In September 2018, I embarked on a 2 year secondment to work within the Business Recovery Services team at the PwC Dubai office. As there are a number of things to consider when beginning an international assignment, I have put together some tips below for anyone who is planning on working abroad:
Before embarking on your international assignment, I would recommend carving out some time to outline what you would like to achieve from the experience, both personally and professionally. Identifying goals will help ensure that you get the most from the experience and will highlight learnings that you can transfer from your overseas assignment to your home office upon return.
From completing this exercise, I was able to note the main goals I wanted to reach as a result of my overseas secondment. Some of these included:
- Expand my global network by building relationships with professionals from a variety of countries
- Gain a breadth of experience working on international clients within different worksteams
- Learn about different cultures and experience how multicultural teams work together
- Become a specialist in knowledge on the economic environment within the Middle East
I revisit my goals at the end of each month to ensure that I am still on track. I also keep a record of what I have done and learnt by updating an online journal.
Reading recent news articles released from the main media sources in the country you will be transferring to is an effective way to identify what the hot topics are in the region. It’s also a good idea to research the local laws as these can be very different to UK laws. For example, in the UAE, it is illegal to eat in public during Ramadan and therefore if anyone is caught doing this, they could face serious consequences such as jail time.
Upon arriving, in addition to reading the news, I also sought more knowledge by attending events such as an ICAEW Corporate Finance Faculty event where I listened to a fireside chat regarding the UAE’s future economic outlook and the effect it will have on mergers and acquisitions within the region. Gaining this knowledge has helped me to understand how the market in the UAE operates and I have been able to apply this knowledge at work.
Keep track of your wellbeing
Moving abroad and leaving behind everything and everyone you know, together with dealing with the pressures of starting up again, can be a very overwhelming experience. Therefore, it’s important to manage your wellbeing to ensure that your situation doesn't emotionally drain you. One way to manage this is by reaching out to CABA who are great at offering 24/7 support to people in this situation.
My first few weeks overseas were extremely busy. I was constantly meeting new people at networking events and socials, filling out numerous pieces of paperwork, chasing visa documents, receiving messages and calls from people back home and searching for apartments - all whilst adjusting to a completely new country and culture. It took approximately 2 months for me to settle in completely and sort everything out. Throughout this period, I made sure that every week I scheduled in at least 5 hours of downtime so that I could switch off all my devices, relax and clear my mind.
Network both inside and outside of work
The best way to network outside of work is through finding a hobby or social group. Meetup.com is a great way to find just about any hobby from mountain trekking to learning a new language to meditating. Attending team socials and joining sports teams are a good way to quickly build relationships at work. Networking is particularly important when transferring overseas as I've realised that the quality of the connections you make in a new country are a big factor in determining whether you'll enjoy your international assignment or not.
As I was moving into the UAE alone and didn't know anyone who lived there, I knew I would need to think about how I would meet people both inside and outside of work.
A few months before I transferred, I met many people at networking events in the UK who were able to connect me with contacts they had in the UAE. This meant that when I arrived, I already had at least 15 different people I could reach out to who were then able to introduce me to other people they knew and as a result, my network expanded rapidly. Inside of work, I took on roles such as organising team socials, taking part in the creation of an unconscious bias awareness video, as well as joining a 30-day fitness challenge. These activities allowed me to build lasting relationships with people I will be working with in the future.
Keep in contact with your old office
It can be extremely easy to get so caught up in making new connections and adapting to a new culture overseas, that you either forget, or don’t make enough time to stay in touch with people in your home country. Maintaining your existing relationships will make the transfer back to your home country much smoother at the end of your secondment.
I schedule monthly calls with my team in my home office in order to update them on my experience and any new skills I have acquired. These calls also allow me to keep up to date with what’s happening in the U.K. office. Keeping these relationships has created other benefits such as being able to connect people and opportunities between the two offices. Additionally, I set aside time on evenings and weekends to have video calls with my family and friends back home.
Implementing these tips helped me to start my secondment effectively as I had a clear plan and method for managing the transition. As a result, I settled in with ease and have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Dubai so far! I would really recommend completing an overseas assignment as it is an amazing experience that will fuel your growth as a professional. Please feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn if you are about to embark on an international assignment as I would be more than happy to have a chat about preparing for the transition!
Written by: Monique Malcolm-Hay
Monique Malcolm-Hay is a recently exam-qualified ICAEW Chartered Accountant and is currently working in the Business Recovery Services team at PwC where she has just started an international secondment to the PwC office in Dubai. Monique is also a mentor and contributes to driving diversity, inclusion and wellbeing within PwC and the ICAEW. She also co-founded New Gen Accountants, a non-profit organisation which focuses on providing advice to individuals who are pursuing accountancy as a career.