Packing up and shipping out to start fresh in a different country can seem like a pretty crazy daydream, but the U.S. Department of State estimates that 6.8 million Americans have actually done it—that’s more than the population of Tennessee!
Whether through study abroad programs or by their own resolution, many millennials make the move to explore and jumpstart their careers in a new part of the world. If the thought of working abroad piques your interest, you’ll want to check out programs like InterExchange and the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE), which provide opportunities to work, volunteer, and travel abroad. You should also read what these millennials have to say about working abroad—and the energy it brought to their careers.
[Related: 20 Struggles Only Millennials Understand]
Working abroad, even in a controlled military environment, has taught me many things, the most important being tolerance. Wars have been fought and lost because countries don’t, or won’t, take the time to understand simple customs and courtesies. Mannerisms adhered to in the United States can be considered foreign and even offensive in other countries. I have traveled to different parts of the world and learned that the better you are at understanding and being tolerant of different cultural norms, the more rewarding your experience will be.
—Leila Doumanis, 30, warrant officer in the United States Marine Corps; working in Japan
I studied abroad in London during my spring 2015 semester. While studying abroad, I was an intern to fashion photographer Carlos Lumiére three days a week and took classes the other two days. While I thought it would be a fairly glamorous job, I found that the photo studio had just been moved and the first month of work was construction, painting, mopping, and dusting.
At the time, I wasn’t thrilled, but by the end of the semester, I realized that my experience was so different from others' in a beneficial way. I saw how a photo studio is built from the ground up, how to support oneself, and make connections and contacts. I also participated in multiple photo shoots and got to photograph extremely attractive models, so zero complaints from me.
But my study abroad experience was so much more than the classes and the internship. It was fending for myself in a completely different country and culture, traveling, meeting new people, doing things I never imagined myself doing, and so much more. I grew up and learned that I want to pursue a life of excitement and exploration.
I think something people don’t realize is how often personal cultures penetrate the workplace. I was on a team with people from all over Europe and Asia, so in addition to a slight language barrier, our ethics, ideas, and methods almost never matched, which made for some challenges in communication. Working abroad taught me how to be flexible, bend what I know about my field, and adapt it to fit any environment or client’s needs.
Finding a job in Australia was much harder than I thought it would be. I was a college graduate with good grades—anyone would be lucky to have me, right? I quickly learned how small I was and how many people might be looking. It was the beginning of the Internet application, and thousands of "backpackers" were descending on Sydney to find work at the same time I was. What I finally landed was a server/bartender/barista job at Bondi Junction. I worked with all travelers, from Ireland, England, and Switzerland. The man we worked for was Greek, and his brother was the manager. We didn’t get along great. It was a culture clash from the beginning. He was brash, loud, and incredibly overbearing. I wasn’t prepared for it.
I worked there for three months, quickly becoming the night manager (a raise of 50 cents). Eventually I left to travel the country. He wasn’t sad to see me go. My experience working abroad taught me that I don’t know everything, that being sensitive to another culture is imperative to success, and that getting my first break was going to be hard. I also solidified my desire to be a journalist, as I saw so many great stories around me.
—Summer Moore, 32, traveled and worked in Australia
Before going to Colombia for a summer, I had a vague idea about how journalism is practiced in other places abroad. I worked at the Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP), which works to ensure freedom of the press and protection of journalists in Colombia. I filed freedom of information requests, translated documents, coordinated logistics for our workshops, and organized paperwork.
The more I worked at FLIP, the more I saw the kinds of institutional, political, and financial barriers journalists face to do their job. I want to improve access to information in rural areas of developing countries throughout my career. So when I heard about a community-radio network in the rural parts of a few states, it confirmed there’s a need for what I want to do with my life.
—Daniela Vidal, 20, former intern at Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa in Bogotá, Colombia
This article originally appeared on Levo and is reprinted with permission.