on May 28th, 2009

My dream (well, one of ’em), when I was in my early twenties as a young engineer, was to travel and work extensively throughout the world. However, having done this (and being on an engineering business trip at present), I am a little more circumspect about travel and prefer the home turf. There is this belief, regarding work overseas, that it is not only exotic, but lucrative. Most often, though, this is not the case and one merely lands up elsewhere because the boss said so!

We all know about the cultural ambassadors such as Paul Gaugin, Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway who have enriched our worlds enormously – when they worked at home and abroad. But engineers working creatively and contributing creatively to the world by working overseas? This is doubtful, surely? Research, however, by two psychologists; Drs Maddux and Galinsky, clearly shows enormously enhanced creativity as a result of working in different countries. Although the cause is somewhat unclear.

There is no doubt that engineering professionals travel extensively these days. As far as engineering is concerned we really live in a global village. Engineers travel for a whole gamut of reasons, ranging from the minor (like plugging an updated EPROM Chip into the PLC system in a remote power station location - a few hour assignment, but deemed worthwhile if risk is avoided) to the profound and extensive (like sending a team of engineers and technicians to construct a new petrochemical plant in the middle of North Africa – a project taking a good two years).

Some thoughts on what to consider when working overseas:

• As a young engineering professional travel extensively and embrace the world – it will enhance your career and creativity magnificently
• Make a grand effort to get on with your boss and management team in the foreign town
• Thrive and learn from the culture and way of working and thinking, as an engineer and technician, overseas – it will contribute to your ability to think laterally.
• Assess national standards and see how you can enhance them when compared with those in your home country.
• Add engineering value by sharing your know-how widely with the locals
• Look for opportunities to take concepts, products and services from your homeland to your new overseas workplace and vice versa
• Be careful to measure the personal price paid when working overseas
• Examine the impact on a young family (sending kids to a boarding school and having your wife/husband, with a PhD in nuclear physics, sitting around cooling her/his heels, is not always a happy option)
• Ensure you get paid in a currency that doesn’t depreciate after 6 months in your new location
• Keep professionally up to date with your peers back at home and don’t let your skills degrade
• Build professional relationships with people in overseas’ countries – these relationships often continue long after you have returned home and can be enormously valuable and satisfying

An interesting observation follows. It is made by Faith Popcorn about the Americans - but is certainly not exclusive to them. We can all ultimately fall into this humdrum routine.

“The trouble in corporate America is that too many people with too much power live in a box (their home), then travel the same road every day to another box (their office)”.

Yours in engineering learning


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