By Kristine Pilegaard, Marine Engineer, Ramboll, 31 years
So it surprises me that today many young engineers don’t attribute much importance to a stay abroad as a valuable career move. Only a little over half of young engineers find it relevant to work in a foreign country at some point in their career, a new study conducted by IDA, DSE and Capax Recruitment shows.
In Singapore, I worked for one of Ramboll's local partners who are experts in port planning and design and operation of ports. As the only Westerner in the office my everyday was a great contrast to my boyfriend's, who was with me in Singapore. He worked at the Ramboll office where there were several young expats from the UK, France and Denmark. I have returned home to Denmark with a backpack full of experiences, lessons learned and enriching insights about myself and other cultures.
In Asian cultures, the whole working environment builds on close relationships that require patience to build up over time. I experienced this first hand when not a single one of my colleagues came to the Christmas party, I hosted after only two months in the company. But after a year when my posting ended, I realised that I had actually become special to them over time. Things take time and that is something you need to respect. If you do your patience will be rewarded manifold in the end. Another cultural difference I noticed is that many westerners do everything with a lot more show than Asians. That can easily lead an outgoing Dane like me to underestimate how skilled my Asian colleagues were. But instead I learned to put on my self-conscious cultural glasses and be very aware of the values that I took for granted.
It is said that a successful trip is a return ticket for a lesson learned. The main lesson I learned from my stay abroad is the affirmation and self-confidence that I am capable. In Singapore, I wasn’t surrounded by senior colleagues so I didn’t have the opportunity to get their quality check on my solutions or to cast a sidelong glance to them during a business meeting seeking their approval of my statements. I had to believe in myself and that gives a brawn, which never disappears. And I would not have gone without that development.
As more and more projects in the engineering industry are international, the ability to navigate in the cultural complexities of everyday situations will become increasingly important. One thing is being knowledgeable within one’s professional field– actually the customer takes this for granted – another very different thing is being a credible advisor and consultant. That is a skill where the customers evaluate you based on feelings, sensations and intuitions. And that's something you can’t learn at the university – you will only truly get this competence by living it in real life.
So dear young engineers. Choose a stay abroad. Buy your ticket to personal development, invaluable experiences, new insights and pure brute force. The whole world awaits you.