmes for expenses or unpaid.
Expat kids too can benefit, expanding their experiences of life overseas into the world of work. Older teens could benefit from time spent in the workplace, learning the language used in the workplace and the peculiarities of culture that exist in the office. Any experience can be an advantage in a youngster’s CV, but a young expat can quickly rack up short placements in multiple businesses in a number of countries, making them a very attractive candidate for their first job interviews.
Probably the biggest advantage of undertaking an internship is simply getting the chance to test drive a new career. Changing track can be a daunting task, but with a no-risk trial period internees can make informed decisions. You’ll have the chance to see if the work is interesting, if you click with the people and most importantly, if if lives up to your expectations.
Have you done an internship as an adult? Share your experience in the comments!
Article by Andy Scofield, Expat Focus International Features Writer