YOUR STORY

Working abroad: The hardest part about working in a new country – and how I made the transition

It was my first day in Geneva. I had landed late in the evening the night before, and my suitcases were still unpacked. I was feeling energized and exuberant, ready for my new adventure and my new – and first ever – job in this scenic and beautiful city.

As I ventured out of my cozy little studio, I was proud of myself for having chosen a home close to the city center, which would make my daily commute and transition that much easier. Or so I thought! Unfortunately, we were in a pre-Google Maps era, and I didn’t realize that I had miscalculated the distance to my new office. Two hours later, after many detours and frantic questions to not-so-friendly strangers, I finally reached the Private Banking office. I was drenched in sweat, disheveled, in a state of panic, and almost in tears. My new boss looked straight at me, unphased, told me to sit down, and simply said “Relax, take a deep breath.” 

That was the only advice I needed at the time. I was so worried that I had reached the office so late on my first day, looking like a tornado had blown in and wreaked havoc on both my appearance and state of mind. Up until that moment with my boss, I had felt I had blown my chances in my shiny and new Private Banking job.

Fast forward a few years, and I became a literal pro at transitioning into new jobs in unknown territories. I worked in London, Paris (twice!), Geneva, New York, Dubai, Beirut, and finally began my latest job working from home in Montreal, Canada, ten months ago, amidst the pandemic sweeping our world.

Over the last fifteen years, one thing I’ve learnt moving from place to place and transitioning into new roles is that things aren’t always set up perfectly. And that’s okay. There will be mishaps, struggles, lonely evenings, culture clashes, and a whole slew of challenges. That’s part of the beauty of the experience.

Thanks to these many painful experiences, such as my Swiss posting at the age of 24, I learned how to make every new city feel like home, both from a personal and professional standpoint.

If you’re planning to move abroad and start anew, allow me to highlight the things that personally helped me in my journey.

I secured housing that made me feel comfortable.

Moving to a new city is difficult enough. It was so important for me to at least feel safe and secure in my new environment. I won’t lie, my rent was often more expensive than average, but it also made the whole difference in my lifestyle and comfort level overall – even with how I felt at my workplace.

I became part of a community.

Being part of a community is a wonderful way to make friends, find travel partners, and even gain some mentors. 

The ballroom dancing community in Dubai helped me make amazing new friends and feel alive on a daily basis. Meeting the locals is also the perfect fast-track way to gain insight into the culture. In New York I befriended New Yorkers, in France I hung out with the French, and in Switzerland I discovered the difference between the Swiss French, the Swiss Italians, and the Swiss Germans.

I adjusted my working style.

I couldn’t possibly have worked in the same way in Lebanon as I did in New York.  I don’t believe my new coworkers would have appreciated that very much! It was so important to understand the norms and values of my colleagues in each city and to adjust my working style to each setting.

No matter where I went, I managed to succeed in my work and thankfully leave a positive impression on my coworkers and new friends.

Don’t worry, I’m sure you will too.

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