Imagine deciding to leave your home to pursue a career in the U.S. It’s a dream that you have been chasing for years. You don’t know the language, don’t have a place to live, and have to leave your friends and family behind. Would you do it?
Besides working as the Business Development Director for a healthcare clinic in Chicago called OMNI Healthcare, I also run the clinic’s Medical Student Training program. The program helps students who have trained at foreign medical schools to prepare for their first job in the United States; we help integrate students from Caribbean countries to different hospitals in Chicago for their residency training. Many of the students we work with are understandably nervous about leaving home to work in a new country. Unaccustomed to the United States, students can be shy and can lack the social know-how to land the job. My job is to prepare them for this transition.
Here are my top 5 tips for preparing to work in a foreign country:
1. Embrace the Challenge
It’s great to learn new experiences and new cultures, and it can be very rewarding and life-changing. By working abroad, you are privileged to a unique experience. While 59% of millennials say that they would move to a foreign country for work, only 34% of American had a valid passport in 2016, according to the U.S. government. Many people want to work abroad, but only a few take the first step by getting a passport. So if you get the chance to work abroad, take it — and cherish every moment.
2. Do Your Research
Research everything: Visa requirements, cultural norms, your future apartment, everything. You can never be too careful. One thing that I always tell my students is to be careful with banking and filling out the paperwork correctly. Getting credit can be very difficult in a new country, so before you leave your home country, get a credit card with an international company. Research how to set up an account abroad. Look into local banks’ minimums, timing on transfers, fees, and online capabilities. Also, paperwork like visa requirements can take months to prepare, so the earlier you start the process, the better. The last thing that you want to happen is for your future employer to ask you to start on a certain date — and you have to say no because your paperwork is taking too long. Be prepared.
3. Befriend the Locals
You’re not moving abroad to meet people from your home country, you are going there to meet new people! So don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and talk to the people around you. Maybe it’ll be your new co-worker, or maybe it’ll be the nice guy you met at the coffee shop across the street. Don’t be shy. By doing so, not only will you be more knowledgeable about foreign countries and their culture, but you might find that you have similarities with people from all over the world. Plus, the locals can give you some insider tips about cool spots that foreigners wouldn’t necessary wouldn’t know about!
4. Create a Bucket List
Your bucket list is essential. It will remind you why you are doing this during the tough times. Goals and a list will keep you focused on taking the time out on weekends to get out and see the local area. Before you leave, make a list of everything that you want to do when you get there. It can be a big something, like a trip you want to take, or something as small as making a new friend. No matter how busy you get, take the time to do them all. When you are feeling down or even homesick, go check something off. Having something to work towards will keep you motivated and remind you of why you’re there.
5. Give Yourself Time to Adjust
When you get to your destination, you may feel a rush to do everything all at once: learn the language, learn the culture, make new friends. That pressure that you put on yourself will only make it harder to adjust. It may increase the likelihood of homesickness as well. Know that everything is not going to be perfect, and you are going to make mistakes. The day to day challenges of living in a different country will be hard, but don’t let that discourage you. Know that things will go wrong but that’s okay. Allow yourself to make mistakes — and then learn from them.
There you have it: my top 5 tips for preparing to work abroad. I hope this given you an idea of what to expect. But I also hope it’s made you excited to take on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The memories that you make during your time abroad and the lessons you learn will stick with you forever. As Anita Desai said, “Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.”