While there are some strong similarities to communications around the world, there are some interesting differences. Here are just a few examples:
- Different legal, political and economic systems overseas mean that it’s rarely “business as usual” run on autopilot. It’s crucial to understand the different laws and regulations, government structures, political processes, etc. to be effective in your role. It’s also important to keep an open mind, understanding and accepting differences and not blindly assuming that your own values and beliefs are inherently superior.
- Some communications strategies and tactics are materially different. For instance, in some countries it’s relatively easy (though still not advisable, from a reputation management perspective) to obtain an injunction to prevent a negative news story from appearing. In a few countries, it’s common for companies to reimburse reporters for their travel expenses involved in writing a story. And in Japan, CEOs may voluntarily resign to take responsibility for a crisis, bowing deeply in apology at a press conference in a bid to regain public support and reclaim personal dignity.
- Use of wireless technologies and social media is more advanced in places like Korea and Japan, yet local custom requires that certain business messages are best delivered person-to-person.
What skills and traits do you need to work internationally? Here are just a few:
- A real interest in learning about different systems, cultures and languages.
- A genuine willingness to embrace differences and to try new things. I cannot name a favorite cuisine because, from my travels, I’m a huge fan of Indian, Italian, French, Chinese, etc.
- A love of frequent travel, often over long distances and to distant time zones, where jet lag and 20-hour days can wear you down in no time.
- If you are an expatriate, a willingness to forego the familiar comforts of home (family, sports, community) in exchange for the opportunity to explore new places and to try new things.
- A tolerance for working long, hard hours during the week and on weekends. This includes early morning and late night calls, after work drinking and karaoke sessions, and Sunday emails and calls with colleagues in the Middle East, whose weekend is Friday and Saturday.
There are rich rewards for those who are willing to take the international route, though:
- It’s still a great way to differentiate your personal brand. And at a time when most companies are expanding internationally, it increases your employment options.
- It’s a good way to save money if you are able to get a full or partial expat package covering housing costs and any additional tax burden from working in two jurisdictions.
- It’s a chance to see and do things that your family and friends may never experience. It’s a wonderful learning experience for your children, too.
- You will make lifelong friends who will welcome you into their homes around the world, and vice-versa.
- You will get a new perspective on both the virtues and shortcomings of your own country and culture, and this will help you to define and mold your values.
I took the path less traveled more than 30 years ago, and I’m so glad I did.