Working Abroad: How to Feel at Home in Foreign Lands

Working Abroad: How to Feel at Home in Foreign Lands

It was over two decades ago when I was an overseas student in Leicester in the UK that I first felt myself truly beginning to see the world beyond my tunnel vision out of my birth place, Hong Kong – still a British colony, its last one, at the time. It was a gradual process of enlightenment, but also involved steep learning curves. However, the most profound sense of awakening was evoked not so much from the experiences of visiting new places, speaking a second language, or even attending the school lectures and tutorials as from all the close-up encounters with other students from different lands. Still readily retrievable from my fading memory were vivid scenes of energizing dialogues and lively debates around the long kitchen table on the third floor of the dormitory where I was lodging in. Young ladies and gentlemen from Armenia, Cyprus, Germany, Greece, India, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Nigeria, North Ireland, Palestine, you name it, and of course the Great Britain – including England and Scotland – regularly gathered in the evenings and , amidst gossips, jokes, pranks and laughs, often seriously talked about the world together.

It was through those United Nations resembling social assemblies that I began to be able to make some sense, if not complete understanding, of many of the world headlines at the time, particularly from the tumultuous Middle East. I was fascinated with the conviction and strong sentiments surrounding many of the contemporary political issues. I was intrigued with the passion with which my fellow school-mates associated themselves with matters of life and death related to their respective nations. I was also shocked with, indeed even ashamed of, my utter ignorance about the world beyond my own bourgeois enclave of origin in the late 80s – arguably an era of opulence in Hong Kong. But I felt blessed with those valuable opportunities of real life encounter which, in hindsight, equipped me well for living in many other different parts of the world ever since.

In the past two decades or so, I have had the wonderful experiences of working in various foreign lands outside Hong Kong – Japan, Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, Indonesia – staying between one to three years in each place, and now in the motherland of Shanghai. Of course, I also extensively traveled around the regions in the vicinity to where I was based. As such, I did – and still do – feel like a vagabond leading a nomadic life at times. Indeed I have almost lost count of the actual number of physical moves, including in Hong Kong, that I have made so far in my life time – no fewer than 29 in my estimation. Despite, or because of, all the challenges that came with relocation, however, I had gradually learnt how to feel at home and peace with any new environments I found myself in.

No doubt we gain work experiences along our career paths and may improve our knowledge from reading or further institutional education, like MBA or EMBA courses. But sometimes we may even learn more from interacting with other people directly. So a rewarding way to learning could be from making every encounter, both at work and outside it, which is worth spending a person 's time on meaningful, and making the most of good will possible out of it. That means, other than simply sharing views with other people, genuinely showing empathy to those holding different and even opposing opinions and, accepting and respecting the diversity in background and stance, sincerely wishing other people well. That, to me at least, is the very first and the most critical step to building trust in any relationship. With good faith and will, regardless of geographical and ideological boundaries, almost anywhere can feel like home.

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