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Working abroad: First person

Published on: 30 Jan 2009

There are so many reasons to look for work abroad. It would mean seeing another side of the world, meeting new people and experiencing various cultures. It can also sometimes be a challenge, according to some of the speakers at the 2008 Virtual Grad Fair, organised by the publisher of Building magazine.

Coping with new cultures

Speaking at the webinar on “working abroad", Andrew Pratt, associate structural engineer at WSP, said one of the biggest challenges of moving to the firm’s New York office was coping with the huge cultural mix where pockets of people spoke their own languages in the office.

Pratt says he also faced the challenge of adapting to the design codes and engineering rules in the US which are totally different to here.

His motivation was to see new places and meet new people and so he made himself “very flexible,” he says. The opportunity came post 9/11 when the firm won a contract on the World Trade Centre site and Pratt went for the job. “I told them I want to develop high rise structures,” he says. Pratt was offered a one month trial, which he passed, and was located there where he’s been ever since.

The gypsy bug

James Rogers, associate director of the retail team at Jones Lang Lasalle in Shanghai, spoke of his transition from London to China at the webinar. Rogers joined the firm on a graduate scheme five years ago qualifying as a chartered surveyor back in 2005.

“I told them I had the bug to move abroad,” he says. Rogers was transferred to Shanghai in 2007 through the firm’s international staff exchange programme. The process, though, wasn’t easy and involved numerous telephone and face-to-face interviews with his future team.

Now he heads up the retail sector for greater China from 11 offices. “The process is quicker here, and there is generally a huge buzz,” he says. Rogers advises on researching the area well before moving and submerging yourself fully once there. “Be patient, it may not be what you’re used to do.”

Andrew Williamson is a QS at consultant EC Harris. He graduated in 2006 and is now based at the firm’s office in Abu Dhabi in the UAE. Williamson told EC Harris he wanted to work abroad at his first annual review. The firm has many international offices and graduate schemes that cater for this, and so the whole transition process took only four months.

“Work here is similar to the UK; I am based on site and work with the contractor,” he says. Williamson admits the culture can sometimes be a bit of a challenge, especially during Ramadan when no one is allowed to drink or eat during the day. The positive aspects outweigh the negative through. “The advantage for me is that I can work on unique projects and the warm climate.

Read more on the Virtual Grad Fair.