Living abroad is an investment for life

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“When I was posted as a marine engineer in Singapore, I was the only Dane in a great group of people from China, Malaysia, India, Indonesia and Philippines. My encounter with this colourful contrast to everyday life in Denmark has strengthened my abilities to listen and interact with other cultures. And although I'm now physically located in Copenhagen, I use these abilities every single day in my work on Ramboll’s many international projects.

That’s why it surprises me that today many young engineers don’t attribute much importance to a stay abroad as a valuable career move. According to a study conducted by IDA, DSE and Capax Recruitment, only a little over half of young engineers find it relevant to work in a foreign country at some point in their career.

Kristine Pilegaard

A backpack full of experiences

In Singapore I worked for one of Ramboll's local partners who are experts in port planning and the design and operation of ports. As the only Dane in the office, I returned home to Denmark with a backpack full of experiences, lessons learned and enriching insights about myself and other cultures.

In Asian cultures, the working environment is built on close relationships that require patience to build up over time. I experienced this first-hand when not a single one of my colleagues came to the Christmas party I hosted after only two months in the company. But when my posting ended after a year, I realised that I had actually become special to them over time. Things take time and that is something you need to respect. If you do, your patience will be rewarded manifold in the end.

Another cultural difference I noticed is that many westerners do everything with a lot more show than Asians. That can easily lead an outgoing Dane like me to underestimate how skilled my Asian colleagues were.  But instead I learnt to put on my self-conscious cultural glasses and be very aware of the values that I took for granted.

Navigating cultural complexities

It is said that a successful trip is a return ticket for a lesson learned. The main lesson I learned from my stay abroad is the affirmation and self-confidence that I am capable. In Singapore, I wasn’t surrounded by senior colleagues so I didn’t have the opportunity to get their quality check on my solutions or to cast a sidelong glance to them during a business meeting seeking their approval of my statements. I had to believe in myself and that gave me a strength which never disappears.

As more and more projects in the engineering industry are international, the ability to navigate through the cultural complexities of everyday situations will become increasingly important. One thing is being knowledgeable within one’s professional field– actually the customer takes this for granted – another very different thing is being a credible advisor and consultant. That is a skill where clients evaluate you based on feelings, sensations and intuition. And that's something you can’t learn at university – you will only truly get this competence by living it in real life.

So dear young engineers: choose a stay abroad. Buy your ticket to personal development, invaluable experiences, new insights and pure brute force. The whole world awaits you."