Unpopular Opinion: Living Abroad Hinders Careers

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So here’s something that has been going through my mind for the past year – I probably shouldn’t have gone abroad if I wanted to have a career.

Here’s what I did:

I graduated university full of dreams and ambition, went to Japan for a few years, got bored of that, then went to Germany for a while and had an amazing job but felt very out of place there, so came home. I came home to find the job market in the UK to be terrible, with employers asking for people to have so much experience and so many skills but offering such little salaries in return.

Here’s what I almost wish I had done:

Graduated uni and then did a whole bunch of low-paid internships to get experience and skills. Work my way up and then have a great job.

I had an amazing time living abroad. I wouldn’t swap it at all. My Japanese became really great, I made friends with people from all over the world and I was able to work for one of the biggest and most loved Japanese companies.

While I did that, I grew as a person – got to understand life from other people’s points of view, dealt with difficult situations in languages that are not my mother-tongue, built lives in completely different cultures to my own.

But you know what? Honestly, employers in the UK do not give a flying monkey about any of that. I had always assumed that those kinds of things would make me stand out – that they would be assets on my CV. They are not.

It may sound like I am bitter – actually, I just started a job which I think I should have looked into from the start. It’s doing PA work like I am used to, but with account management on the side. It’s maternity cover, so it’s lasting just 9 months, but it’s the short-term training that I have needed.

The next 9 months are going to be tough for me – learning first hand how to do all these new things for me to progress, along with other difficulties in the position. But I have to keep my head down, eyes open and learn all I can during this time.

Life abroad is wonderful. And some people find it really great and useful in their careers. These people include: people who get to work in the language of that country, people who are given a really great career opportunity from the start, and people who move to that country with their spouse and can get on with learning new skills without being worried about having to work. What abroad life is not good for is people who plan to come home and find a good job back here.

As these are thoughts that have been rattling round my head for the past few weeks, I’d really love to hear from other people who have – or are – living abroad.

 

I’m Learning Dutch Super Quickly (And You Can Too)

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This post has nothing to do with sheep

When we met, I thought there was something a little odd about Boyfriend’s accent.

To the untrained ear, it sounds like a perfect example of Queen’s English. But when he admitted to the other pub quiz members that he’s not British, I got it. He was Dutch, and I’d spent enough time around Dutch people at Nintendo to know that “more-perfect-than-perfect” accent anywhere.

As a person who loves languages, I love any excuse to start speaking something new and so I started studying Dutch in secret, with the plan to just come out with a load of it one day and amaze him.

Here’s a thing – I am terrible at keeping things quiet when I’m excited about them, so of course I let de kat out of de zak way too soon.

But luckily, I am learning pretty quickly, so it now means that I can drop Dutch into normal conversation pretty easily. The Boyfriend says I am a genius to be able to learn so quickly. Ha. I wish. I just have a winning method for picking up languages, and I would like to share it with you now.

You can use this method on a whole range of languages (though there are limits, as I’ll explain).

Step One: Get Dutch into my brain.

When I was studying Japanese, I found that sitting over books all day got me absolutely nowhere. It was only when I started to use the podcast Japanesepod101 every day that things seemed to fit into place. Walking to university took about 30 -40 minutes, and I would listen to the podcasts during this time.

It made a huge different to have the language going into my ears passively. When I went to Japan and had Japanese all around me the whole time, it was even better and my brain turned into a sponge.

The languagepod101 series are quite good, but I have found something even better: The Michel Thomas series. This is how I learnt German when I moved there.

Michel Thomas was an absolute dude of the highest rank. Being Polish, he escaped the Nazis eventually after being captured and tortured a bunch of times, and then after the war he escaped to the US. You should totally read his wiki page because he is really awesome.

His language tapes aren’t the traditional kind where you’re repeating after the teacher, who, without hearing you (since they are a recording, of course) says that you’re doing well. He has two students in the room, and it is to them that he teaches. I swear they choose really simple people to play these roles (maybe to make the listener feel better about themselves?)

The languages are built up brick by brick. For example:

Do you want

Do you want it

Do you want it to eat

Do you want it to eat or drink

What do you want

What do you drink

And so on…until you think to yourself “hang on, I think I might be speaking a whole new language!”

I listen to the Dutch tapes (which sadly doesn’t have Michel himself as the German ones do, but this real “mumsy” kind of woman who sounds like she’d give you a massive hug, a glass of milk and a cookie when you make mistakes) in my car either to or from work. Each CD has about 15 tracks on it, and I get through them in a week, with me listening through it at least twice before moving on.

Step Two: Get Words In My Eyes

When I studied French at school, I hated it. Up until GCSE (16 years) I remember mainly making posters and memorising a small speech about my work experience (a lot of which I can still recite to this day). After GCSE I took it up at A Level, and the difficulty jump was massive. Even though the class had just 6 of us in it (because that’s how many people were stupid enough to take A Level French), the teacher was tired and gave us lists and lists of words to learn, so we could understand the books.

I did really badly at it; I had zero motivation (I only took it so that I could take Japanese at university) and sitting memorising loads of stuff just is not my bag.

My teacher told me that since I “could not grasp French, you should just give up on Japanese since you’ll get nowhere with it”. 10 years later, I am fluent in Japanese, conversational in German and can also get by in Chinese, Korean and now Dutch. I wouldn’t even try to use French.

Unless you have the type of brain that loves lists of stuff to memorise, then this is not a good method to learn a language. But you need to know loads of new words, right?

There is another way. Let me introduce Duolingo.com to you.

duolingo

Duolingo is a free, online, language learning programme which is nothing short of awesome. It works with you translating lots of sentences which get progressively more difficult and are split up into categories like “prepositions” and “clothes”.

You can see above there’s the sentence in Dutch, which looks a bit intimidating. But you can hover over the words to remember which each one is. They used to penalise you for this, but the website has changed over the years and it doesn’t anymore.

It gets you to do sentence after sentence and slowly, you’re learning grammar, vocabulary and word order without much effort at all. What’s more, there’s a points table and you can connect with friends on there. I have a friend in Germany who, apparently, is learning every language under the sun right now and so I always try to keep up with her.

Dutch is quite hard visually because it’s not said as it’s written. “Goed” is said something like “hhuuid”, with lots of throat-usage while you’re at it (steady, sailor). So if you want to properly learn the language, you need to be using something to learn to read and write it.

 

There are, of course, more steps to this method. But frankly, I’ve not got there yet. I plan to use memrise.com to build on my vocab when I get better, and also to speak with the boyfriend when I can. There’s a Dutch manager (quite high up) who I had to give some documents to the other day. In an email to him today I tagged onto the end that I am studying Dutch and he told me that when he’s in the office next time we can chat in Dutch. EEEEK. I think bullying myself into Dutch situations is the best way to improve; it’s how I got to be good at Japanese, after all.

Lastly, you can follow these two steps and learn languages super fast as long as your language is listed in both Michel Thomas courses and on Duolingo. The listening course is a little limited and sticks to European languages, but Duolingo has an ever-growing range these days (including Irish and Turkish and other cool things like that!)

If anyone has awesome language-learning tools to recommend to me, I’d love to hear them!

Things I Learnt from my Online Depression Course

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So, I did it! Alongside commuting to London every day, I spent 7 weeks at the end of last year taking an online course about depression through Coursera.org. Coursera lets you take university modules for free in LOADS (and I really mean LOADS) of different subjects. Mine was from the US, but you can also study from Russian, Chinese, German…all kinds of universities.

Why did I decide to do this? I have a number of people in my life who suffer with depression. Having depression sucks, but also having a loved one with depression sucks (arguably) just as much, so in an effort to help, I decided to learn a little more. If I can train to be a depression counsellor, that would be great. But that’s both very time consuming and also very expensive so that’s not on my horizon just yet.

I learnt so much on the course, and it was really full-on, especially alongside a full-time job. But these are the things that really stood out in my mind as I studied:

 

Depression and Diabetes are Linked

There is a strong link between depression and diabetes, with each one potentially causing the other.

“The women on antidepressant medications had a 25% higher risk of developing diabetes compared to those without depression.” Source 

There isn’t enough known at this point into how they affect each other, but this is just one more sad item to add to the list of dangers when a person falls into depression (others being loss/gain in weight, stomach issues, suicide and many more).

 

A Good Lifestyle Can Help

There are some things that can really help fight depression – two of which are a healthy diet and lots of walking. Fitness in general is good for someone suffering with depression, but walks can help clear the mind of clutter, fighting the depression demons.

 

Different Cultures see Depression Differently

One of the most interesting things I learnt was how different people view depression.

There was a study of African cultures wherein they monitored people with depression. So, they went to all these different groups of people and said “can you show us a few people who have depression?” And the people said “oh depression! You mean tummy aches!” and then some other people said “depression? Oh, person-weakness!” and “ah! Sleepless disease!” They didn’t see depression as the same thing that we see it as – as something that makes you very sad, but as something with different symptoms. Which makes sense, as depression is such a multi-faceted disease.

This is a very long study that looks into all kinds of things like this.

 

The biggest Cause of Depression is…

Loneliness.

If something really crap happened in your life – a death, stress, a breakup, whatever – who would you talk with? If you have someone in mind that you know you could go talk to and they would listen then you are good. If you could not think of someone who you would go to talk to, then you are at risk.

Friends are important, we all know that. But making sure you have someone to speak with regularly about things, and especially someone to turn to when things are a bit crap is vital to your mental wellbeing.

What can you do if you don’t have a close friend? I know as well as anyone that making friends is bloody hard work, but it’s worth it in the end. Go out there, join meetup.com, go out and find people you like and work to build friendships. If you have people around you that you like but aren’t that close to, then invite them out, or even invite them round. Cook them a meal. Go see a film. I’m absolutely serious because people having close friends is the single most important thing in fighting depression.

 

So that’s the end of my rant (haha…)

I can highly recommend the course and can’t wait to learn something else on Coursera. If you could study one thing, what would you study?

 

How to Work in a Japanese Office

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Learn to behave or feel the pinch!

As promised, I have for you a post on how to survive in a Japanese office, should any of you be as unfortunate enough to work in one. My current Japanese office is very unJapanese, and has hardly any of the following rule in place. However, my last place was very much like all the things you are about to read.

These are all cultural tips I’ve collected after having worked in Japan, and then in Japanese companies outside of Japan. Sometimes companies make these little booklets on how to work with the Japanese, which I find hilarious because they are often very wrong.

Age over talent

Looking to climb the ladder, so you’re putting in extra effort to wow your boss? Save your energy, because your sparkling talent won’t get you that promotion; putting years into your company and growing through the ranks is how Japanese companies work.

While this is meant to show dedication to your company, it often means that useless people sail up through the company without being any good at what they do. I’ve certainly known some 60 year old Japanese men who seem to be doing pretty much nothing (more on that later!)

Don’t break the wa

Whatever you do, don’t break the 和 – the wa, meaning peace. This isn’t regular peace, like flowers down the barrel of a gun or opposing war. This is all about not sticking out and trying to be different in your Japanese surroundings. If there’s something you don’t like, do you complain about it? NOPE! Get your head back down and carry on paper pushing, you crazy westerner! It doesn’t matter if you see corporate mistakes on a ridiculous scale, bad things will happen if you try to act out.

You should be harmonious with the rest of your team, and your company at all times. You should not disagree or try to do something different.

A friend of mine met me hungover in a cafe in Frankfurt sometime last year. I asked if he was OK, and he told me he’d been a victim of “aru-hara”. “You know ‘seku-hara’; the Japanese term for sexual harassment? Well ‘aru-hara’ is alcohol harassment”, he explained. His boss had started to be really mean and spiteful to him when he said he wanted to stop drinking after just a few beers, until my friend had succumbed and drank more than what he was capable of. This is a common thing in companies, and I’ve heard stories from foreign friends in Japan as well of them being encouraged to drink so much that they just tell their colleagues they have an allergy.

Don’t break the wa.

Look Busy All the Time

This was something I noticed while working in Japan – a lot of the time my colleagues just looked busy, but were in reality doing very little. Then, once home-time came, they actually started doing their work – stacking up the overtime hours.

They’re not trying to gain extra money from overtime work – they don’t get paid overtime. They’re trying to prove to the boss that they are going the extra mile, even though the race could have been finished at 5pm.

Another great outcome of Japanese people trying to look busy at work is the “Japanese office run”. You know the kind of run where you’re actually walking, but putting as much upper-body effort into it so to make you look like you’re properly running? Yeah, you can often see that done by Japanese people. Again, I don’t get this so much in the current office; we’re much more chilled and I think it’s probably more likely that I’m the one doing the Japanese office run…

Get Some Proper Polite Japanese

Think you can speak Japanese? Nah, not until you’ve been in a Japanese office, can you know what it’s like to feel the brain burn of Japanese. Pretty much everything you say has to be said in totally new ways, depending on how high above you the person you’re speaking to is. The difference is similar to:

“Yo, morning, dawg”

“Good morning!”

“I wish you a pleasant morning”

“I humbly wish you the most wonderful morning and if it so happens that your morning is not full of sunshine, rainbows and fluffy bunnies, I will offer my life to the gods so that you can forever more enjoy mornings knowing that my blood has been spilled”.

No matter what your level, try to get some polite Japanese phrases down, because they’re always good to impress. For example, before you leave the office, it’s common to say “oh saki-ni shi-tsu-re shimasu” which vaguely translates as “I am so rude as to leave before you, please forgive me”. Yeah, tell me about it. But it’s a good phrase to use, and whipping that out for your Japanese colleagues will always impress.

 

I didn’t expect to be so completely negative with my Japanese office tips – though I guess after my experiences, it’s not surprising. Working in a Japanese working environment can be tough and strict and seemingly without fun, but I enjoy working with Japanese people very much (unless they are old smelly Japanese bosses who need to get with the times), and I do love my current Japanese office and colleagues very much. Last week I found an area of the building I’d not been to before and found a library area with Japanese and English business books. There was a book in Japanese called “Japanese Companies are Pretty Weird”, which I thought was hilarious.

If you’ve ever experienced a Japanese office, I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

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