Is Moving Abroad All It’s Cracked Up To Be?
For many young Australians, moving abroad is a rite of passage. Some head to London fresh out of university to work in bars; others traverse the world, teaching English as they move from country to country.
It’s such a common move that it often goes unquestioned.
But what are the advantages — and disadvantages — of packing your bags? How can you increase your chances of being successful?
Vocation or vacation?
Katharine, 27, moved to the United Kingdom last year. Having worked as a radiographer for the past couple of years, she has continued in this role in England. However, she didn’t exactly move to improve her career prospects.
“Ultimately I moved so that I was able to travel in Europe with more ease,” she says. “Living in London gives me easy access to Europe, and it is also a lot cheaper when booking from the UK.”
While her career wasn’t her reason for relocating, Katharine hasn’t found it difficult to obtain well-paying work in her field — but she is concerned about the lack of training opportunities in the UK, which she took for granted in Australia.
“I do think my training has taken a massive blow, but travelling and enjoying life make you more aware of how important a work-life balance is.”
Karen Bremner, a Brisbane-based career coach, says that heading abroad can be beneficial for your career. Having worked in three countries in the past, Karen also understands the advantages and challenges of moving across the world.
“Time overseas gives you a wider worldview,” she explains. “Facing the inevitable challenges and setbacks builds resilience, flexibility and self-confidence as you realise what you’re capable of.
“Professionally, working overseas builds your resume,” she continues, “and the more directly relevant the work is to your chosen career, the more obvious the benefits are — but above and beyond that, it can help you to build a more personally meaningful career.”
Katharine admits that moving abroad has come with unexpected hardships.
“I found that some of my friends didn’t stay in touch, even the ones that said they would,” she says. “However, surprisingly, some friends who I didn’t think would stay in touch have been the best at checking in on me and having Skype chats, etc.”
Though you’ll rarely see overseas experience as a requirement in a job description, Karen, who has worked for more than a decade in HR, says that it is highly valued in potential employees.
“Most managers want self-motivated, adaptable and socially aware staff,” she says. Karen explains how in a volatile world, more organisations will be looking for “change-agile, flexible and resilient staff who can think creatively and collaborate across diverse, cross-cultural teams.”
Rising to the challenge
However, for some, moving abroad isn’t all positive. Elyse, 27, moved to London in November and works in marketing and communications. Unlike Katharine she hasn’t found her adventure all smooth sailing.
“I think I was unhappy was because this was never originally on the cards for me. Moving here was an alternate plan. When what I wanted didn’t happen, I did the next best thing I could think of.”
“I also think being so far from my family and friends was a major factor [in my unhappiness]”, says Elyse.
While Elyse struggled in the beginning, after six months of feeling miserable she now feels comfortable with her decision.
“I think what changed was being open to change. Meeting new people and reconnecting with old ones, even some you haven’t spoken to in decades.”
Elyse also believes that, despite the initial challenges, working overseas will help her career once she arrives back in Australia.
“I have just finished a year in my first job and am about to move into another role with a fantastic company. When I head back home after my visa is up, I will be able to get a job in an industry that is more akin to where I want my career to go.”
Before pursuing a new life overseas, Karen suggests the following to make the transition easier:
Be really clear on your goals
“Are you moving for fun, for professional development, or both? Is your chosen field one where it’s possible to work overseas and stay ‘on-track’, or will this effectively be a career break?”
“The answers will influence your choices, as well as the likely pitfalls you may encounter on your return. Be clear, and plan accordingly.”
Practicalities of moving abroad
Karen recommends researching the following before you book your tickets:
- What visas you’re eligible for
- How you’ll support yourself while you job-search
- What the labour market is like in your desired destination
- What the process is for finding work there (resumes can look quite different internationally)
- What networks you can tap into
“I suggest talking to people with direct experience, and doing a ‘pre-mortem’ — working through what could possibly go wrong — before you move, so that you can then make positive contingency plans.”
Be flexible and keep your options open
“You may plan to go for a year and never come home… or find you hate it, and come home within the month. Don’t burn bridges or close doors; you may need them!”
Be really honest with yourself about your motivations
“I’ve seen people move overseas to escape their own unhappiness… but as they say, wherever you go, there you are (and you may end up unhappy in an unfamiliar place, without your support networks).”
So, how to make the most of your time living and working overseas, to maximise your chances for finding work upon your return home? Karen has a few ideas.
“The biggest worry most people have is that if they leave the local market, they’ll struggle to break back into it later… but, with a bit of foresight and some ongoing ‘career maintenance’, you can make any transition easier.”
Maintain your networks
“With more and more job openings going through word of mouth, you need to nurture your relationships throughout your absence, keep people posted on your progress and then update your contacts before you return. LinkedIn is a great tool to facilitate that side of things. (On the same note, it’s a great tool to connect with people in your field and check out the reality before you go!)”
Keep yourself current
“Consider maintaining association memberships, read industry updates and keep in touch with colleagues. Be ready and prepared to demonstrate your currency when you return.”
Give yourself time
“In a tight labour market, it can take a good few months to get back into work, so ensure you have a good financial cushion, stay open to ‘gateway’ casual and contract roles, and start your job hunt long before you get home. Again, LinkedIn is a great resource.”
Articulate your value
“This is the big one! Ultimately, it’s up to you to showcase the benefits of your overseas experience, translating this into the skills, knowledge and strengths that your field needs.”
“Stand in your employers’ shoes and be really clear: What has your time away given you that adds real value for them?”
And finally, expect some bumps and post-trip blues.
“People returning home can sometimes be blindsided by reverse culture shock. If life’s moved on in their absence, they can feel like the outsider… or if it’s stood still, they can feel like they’ve outgrown their home. Any change has its challenges, so plan for some ups and downs, and remember it may take time while you renegotiate your life in Australia.”
Che-Marie is a London-based writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Australian Gourmet Traveller, Collective Hub and Virgin Australia Voyeur among others. Follow her travels on Instagram @chemariet