After four years in the same college town, many graduates leap at the opportunity to start their careers in a new city, with some even seeking employment outside of the country. Expats receive the chance to experience a new culture and network with people from across the globe, all while learning about themselves in the process. Landing a job in a new country takes a great deal of planning, persistence, and conviction; it can often be challenging to know where to start.
I recently had the opportunity to interview UBWA alumna Lauren Covetta about her experience working abroad, living in a new country, and adjusting to a new career. Lauren graduated during the pandemic's peak in May of 2020 and is currently in Brussels, Belgium working as a Human Security Unit Junior Officer at NATO.
When starting a career overseas, the trickiest part can sometimes be getting your foot in the door. Lauren shared that her opportunity to work at NATO was possible because she maintained a connection she had made when she was 17 years old. Her advice to students who are just starting to consider working overseas is to "step away from campus to develop yourself and your ambitions as it forces you to challenge your mindset, meet new people and expand your perspective." This will give you the chance to gravitate towards positions that align with who you are.
"I can speak to feeling overwhelmed with one massive commitment, as opposed to feeling collected while on campus with eight different commitments."
Lauren opened up about many of the struggles that she faced in her first few months living abroad. Among them was the difficulty of channeling her energy more narrowly than ever before. This is a mostly foreign concept to ambitious undergraduates who spend most of their time bolting between classes, clubs, office hours, and social events. One of Lauren's most significant challenges was "the absence of routine in the presence of chaos," which she learned to embrace by making time for the practices that center her, such as exercising, cooking, listening to podcasts, and practicing her French.
Another challenge that Lauren faced was creating a network in her new career. Networking is intimidating to begin with, and networking during a pandemic is even more complicated. How does one network during a pandemic in a foreign country while abiding by covid guidelines? Lauren shared that her go-to networking method includes meeting colleagues in a nearby park for a walk or coffee. She suggests keeping conversations "short and purposeful," noting that it is essential to be respectful of others' time, especially those who have families. When possible, outdoor meetings are preferable to avoid the burnout that so many people are experiencing right now with Zoom and Skype calls.
"I have learned more about myself and my country in the last six months than I have in my 16 years of formal education."
One of the most sought-after opportunities of working abroad is the chance to interact with individuals from all across the globe. As one of the only Americans on her team, Lauren frequently interacts with citizens of the Netherlands, Italy, Canada, Austria, Iceland, and Germany. The exchange of social and cultural insights that she has experienced in her role has given her a heightened sense of cultural and geographic sensitivities. Lauren noted that these experiences will allow her to move through her future roles with a greater sense of empathy and awareness.
Working abroad in a foreign country will force you to confront several challenges, but it is often during hardship that we learn the most about ourselves. If you think you are up for the challenge, I'll leave you with some final advice from our interview.
"Remain open-minded, practice a language, welcome discomfort, strengthen your adaptability skills, identify your priorities, and never turn down a chance to pursue a passion."