Bon voyage: Getting international work experience

What you should know before taking off
A laptop with a map on the screen on top of desk

Whether you’re a new grad or looking for a change, you may be curious about working overseas. As with most experiences, working abroad requires a fair amount of planning and research. That’s why we’re here to help you navigate whether working abroad is right for you and showcase the value of global experiences to your career. With the help of Tara Jorgensen, a Global Learning Advisor at UCalgary Study Abroad, we’ve answered some common questions and answers with regards to working abroad.

The benefits of working abroad

There are many benefits to working abroad, both personally and professionally. Immersing yourself in a foreign country may help you build or enhance your intercultural capacity, allowing you to better understand cultural contexts and connections at home and internationally, and innovate through diverse perspectives. Working abroad also presents itself as an opportunity to expand your network and obtain or develop transferable skills that employers may be looking for.

What you need to know before starting your job search

Before you begin your job search, Jorgensen suggests considering what are the career/academic goals you want to achieve or explore while working abroad. To experience a new culture and travel? To learn or practice a new language? To obtain real-world experience? Doing so can help you maximize your experience and better reflect on your goals following the experience.

What is the job search process like? Does it differ from the traditional search?

This tends to vary.  If applying through the University of Calgary study abroad office, university research and internships are often part of the program you apply to, though it’s important to note that internships offered by Schulich and other co-ops may be different as they are long term compared to the programs offered by the study abroad office.

“After university, most people who work abroad are hired by a Canadian employer for an international placement rather than applying directly in their country of interest,” says Jorgensen. You may also wish to look into other resources such as MyWorldAbroad, which provides advice and resources for working abroad.

Understanding cultural differences

It is important to remember that not all cultures operate the same. How you communicate and present yourself varies widely from country to country. How do you communicate in a different culture? What language skills are needed for your placement? For your daily life? These are all important considerations when planning your time abroad.

Timing matters

When deciding when to work abroad, there are many factors to consider. Internships/research placements during your undergraduate career may open doors for work and graduate school opportunities. Similarly, some work abroad programs like Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET) require a degree to be eligible. For these reasons, you may wish to wait until you’ve obtained your degree to work abroad.

No degree? Not to worry, there are still options for you. Working holidays are available for Canadians who are between 18 and 30-35 (depending on the country) through International Experience Canada.

Is working abroad the right choice for you?

Jorgensen suggests asking yourself the following questions:

  • How comfortable are you with uncertainty?
  • What previous travel/intercultural experiences can you draw on to be successful working/researching abroad in your destination?

A lack of previous travel experience shouldn’t necessarily deter you from working abroad, but they’re still important considerations in your decision-making process. Consider the pros and cons and ask yourself how you can best prepare for the challenges you may face while abroad.

Ready to take off? Visit Career Services or the Study Abroad office

Career Services can help you prepare by reviewing your resume, cover letters and with one-on-one advising. Students can attend workshops hosted by UCalgary’s Study Abroad office. Topics include intercultural capacity building, communication styles across cultures, and many more.