Gap Candiate Lebogang Makomene, CA(SA) – What I learnt on my first year abroad.

We at Gap Placements love to hear feedback from our candidates on their exciting moves internationally and how they found their experiences. We had to share the fascinating article written by Lebogang Makomeme who was placed by GAP Director Michael van Rooyen  into EY in Holland. She tells it like it is, a must read for anyone about to take their first move abroad.


What I learnt in my year abroad | Lebogang Makomene, CA(SA)

Contrary to popular belief, when I packed my bags one year ago and left south Africa; I was not trying to run away from life; I was not entirely dissatisfied with the way my life was in South Africa, however I did crave a little bit of adventure. I also wanted to give my CV a bit of an edge.

As I write this article a year later, I have come to realize that when you embark on a journey out of your comfort zone, you grow in unexpected ways, both personally and professionally.

Going home doesn’t make you a failure.

When I first arrived in Amsterdam, it was cold and the work hours were rather long. I barely had time to time to adapt to my new life and find my way around the city. I went to work early in the morning, it was dark and cold. When I returned late in the evening it was dark and cold. All the shops were closed by the time I was finished with work. Before I moved here, I did extensive research and expected the long work hours and bad weather and that somewhat made it tolerable.

My friends Emma* and Gillian* had the exact same experience, however they struggled to adapt to their new surroundings and after three months they decided to move back home and they couldn’t be happier. They realised that they value great weather, work life balance and being close to family more than being abroad. Long story short, they both found good jobs back home; they are enjoying the weather and are close to family.

Don’t be too concerned about what people will think when you go back home, yes they will talk but in the end you have to do what is best for you. And if asked why you decided to move back after a short period, you can proudly say that moving abroad has taught you what is most important to you.

"Homesickness doesn’t go away but it gets better over time. You will miss some weddings, birthdays and milestones of loved ones, however do not despair, because the ones that you get to attend will be more meaningful."

You might not like it in the beginning, but overtime you might change your mind.

The first month was exciting, here I was in this first world country - full of hope, promise and adventure. The second month just didn’t deliver, nor did the third month. I was working long hours,whilst looking for a permanent place to live. I struggled to find a hairdresser and I couldn’t find my favourite products in stores. I had to use public transport; I didn’t like the food and I didn’t understand the language.

My frustrations grew and grew. I salon hopped, tried different supermarkets and switched between the different alternatives of public transports. Fast forward to four months later, I settled on a supermarket and a hairdresser. I bought a bicycle which I used for my daily commute; the days were longer; the work hours shorter; the sun was shining and the bees were buzzing 🙂 . I was more positive, I started going out, travelling and meeting people. I was happy and I still am very happy.

Once you make your new home feel like, well, home you somewhat find relief. All the adventure and everything else will follow.

"Being abroad forces you to challenge your position on your views and beliefs, you will unlearn the old and learn the new. You will see new places, adopt new habits, face new challenges and meet new people."

And if over time you still don’t like it, then you should move.

If eight months later you still find yourself unhappy, then yes, maybe you should consider moving back home. I have met people who are constantly moaning about how much they hate the new country, they hate their jobs, they don’t go out, they don’t embrace the culture or the people in the new country,  yet they stay. [Avoid these people at all costs, negativity is highly infectious.] Life is too short to live a life you don’t want to live.

Comparison is the thief of happiness, If home was so perfect, why did you leave in the first place?BUT… Sometimes a country is not the right fit for you; however that doesn’t mean you have to go back home. I have a friend who moved abroad, she hated the new country and felt it wasn’t the right fit for her. She loved travelling and wasn’t ready to go back home, so she decided to move to a country that she thought would be more suitable for her. She is now in that other country and really loves it there and is considering staying there longer than she had originally planned.

Sometimes you will feel alienated and that will teach you that friendships are important, both professional and personal.

Moving abroad improves career prospects back home and abroad.

Moving abroad makes you attractive to prospective employees back home and abroad. A lot of my colleagues and friends that relocated back to their home countries walked straight into positions they would otherwise not have gotten had they not acquired international experience.

In our modern world companies are increasingly looking to hire people who can thrive in new, unfamiliar and changing environments. Working in a foreign country means you have to adapt to a completely new business culture and different professional ethics and that will give you a renewed perspective on how to get things done. This gives you a competitive edge over people who were only exposed to one way of thinking and doing things. Furthermore, you will learn cross-cultural communication skills and as a bonus you might even learn a new language.

"You will learn to rely on yourself to get through challenges. You will be forced to interact with people you wouldn’t ordinarily interact with. This will build confidence and humility."

Moving for a job doesn’t mean you have to stay in the job.

Moving abroad doesn’t mean you have to stay in the job that you moved abroad for if that job no longer fulfills you. Most companies hire expats due to skills shortages in the countries where they are located. If you could find the job at that specific company in that country, whose to say you won’t be able to find a job at another company. There are a lot of opportunities out there, get connected and seek those opportunities. Be sure to read the payback clauses in your contract.

"It takes time to adapt, but over time you will find yourself falling back into the routines you had back in your home country and before you know it you will be living the same old life…and if that doesn’t appeal to you…MOVE!"