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한국어: 대한민국의 나라문장 English: The coat of arms of S...

한국어: 대한민국의 나라문장 English: The coat of arms of South Korea Español: escudo de Corea del Sur 日本語: 大韓民国の国章 中文: 大韩民国国徽 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This blog is mainly for transitioning into HR, but today I’d like to write more about cultural transition. I’m a huge advocate for working abroad and I truly believe that without global knowledge you are limiting your professional and personal opportunities.

I’ve been back in the States for just over a month now, so between job hunting and trying to stay on top of all things HR-related, I’ve had some time to think about the transition from Asia back to the USA. While the big move has been smoother than I thought it would be, there have been a few unexpected challenges along the way.

In the beginning, the hardest part was getting over the jet lag. They say it takes one day per every hour in the time difference – and they were right. (South Korea is 14-15 hours ahead of Chicago, by the way.) Despite being awake at odd hours it felt almost too easy to get back into a few old routines. Some were nice, like driving to the mall while listening to the radio or spending a weekend with my family. Other habits needed to be restricted, like eating CHEESE for every meal and watching reality TV. I wouldn’t want to further enforce the typical “American” stereotype I’ve fought against for the past 3.5 years.

Everyone had warned me about the reverse culture shock, which I had experienced during previous visits back to the US: the momentary surprise when hearing little kids speaking English, seeing non-Asian employees at the airport, and even the terrible customer service at shops in the mall. Coming back this time around will be even worse, I thought. But the culture “shock” hasn’t been so shocking at all. Maybe I knew what to expect, so this time it’s more like small realizations that pop up now and then that remind me how every day life is very much influenced by our country and culture.

I’ll give you a couple of examples.

One of the “challenges” I found myself facing is the ridiculous amount of CHOICES I have here in America. I was so excited to go to the grocery store once I got back, but when I stepped in and looked just at the cereal aisle, I knew I was in over my head. Likewise, my choices at the movie theater have now increased at least x10. I’m not saying I don’t like having all these choices, but now I wonder how much more of my time will be wasted researching what product I’m willing to spend my money on.

Koreans have just as many wants and needs as Americans, but our economy is less dominated by particular companies and organizations, increasing competition. In Korea, the winners are clear.

Another challenge was every time I came back to the States from Korea I would get a little “shock” or sometimes a bit nervous about social situations. It took me a little getting used to, but after a month or so in Korea I had pretty much gotten all the acceptable social behavior down, e.g. bowing when greeting/saying goodbye, handing something to another person with two hands, facing away when drinking in the presence of elders, etc. So after doing all these things for months and months on end, I had to remind myself that it wasn’t necessary in America.

I remember worrying about accidentally shaking someone’s hand using both hands during a job interview in America, since it is a sign of politeness and respect to do so in Korea and I had done it for so long. While I might still hand something over using both hands, I realized practice makes perfect. And honestly, I’d rather be too polite than not polite at all. Thank you for that, Korea.

Overall, like I mentioned before, the transition has been a smooth one with very few bumps. But this is coming back to my home country, where I spent most of my life. The transition to Korea was much more challenging than anything I’ve ever done in my life. But it was also the best decision I’ve ever made. Sometimes the hardest decisions to make turn out to be the ones that are impossible to regret. I can only hope that my decision to move back to the States and pursue a career in HR will be as rewarding as the one I made 3.5 years ago.

So far, so good.

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Anyone who knows me could tell you what a huge advocate for international experience I am. Whether it’s for work, study, or pleasure, I’m always telling people to just do it — get yourself immersed in this world and its various cultures. But even though 99.9% of the people you talk to will recognize this as a wonderful and beneficial opportunity to grow as a person and expand your social network, very few will actually take the next step.

It’s not easy to go abroad for an extended period of time, and it certainly isn’t cheap, but your international experience isn’t something you will likely regret. My own personal experiences abroad have completely transformed the way I view our world and those who live in it. Did I spend a ridiculous amount of money? Yes. Did I pass up opportunities in my home country? Sure. Would I change anything? I think you already know the answer to that.

International experience will provide you with a highly transferable skill set useful in ANY job. Globalization is a real thing and more and more companies are expanding their businesses beyond national boundaries. Even if your company isn’t international, your fellow employees will come from diverse backgrounds. Your experience abroad will prepare you for interaction with people who share different cultures, customs, beliefs, styles, etc. In order to succeed in your profession, especially one as people-focused as Human Resources, developed cross-cultural communication skills are essential.

Many of the attributes gained from international experience that enhance your professional ability, will provide benefits on a more personal level as well. Through my interaction with people from various backgrounds, I have been able to assess and evaluate my character and how others view me as a person. In order to be successful in building and maintaining professional and personal relationships, I had no choice but to adapt to my current environment and remain flexible and accessible to my peers. As a result, my initial, tiny network now reaches several continents, with contacts in several different countries. (Friends from around the globe also can help you cut back on hotel costs when visiting the area. But don’t forget to return the favor!)

Not everyone can get the chance to go abroad. But the good news is, you don’t always have to travel to gain international knowledge and expand your global network. Getting a position where you work directly with foreign clients or companies can help you build successful international relationships. Also, most companies maintain a diverse staff, providing the opportunity to learn from your colleagues. Just remember to keep an open mind and remain respectful and sensitive to cultural differences and customs.

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