A beginner's guide to working overseas

9 August 2017

Have you always dreamed of living abroad? Think a stint in another country might help your career? Tricia Alach has some advice. 

Tricia Alach has a new word that she would like you to learn: 'glomad'. A contraction of 'global' and 'nomad', it describes the sort of personal and professional life she lived for some 12 years in the Netherlands, the UK, and the US. And that is the work trajectory an increasing number of us are likely to take in the future.

Most obviously, the term defines someone with a global orientation and international experience. But, importantly, it also emphasises the ability to live an 'anchored' life; to connect with the surrounding culture.

"One of the defining characteristics of being a glomad is being really good at becoming a local very quickly. You have to be able to grow where you are planted. You can't just live in other places as a kind of hostage until you get to leave," says Alach, a talent manager and leadership development specialist.

Glomads also frequently move. And in that sense, they are quite different from migrants.

She identifies three paths to becoming a glomad:

• Self-initiated. Often triggered by boredom, a sense of adventure, and curiosity about the world.

• Company transfer. Increasingly a requirement for career promotion.

• Trailing spouse. Moving to support a partner's career. The success of a work assignment usually depends on the attitude of the spouse.

Alach, a Business School alumna, says that in her professional role she uses mobility as a development tool, relocating the staff of client companies to give them valued international work experience.

"Particularly if we are developing leaders of global organisations, we want them to have experience in different markets."

Regardless of the path taken, the process of re-establishing a life in a new place is more or less the same, she says. And the ability to adapt to a glomadic lifestyle increases with practice.

"Most of us haven't had to make a new friend as an adult. We went to school and university with people. They were wonderfully provided for us in close proximity, with shared interests. When you turn up in a new city and you don't know anybody, your phone never rings. You never get an invitation to do something. So, you need to proactively make new friends."

It is, says Alach, an early stage in a process that closely mirrors psychologist Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs – from finding food and shelter, and ensuring security, all the way to gaining recognition and respect, and finally a sense of personal fulfilment. At which point – if not before – you will likely be move to another country and the process will start all over again, she says.

So, why adopt the glomadic life? Alach has three answers.

First, it is humbling and confidence-building in equal measure:

• Being stripped of external attributes and contacts means that your personality and character will determine your experience.

• Constantly being put in the position of a novice improves your ability to learn, so that over time nothing seems unmanageable.

• Overcoming daunting challenges helps build self esteem.

Second, it develops two of the most sought-after workplace competencies:

• Agility. Relax, because nothing is under control – except you.

• Resilience. Experience is what you get when you don't get what you want.

Third, you get to be you:

• The glomadic life enables you to reveal and construct yourself based on conscious choices about values, priorities, likes and dislikes.

"A metaphor I like is to think of yourself starting out as plant in a little pot, which you fill. Every time you move somewhere you go into a bigger pot and you have to put down fresh roots and expand.

"The same thing happens as a glomad; the more you do it, the more you grow as a person. You learn what you are capable of."

Watch the Career Workshop A Beginner's Guide to Living and Working Abroad (1:21:27)

Tricia Alach

Tricia Alach is a talent and leadership development specialist, now based in Auckland.

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