The Cool Graduate's, Elizabeth, founder recently moved to Malawi to run The Responsible Safari Company. She's keeping a diary of the adventures involved in working abroad...honest chatter from graduates for graduates!
After the week that I’ve had, I would like to express how, if you find the right job, working abroad can push your professional development more than any job in the UK. Three years out of university, I am the General Manager at a sustainable travel social enterprise in Malawi. This week alone... I’ve coordinated Malawian kids teaching British kids how to recycle paper, learnt about the complicated Malawian tax system, hunted down and coordinated the delivery of lost luggage for clients, disputed the definition of fully comprehensive car insurance after a tyre exploded while out in the bush, overseen the processing of visas for 17 school students arriving in country tomorrow...and amongst all that I’ve welcomed my newest recruit into the office and started her training...Needless to say, I’ve just got home and poured myself a large glass of South African wine!
When you live and work abroad, your job is not just a job. It’s not just a means to an end. It’s not just a way to pay the rent. It’s not just a 9-5. It’s usually the whole reason you’re there. It means that, without even meaning to, you meet many other people who are so passionate about what they do because they’ve upped sticks and crossed the world for that specific job, just like you did. Living, not just passing through, in this environment means that you are surrounded by really interesting people. And meeting people is so easy. I work with an amazing team of Malawians who like me, are all young, enthusiastic and learning. Believe it or not, there are also many young graduates from around the world working here in Blantyre, Malawi. My housemate is a French engineer working on a World Bank funded project in flood risk management, I’ve got British friends working in NGO food distribution projects, a Malawian friend is setting up his own overland touring business and I’ve met business consultants from Oxford helping Malawian entrepreneurs.
There’s an atmosphere among my young Malawian colleagues and the international graduates; we’re all here to work our bums off, for something that we believe in. We are working for, what we believe, are the right reasons. We are working because we care. We are working because we want to suck as much out of life as possible. We are working because we want to progress as much as we can and try to be the best person that we can be. Did the careers advisers even mention this type of a career as an option at your university? No? I didn’t think so…
Working hard is balanced by amazing personal experiences during my spare time. Outside of work, just this week, I’ve had my second Chichewa language lesson, I’ve discussed Malawian fish farming with a Cool Graduate interviewee – Dave Bargh, I’ve learned how to make ‘mandasi’ (fried dough balls), I’ve collected fresh jasmine flowers, and I’ve been to see a litter of puppies in the hope of getting myself a little Malawian canine companion.
The image of millennials abroad can too often be associated with culturally inappropriate behaviour and the disgustingly arrogant ‘white saviour’ complex (have you seen Saviour Barbie?!). I’m sure I unknowingly make the odd cultural faux-pas, and no, I unfortunately don't yet speak the local language, yet my experiences from the UK and living abroad are really helping me manage this busy social enterprise…the international exchange that happens every day at work is what's so interesting. The experiences you can gain from throwing yourself in the deep end into the right job in another country are immense…and intense.