Globalization has become unavoidable for businesses, organizations, and even individuals who must now extend their reach internationally to be successful. Political entities around the world are split on the idea — either decrying or heralding its implications on trade, supply chains, and efficiency. This discord can be intimidating to students and young professionals. However, globalization is inevitable and young people need to consider how it affects them.
Fortunately, my involvement in AIChE and other organziations exposed me to the concept of globalization while I was still in school. As I began my job search during my senior year, I searched for positions with companies that valued this trend and were active participants on the global stage. I eventually accepted a position with a German specialty chemicals company that boasts over 35,000 employees worldwide. At the time, I did not expect that my global philosophy would escalate as far as it did. After being with the company less than three years, I was offered a transfer assignment to a site in Germany. Fast-forward two years into the transfer, and I have no regrets about the move.
Breaking the language barrier
Sprichst du Deutsch, oder? Ja, klar! Or, well, at least now I speak German. It is undeniably daunting to move to a country where you do not speak the official language, and surviving a workday in said language is exhausting at first. You may worry that you don’t know how to say something, but in time you’ll realize that you should not get hung up, but simply phrase the thought differently. For example, you might want to say to your colleagues: “The other week I took a road trip between Munich, Vienna, and Prague with a childhood friend.” However, the sentence is too complicated for you to construct. Instead of staying quiet, express it in a different way, such as: “Two weeks earlier a friend was visiting Europe. We drove by car between Munich, Vienna, and Prague. We have been friends since kindergarten.” Focusing first on content and later on style is the key to immersive language learning success, and you may find it is far more effective than classes.
Building a social life
Most large cities have contingencies of expats that can be a great source of friendship and guidance. In fact, hours after landing in Düsseldorf, I passed a sign in the center of town advertising an English-speaking expat social event. At the time, and even now, it seemed a little too convenient, but it was exactly what I needed, and I still have friends I met that evening. Your fellow expats can be a helpful source of information for navigating unfamiliar local protocols, from visa paperwork to train pass subscriptions.
Be sure to also branch out from the comfort of an English-speaking social circle. You can unlock a new dimension of living and working internationally by improving your language skills to a point where you are comfortable exchanging thoughts with a native speaker. Give yourself time to speak, rather than feeling unnecessarily rushed.
Citizens of the internet
Thankfully, in 2018, the internet has removed most of the hurdles and barriers once associated with moving to a different country or continent. You can stay connected to friends and family, mostly for free, through resources such as Whatsapp, Google Voice, Google Hangouts, and, of course, Facebook. Beyond your social spheres, banking, paying bills, and transferring currency can all be accomplished for little to no charge online, with resources like OFX and Google Wallet.
The Italian director and screenwriter Federico Fellini is quoted as saying, “You have to live spherically — in many directions. Never lose your childish enthusiasm — and things will come your way.” If you are considering working abroad but are feeling hindered by hang-ups and reservations, take this advice! As a young professional or recent graduate, you are better poised than ever to take on the challenge. As your career and life progress, you’ll inevitably become more tied to specific places, people, or services, making moving across the world even more challenging.
Relocation can be an easier path
Relocating through a company also removes many unknown factors. Residence and work visa applications are handled internally, housing search assistance is often provided, and services for filing your taxes are typically available. Keep in mind that U.S. citizens must file taxes in their country of residence and the U.S. (this rule is unique to only the U.S. and Eritrea).
While I don’t know exactly where my path will lead after my assignment in Germany, the skills, new ways of thinking, and exposure to the global community have positioned me for exciting new opportunities. Living and working in Germany has given me the confidence to look forward to any challenge and declare, as the German Chancellor Angela Merkel would, “Wir schaffen das!” (Yes we can!).
This article originally appeared in the "YPOV" column in the March 2018 issue of CEP. Members have access online to complete issues, including a vast, searchable archive of back-issues found at aiche.org/cep.