How living abroad can help you in business

I recently travelled back to the US for a business meeting. It was probably the biggest meeting of my career – blondie and a boardroom full of gray-haired, executive-level suits. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous. I don’t love meetings of this nature but I’ve developed a confidence and know I can hold my own. However, this time I felt out of my element and I worried that I had lost my edge living in a foreign country and not suiting up for work everyday the same way I did when I lived back in the States.

It wasn’t until after the meeting was over and, of course, after I received glowing feedback that I realized that I had nothing to worry about. To my surprise, my living situation did not hurt me, it actually helped me, and here’s why.

  • Living in a place where you know no one, you learn and refine how to connect with others, sharpen your conversation and social skills, and master building relationships despite obvious differences like languages spoken, backgrounds, career paths and where you’re from. All of this is incredibly valuable in business.
  • While everyone else in your industry is busy doing the norm, suddenly you stand out as different and you no longer get lost in the crowd.  Your unique attributes become more obvious, which is particularly beneficial when prospective clients are looking at hiring you.
  • Those boring business dinners are no longer boring. When you live away from “home,” you get to spend time developing hobbies and doing things that everyone else around the dinner table doesn’t have the luxury of doing. The conversation becomes much more interesting and you’re no longer just participating in it, you’re leading it.
  • When you live in a foreign country, you learn to thrive in any environment and adapt to your circumstances. Just like adapting to ordering your breakfast in Spanish or thriving in the new cultural norms, you’re able to adapt when a project goes in a different direction or when the meeting your leading is now three hours long instead of one (yes, that happened to me at my meeting I mentioned above!).
  • You gain respect from your peers, mentors and others in the industry who view you as a trail blazer and a risk taker for your big move. Companies, who are always looking for an advantage, look closely at these qualities when they decide who they want to work with.
  • Finally, a different country often means different or limited food choices. So when you’re at that business dinner and the greasy, saucy, cheese smothered chorizo meatball appetizers are passed around – something you would normally never touch – you don’t even think twice before going for it. Perfect way to earn street cred and improve your likeability factor.

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