A career built around international work may not appeal to everyone. It involves frequent travel and time away from family and friends, sandwiched between regular 7 am and 9 pm teleconferences.
But international work is a rewarding and enriching option for a growing number of communications professionals, and it’s a path I embraced when I began my career more than 30 years ago.
To date, I’ve traveled to 35 countries and had steady, substantial interaction with at least 30 more. I’ve been to Seoul, Tokyo, Beijing, Hong Kong and London more than a dozen times each, and I’ve been to Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok and Manila almost as often. I’ve gone to Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Sao Paulo and Barcelona at least four times, and I’ve even taken the road less traveled, with business trips to a dozen different cities in each of China, Italy and Germany.
Better yet, I lived and worked in Hong Kong and Tokyo for 6½ years. The many friends I’ve made in these and other cities remain close; it seems I have someone to visit almost everywhere I go in the world. Arguably, I’ve learned more through these experiences than I did in college, because residing abroad permits deep immersion into different cultures and systems – experience you can’t duplicate in the cocoon of a four-star hotel, with all its comforts from home.
For most of my career, I have worked for U.S.-based firms or companies with a large global footprint (for more on this, see my Career Capsule). These organizations have been building their international networks for decades, today generating as much as 80% of their revenues outside the US. They think, work and behave less like American companies and more like global citizens. I get so much from the diversity of these organizations.
Along the way, I’ve learned some valuable lessons and a few truths about communications around the world. For example:
- The basic principles and processes of internal and external communications are fundamentally the same in most countries. Despite differences in language and culture, communications around the world is essentially about informing, persuading, engaging and aligning a broad mix of stakeholders.
- Likewise, managing the communications process is fundamentally the same around the world. It’s about putting people in a position where they can succeed and grow, with trust built through authentic and responsible conduct that’s consistent over time.
But there are some notable differences that add some spice to working internationally. I will touch on some of those in my second post tomorrow.