See the world! Go to exotic locations! It’s exciting! It’s an adventure! It’s like a vacation all the time! Or not. The truth is international assignments are both incredibly amazing and incredibly difficult, and they’re not for everyone. Companies recognize that these assignments are difficult personally, and because sending someone abroad is expensive, they want to ensure that they are sending people who will succeed in those assignments. Otherwise, it can be a disaster for the individual personally and a loss for the company.
So how do you know if an international assignment is right for you? Here are some questions to ask yourself.
1. Are you doing it just for the money? If so, you may want to reconsider. Being interested only in the money won’t carry you through the day-to-day trials and tribulations of living abroad. If money is your primary motivation, you may find yourself not exploring and not integrating into your new country and thus having social and personal difficulties. And if you are just phoning it in at work to get a paycheck, you may find yourself not succeeding at the level expected by your company.
2. Do you take vacations abroad or study another language because you’re truly interested in different cultures and ways of life? An important indicator of success of an assignment is the level of sincere interest in learning about and experiencing other cultures. Were your last few vacations spent abroad? Did you stay in a U.S. hotel where the staff speaks English and you can order hamburgers from room service? Or did you stay in a local hotel and experience local food and the challenge of communicating with someone who does not speak English? Did you venture out on your own or stay with a tour group the whole time? People who are truly interested in exploring, trying, failing, and discovering in other geographies and cultures are more likely to be interested in these assignments and successful at them.
3. Can you live without your creature comforts? If you have to have Starbucks coffee, a particular type of workout class, and the convenience of online shopping, you may be in for a rude awakening in your time abroad. Yes — technology is great and can solve many problems — but depending on where you go, you may not be able to get these things and you may need to learn to live without them and replace them with something wonderful from your new country.
4. Are your relationships stable? When you move abroad, you may take some family members with you and you may leave some family members and friends behind. You and your family will need a support group, and any issues you may have in your relationships will be magnified in an international assignment because everyone will experience higher levels of stress and the usual support networks may not be available. I would advise getting some counseling ahead of time when considering an international assignment in order to bring to light issues that could arise later on.
5. Are you generally a flexible person, open to diverse opinions and new ways of doing things? Flexibility and openness are important in an assignment for both professional and personal success. People in your office will not do things the same way they do back home and you will find it strange, inefficient and frustrating until you start understanding the culture and the reasons for doing things that way. The same will be true for the way things get done in life — from grocery shopping to paying bills to getting around town. Understanding, adapting and even embracing new ways of doing things is critical for success.
Most of all, you need to be honest with yourself about these questions. If you decide that an international assignment is right for you, go forward with enthusiasm and eagerness in your new country. And if you decide it’s not for you, enjoy other professional and personal opportunities at home.