4 Unexpected Lessons Learnt Working Abroad

Recently I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to work in Johannesburg, South Africa with my job as a Management consultant. Having never been to South Africa before and being fully aware of the country’s apartheid history and recent dialogue about xenophobia, I was nervous but excited and definitely wanted to seize the opportunity.

So far it has been an amazing experience that I would highly recommend.

South Africa is a beautiful sunny country and it has been great to learn about and work in financial services in a different country To encourage other millennials to push themselves to seize opportunities to work abroad, especially in another continent, I thought I would share this blog covering 4 unexpected lessons learnt working abroad.

Me outside the PwC Johannesburg office

Your communication skills will be tested

Working abroad has made me very aware just how important clear communication (and when required), clarification is. Even in a country where the main working language is English, working in South Africa, I was reminded that cross-cultural working makes it easier for misinterpretation simply because you cannot assume everyone understands things in the same way. For example, traffic lights in South Africa are called ‘Robots’ and ‘Howzit?’ is a common phrase that can mean Hello or You alright? (requiring a response).

I also became aware of how many British idioms I use that required some extra explanation!

Your communication skills will be tested

You realise there is so much more happening around the world

Living in London, especially given how large it is, you forget that there is so much happening outside of this city. In London, we sometimes forget to consider the rest of the UK and make blanket statements about Britain come to talk of having an awareness of what is really happening around the rest of the world.

Working abroad has enabled me to gain a whole new perspective and insight into how people live and work on another side of the world. Some things are similar and some things are so different. Overall, I was able to meet some incredible people and have some interesting conversations about what it is like to be a millennial in South Africa in 2019, giving you an insight about things you could never just find out on Google. I also learnt a few words in Zulu from some friends I made at the gym, e.g. ‘Sawubona’ means hello in Zulu and I saw a comedic South African play called ‘Call Us Crazy’ which gave an insight into how blue-collar workers feel since apartheid.

Working abroad also reminded me that there are like-minded people hustling and with just as much ambition and drive as people in London. Hopefully, I was able to give people I met an insight into what people in the UK are like whilst steering away from conversations about Brexit and cold weather.

Tried some traditional South African food too

You have to get used to explaining yourself — who you are and why you are here

Before working abroad I underestimated how constantly you will have to explain yourself and who you are to new people. People are intrigued by your accent, maybe the way you dress and most importantly what brings you to their country.

For me, coming to work in a country that has some of the highest rates of unemployment in the world (27.6% adult unemployment rate and 55.2% youth unemployment rate) people were keen to know what skills and experience I have. If you are not careful this can make you feel like an impostor — but I think most people’s questioning comes from a place of intrigue and interest especially when where you are coming from is ‘the dream’ for so many people.

(Side note: Impostor syndrome is real. I wrote a poem about it here — that recently got turned into a performance in New York :) )

There will be a few surprising insights

Me in Maboneng, a creative area in Joburg

Finally working abroad, comes with a few surprises. Unlike travelling somewhere on holiday you are much more immersed in the country and likely working alongside people who live there. For me the main surprises in Johannesburg were the beautiful artistic vibe to the city (there are so many art galleries and stunning graffiti decorates the streets), also the gold mining history in South Africa was something I didn’t know about and is also where Johannesburg’s province gets its name from — Gauteng meaning ‘place of gold’.

It was also amazing to see how many people from all over Africa, have decided to live and work in South Africa — it is a truly diverse country and I have been able to meet several people from Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Congo to name a few.

Finally, South Africans love music and I have been already converted to South African house music called ‘Gqom’ and the popular ‘amapiano’. I would recommend checking out Mi Casa.

Hopefully, you found that insightful and it has encouraged you to consider a period working abroad!

Some resources I have used to learn more about South Africa:

Books: Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime — highly recommended to me by other people and I couldn’t agree enough. Make sure you get it on Audible as he narrates it and his ability to do the different accents is great!

Youtube: Top Billing — YouTube channel for a South African television programme. I especially love the house episodes that give you a tour of the houses of a variety of South African entrepreneurs/business people whilst interviewing them so you have an understanding of the hard work they have done to get to where they are! Love it!

Blog covering all things personal development and careers from a 20-something millennial making her way in the Management Consulting industry

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