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So You Want to Work Abroad?

  • March 06, 2020
  • Patricia Osoko

So You Want to Work Abroad?

I work in-house for a Canadian-based conglomerate in Mexico City. People often ask me, “How did you get your job?” Here is the story of how I got here and some tips for anyone looking to move beyond Canada’s borders.

I have always wanted to live and work in another country. My grandparents were immigrants, my parents lived in Peru before I was born, and I grew up in a house filled with foreign artifacts, music and food. I was also used to relocating, moving every few years as a child.

I was lucky to be exposed to language diversity as a child. I attended a French-immersion elementary school, and then a Spanish school when my dad took a job in Mexico for a year. On returning to Canada, I took advantage of the many opportunities to improve my French and returned to Spanish as an adult.

In 2014, my company started exploring emerging opportunities in Mexico, and I unabashedly inserted myself in the process. I read everything I could find about doing business in Mexico, I strengthened my language skills through conversation classes at my local library, and I developed relationships with the service providers and staff we hired in our Mexico office. I became the go-to person on Mexican corporate administration. And luckily, when the call came, my family supported my move.

While serendipity plays a large part, there are some things you can do to be prepared for an international opportunity.

  1. Develop your cross-cultural intelligence. Canada is an excellent place to learn about other people and places. I became involved in a not-for-profit settlement organization for immigrants, mentoring and coaching foreign-trained lawyers, and later joining the board of directors. This taught me about other cultural norms, as well as how law is practiced in other jurisdictions. Others I know have sponsored immigrant families through their churches or community associations.
  1. Learn another language. Be bold in conversation and don’t be shy about making mistakes. This is the hardest thing for me, as my lawyer side always wants to be precise. I admire people who can plunge into a foreign-language conversation without fear and connect with people. Find a group where you can express yourself without judgment, and practice, practice, practice.
  1. Learn about the how law is practiced in different parts of the world. How are lawyers trained? Do they belong to professional organizations and adhere to professional standards? Are foreign-trained lawyers allowed to practice? Do local customs align with your personal values or will every day be an ethical challenge? What are the cultural norms that will help you get to “yes”? Are “rules” really rules?
  1. Think about what you want. Do you have a specialization that is recognized internationally, such as trade or human rights? Do you want to qualify to practice in another jurisdiction or do you want to apply Canadian law in a foreign location? How can your skills be applied?
  1. Regardless of your age, adopt a millennial mindset. Seek new challenges and don’t be afraid to switch jobs. I have woven in and out of legal and management jobs, building a portfolio of skills that support my goals. Although I think of myself primarily as a corporate lawyer and specialist in subsidiary company governance, I have also worked on business development and strategic analysis. I even led a project to revise corporate policies, which was one of the best development opportunities of my career. Say yes and be flexible. When you land that dream international assignment, you will need every bit of experience, resilience and flexibility to navigate your way. Good luck!

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not those of her employer.

Patricia Osoko is the Legal Director for ATCO México, where she supports operations in energy infrastructure and modular construction, as well as new growth opportunities. She also leads Silver Birch Innovations, where she studies and implements innovation and cultural transformation through digital reinvention, policy and process restructuring. Connect with her on LinkedIn.