Working abroad: the new tourism

After graduating from college, I discovered just working with people can make you learn too. There are heroines and villains, colleagues and co-workers, cultural and communication barriers, established hierarchies and subliminal politics. Some can be so jaded and slanderous; their work banter is more funny than informative or serious.

I found that short to long term work assignments in large foreign enterprises makes for a leaps and bounds better experience abroad than normal tourist type activities. Being a pure tourist is the double edged sword I hate. Schlepping all the way across the Atlantic, making two connecting flights, a one hour train ride, a 20 min ferry boat ride, all to find hundreds of Americans in a place viewing the same fjords you saw on tv during that Rick Steve’s marathon that one time when you decided not to go with your sister to church.

Guided tours used to be the only way to see new places and experience new things. Artifically designed by the local tourism board for tourists, often using scare tactics (the same way George Bush talked the whole country into going into war) to keep people on the well worth path. But here’s where working with people in multi-national corporations can help bridge that gap. Embedding yourself (or working for a company that does it for you. i.e. Consultant) can make you that neutral Switzerland whore who can come in, make a few cheeky jokes and integrate with the locals.

You learn more about the culture, you find out where the locals go and what their world view is. People will relate their view of past events filtered through their personal history, which gives you a slanted, jaded view without having to endure any artificial tourist traps.

They haven’t expanded the 7 wonders of the world (yet), people always visit the same places that others recommend and what you get is a bunch of Americans in these popular destinations. You might as well have gone to the Paris Casino in Las Vegas instead of the Eiffel Tower. Obviously this is a stereotype, but it’s one that has passed through my filter and I feel like sharing, because I think working in these distant places can avoid this issue and actually allow you to learn something new. Heavy Metal, Goth, Acid Rock, Acid Punk, Death Metal, Grunge Metal, Grunge Rock, and Indie Metal are all very different types of music of which I was completely ignorant– until I found myself assigned to a project for a large company in Sweden, embedded in a group of passionate Swedes.

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