My parents taught me: “Asking might be a shame of 5 minutes, but not knowing is a shame of the whole life”.
I’ve been living abroad quite a while now. The first time when I went to live and work abroad by myself was to Belgium. I worked for a telecom company in supply chain department, which was my professional field at that time. I found this opportunity through AIESEC – a global youth organisation. I lived in Belgium in 2010-11 and then came back to Ukraine. There is a saying: “Exchange is not just one year in life, but the whole life in one year” – I can sign under every single word of it, because in this one year so many things happened, I met so many new people, and all of them made a certain impact on my life. During this time I realized what I really want to do in life, what will drive me to wake up every day and go to do stuff, and it was not really supply chain… Career path change is a serious step, and if you make this decision at a certain point of your life, it implies a lot of responsibility, a lot of work. This time was literally a life-changing experience.
After my exchange year in Belgium, I was back to Ukraine for a while, but after some time I decided to come to Kazakhstan to work for the organization that literally changed my life – AIESEC. This time I wanted to contribute to AIESEC itself, to enable more young people to have the same amazing opportunities as I did. Why I came back to the organization after my internship? Because I felt really connected to its values, I loved what people were doing there, and I felt a huge impact on my life. I spent another challenging, yet amazing year in Kazakhstan. It was during that time that I realized what I really want to do with my future. In Belgium, I realized I should change things, but I had no clue which direction to go to. I know many people who face difficulties answering “What do I want to do?” – and the answer comes with trials, failures, and discoveries.
I am now in the field of marketing, communications, and branding. After my year in Kazakhstan, I felt that I want to explore more of the different business environment, different cultures, and I chose South-East Asia. Out of all countries in SEA, somehow Malaysia came as a first choice. I realized that the country has a lot of career opportunities. For me, it all started again with a simple internship program. I never thought of where it would take me, where I would end up. And I still don’t know, right now I am in Malaysia and I work here full time, and I do things that I love doing, but who knows where I will be in 2-5 years? I don’t know, we will see.
I had an internship for 6 months. Meanwhile, I got a better offer and I joined another company, where I already have a manager position. Due to some internal events that are happening in the company right now, I decided to move on yet again. I simply feel that the company is not going in the direction that I personally would like to grow in, which is fine. When you are employed, you are not bound, you can decide whether your professional vision fits into the company’s vision, and if not, it’s alright. I’m changing my job and there are a lot of exciting things coming.
I have to be honest: it’s not easy to find a job anywhere as a foreigner. Majority of times you have to have experience in their local market. Every time you need to lower your expectations to take time for adaptation in order to get something in the future. It’s possible but it’s not easy. I spent more than 6 months to find my new job (and that is actually still good compared to what can be) because in Malaysia the economy started experiencing quite a rapid downfall due to the mess on the global market of oil prices and a huge corruption scandal involving their Prime Minister. When a country has a huge number of unemployed people, it has to take care of them primarily, so foreigners come as a second-third choice. However, if you do the research, if you are smart about the local market, you can search for MSC companies, which are more open to hiring expats. Also, you need to be aware of your unique offer. By now, 2-3 companies have approached me, whereby they require marketing skills and they are working in the transportation field. Since I have a background in supply chain and transportation but am now doing marketing, for them I become a perfect candidate. So, as long as you know yourself, your requirements, your aspirations, and you are also aware of local realities – it’s all possible.
The biggest challenge is a mindset of people here. People don’t seem to be willing to take responsibility. You have to be prepared to explain five times and be ready to still expect as an outcome not exactly something that you asked for. People often say “Cannot” immediately – it’s easy to do and doesn’t require you to strain for anything. But however you look at it, you can’t say that Europeans are all the same, Asian are all the same, Africans are all the same. Even when I was living in Kazakhstan, people are also different from Ukrainians, although it’s still “our people”, we used to be one country. It’s just inevitable.
When you travel and work, you have to take into account that you can’t break others to suit your vision of the world. You are in the country where the majority thinks in a certain way. Then you have to see what to do with it and whether it suits you, but if you really can’t stand it, probably there is no point hurting yourself. If you can take it, you will see that people here are mostly nice and friendly.
It never hurts asking, it’s never embarrassing to ask. My parents taught me: “Asking might be a shame of 5 minutes, but not knowing is a shame of the whole life”. Normally people anywhere are fascinated by the fact that you want to learn about their everyday life. Sometimes when people ask me about Ukraine, I feel warm, and the fact of them not knowing about my culture and history, but willing to learn, is great.
Honestly, there is a certain excitement in being an expat. An unknown country, or maybe a little-known, but after some time living there it turns out to be full of surprises. That’s what happened to me in Kazakhstan. By living somewhere longer, you see the other sides of life. Sometimes these sides can be ugly, yes. It’s not only about rainbows, unicorns, there is a lot of ugly truth out there too. However, you learn how to deal with it and embrace all these challenging ugly parts, and it makes you a stronger and better person in the end.
If you want to travel and work, first you need to understand what you want to do, personally and professionally. As long as you know what is important for you in professional development, what you want to learn, then you already can narrow down and filter all the opportunities out there. Be open-minded. I met a lot of people who wanted to go to the States, to EU, which is ok, but if you think of it… cool, but why? Because it’s just some hype thing? Because you want to have an easier life? Cool! Now how is that going to impact you?
When people go to India and see other people who suffer for a dollar in the streets, it literally shakes up their world. If you want to work abroad for a cultural experience, why don’t you go to teach English in Cambodia, to empower people to know English and to get better jobs? This experience is going to give much more in the end.
In the end, last piece of advice from me: no excuses, because those that really want things to happen to look for opportunities, and those who don’t want look for excuses.
Olga Chetverukhina, Ukraine.