Apr 28th 2017

The Lure of the Expat Life: Why People Work Overseas

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Today’s technology companies offer many nontraditional incentives to attract, develop and retain the most talented employees. Flexible floor plans and fun company outings are becoming more common in the workplace, especially in startup environments. But large, well-established companies can offer a more dramatic job perk by providing opportunities for employees to work overseas.

Why Employees Want to Work Overseas

College students want to study abroad for many reasons: to see the world, experience a new culture, learn a new language and get a fresh start. Many adults have these same desires, but a foreign work assignment has the added benefits of a salary and invaluable professional development. When a local position feels too traditional but a job transfer seems too drastic, a rotational stay can be just right. By taking a foreign assignment, employees face exciting challenges that keep their jobs interesting and fulfilling. Or, to put it simply, they get paid to travel to exotic places.

Living abroad can give employees a fresh perspective that is vital to personal growth and professional development. It is a chance to explore the world while learning new skills and gaining international business experience that will continue to be useful when they continue their careers upon returning to the United States.

MQ-4C Triton Systems Capabilities
Northrop Grumman’s MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft system (UAS)

Northrop Grumman offers a two-year Global Engineer Rotation Program to select members of the aerospace division. One participant in this program, Kathryn Williams, says that working as the Australia aerospace program’s technical lead for Aerospace Systems helped her think more broadly about both her personal life and her career. She is spending two years working with Australian government representatives toward a future acquisition of the MQ-4C Triton unmanned aerial system.

“As an engineer who mainly supported programs in the execution phase, working on a program that isn’t yet on contract is a great growth experience,” she says. “The whole perspective is different. Although the concept of promoting customer confidence through technical excellence — combined with strong relationship building — is the same.”

How Employers Benefit

A change of scenery helps boost creativity and productivity, which helps individuals and organizations alike. Clearly, there are many reasons for employees to consider working overseas. Therefore, foreign exchange programs can help large technology companies recruit and retain top talent. Today’s job seekers are looking for a dynamic workplace, and what could be more exciting than moving to a new country? The best employees can also be recruited by competitors or look for new opportunities if they don’t feel challenged. An overseas assignment can help keep things interesting and avoid boredom.

Working Overseas in Japan
(Tyler Tamashiro and his wife, Christina Takushi, in front of the Himeji Castle. (Himeji, Hyōgo, Japan)

Tyler Tamashiro is a Northrop Grumman engineer working to expand the company’s presence in Tokyo. The engineering rotation has given him the opportunity to be the primary technical contact to customers and industry partners in Japan. “As a conduit between Northrop Grumman and the customer, I work to gain a mutual understanding and resolution on a range of subjects,” he explains. “Face-to-face interaction is particularly important in a country such as Japan, where there is a greater chance of details and subtleties being lost in translation.”

Overseas exchange programs like Northrop Grumman’s engineering rotation can help a company expand in target markets and participate in a global economy. Sending employees to live abroad can help increase business opportunities overseas and unite global teams. While international business travel is good enough for many transactions, it doesn’t allow company representatives to go deep enough to make big changes. By living abroad, employees can uncover a country’s uniqueness and discover subtle cultural differences that could make or break a deal.

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