When and where did you work abroad?
I worked abroad at the Gustav Stresemann Institute, a conference center in Bonn, Germany, in the summer of 2011.
What made you want to work abroad?
I have a minor in the German language, so I’d say the main reason was that I was looking for an opportunity to practice my German and earn money at the same time!
How long did it take you to find a job and what job-search strategies did you use? Did you work in your field of interest?
Through a friend I heard about a work-study program that matches Canadian students who are studying German to jobs in Germany. Of course I could have tried to get a job on my own by contacting employers directly, but this program streamlined the process and made it a lot less daunting. They also provided lots of support, including an orientation session and reimbursement of my flight costs. In addition, I was able to meet many other Canadians who were also learning German. The whole application process took about five months and was entirely worth the effort.
I did get to work in my field of interest, as I’m studying international development (and, of course, German). Some of the things I did at my job included making arrangements for a human rights workshop for a group from Turkmenistan, and for a summer academy for students and professionals on the institutions of the European Union and the current Euro crisis.
Describe the interview and selection process.
The process was very straightforward. I had to submit letters of reference, answer a series of questions on my previous work experience and my goals within the framework of the program. I also had to write a German-language essay introducing myself. At the time I didn’t know what specific job I was applying for, but I knew that the WSP would try to make the best match possible from their database of German employers. After I submitted my application, it was just a waiting game. A few months later I received an email from my boss-to-be, expressing an interest in hiring me. We spoke over the phone and then it was a done deal! All I had to do next was book my flight, and with the help of the WSP and my employer, make arrangements for my accommodation and for obtaining the proper documentation. I ended up living just a block away from work, in a very affordable student dormitory.
What was the biggest surprise about your work experience abroad?
Firstly, despite working full-time, I still managed to fit in quite a bit of traveling. Through my work I got paid to go to Belgium and Luxembourg, and on weekends I made trips to Berlin and other places. Also, when my work period ended, I was able to travel to England before heading home. Secondly, I was surprised how integrated I became within my adopted community. I ended up getting to know a lot of locals. I was invited to a wedding and even joined a marching band!
What made your work experience abroad a success?
I think it had a lot to do with the fact that I was able to be matched with an employer who understood from the very beginning that I wasn’t perfectly fluent in German, and therefore held me to a different set of expectations. Expectations, I think, that I was able to exceed as my skills developed – both in the language, and in other areas, since it was my first office job!
What was the biggest challenge in adapting to your international work environment?
For me it was really a matter of building my confidence in the language, because simple things such as making a phone call felt like big obstacles initially. But everyone I met was very supportive and that helped me progress quite quickly.
What did you miss most about home?
I’m from Montreal, so naturally, poutine. Oh, and my boyfriend!
What is your number one tip for anyone hoping to follow in your footsteps by working abroad?
Just do it! Keep an open mind, have patience and a sense of humor, and remember that even if everything falls apart, it’ll still make a good story!
What are your future plans for going abroad and for your career?
All I can say for certain is that both personally and professionally, going abroad will stay a priority for me in the future. With any luck I will have a career that I can go places with –literally and figuratively!
Erika had a high-impact international experience by participating in a work-study program that challenged her to build German language skills in a professional environment in a short period of time. Erika’s professionalism and interest in cross-cultural learning, planning and management make her a good candidate for pursuing a master’s abroad, and perhaps even an international MBA. We recommend that she starts researching potential programs, as well as international internship possibilities after graduation. The earlier you start to build a international resume and network with international professionals in your field, the more likely you are to find the perfect opportunity abroad after graduation.
- The All-Important International Elevator Pitch is a crucial article for those setting out on an international career, offering advice on how to sell yourself to a potential employer in a few short sentences.
- Check out Sample Resumes From MyWorldAbroad in the International Resumes sections for examples of how to construct a winning resume.
- Also consider starting to search for International Internship Opportunities and the rest of the Resource Lists in the Intern Abroad section.