Begin 2018, I was finishing up my literature review for my Biomedical studies. All those years I was looking forward to that particular moment. I’d graduate close to cum-laude, thinking about the biggest celebration of my life. Meanwhile, I was busy getting a PhD position when I decided and moved abroad within 2 weeks. There I was, with a packed suitcase and 2 degrees. Since I was moving to the beautiful island of Aruba where part of my family lives, it seemed no big deal. I could work for a while and come back when everything would be arranged.
Reality check: although I was familiar with my new environment, I had to build a whole new life by myself.
Honestly, I didn’t really have a plan. The only thing I knew was: I’d have a job in a laboratory I had never seen before. I had no idea what to expect. In those 2 years before, I was doing hardcore Neuroscience research. And I loved it. Still, I wanted to know what other things I’d be good at. So I made the leap and embraced uncertainty.
This was one year ago. What an amazing journey! I would definitely do it again. I’d like to share 5 things I’ve gained since working abroad after studies:
1. Confidence level up
Don’t get me wrong. You have to deal with a lot of anxiety and doubts before. Imagine almost all people you studied with starting a PhD right away, and then there is you. I felt horrible that I didn’t take the position I was waiting months for. Taking time to explore other opportunities and making the leap to go work abroad is all but comfortable. But it’s a good thing. I spent 5 years in university without a clear perspective on non-academic jobs. I was curious. Not everyone will be supportive. Some people must have thought that I was crazy. Luckily my family, close friends and colleagues were super supportive (after the shock). Next, I was standing at the airport and all I wanted was to go back. My comfort zone suddenly sounded really attractive.
“Confidence comes with time. It took me at least 4 months to think; Wow, look at what I’ve done so far. After that I grew so much professionaly. You are what you radiate.”
I feel like I’ve made the right choices. Impulsive but well-considered. Transitioning from a student-life to a full-time job by itself is a big journey. You may wonder if my PhD ambition died. No. I’m just even more sure about what I want.
Coming from a country and environment where everything is perfectly organised with unlimited resources, requires a lot of adaptation when things are a little different. For me, working on an island let me realize that most of what we find “normal” is just luxury. You’ll have to improvise a lot. You’ll have to deal with a different culture, hierarchy, politics and a level of dependence that is challenging. It’s a huge test for your flexibility, something that teaches you to get things done regardless of the situation.
3. Open mind and new connections
Moving to another country by yourself literally forces you to open up to new people. I didn’t make new friends over the last couple of years. I didn’t really have to. Back home you may have friends since childhood or highschool. Can you imagine going out by yourself and just start talking to people you don’t know? After a while it gets easier. Those single lunch dates never bored me. I was also lucky to make friends for a lifetime. My lovely colleagues made every Monday exciting. I took Spanish class and learned Papiamento fluently to connect with people more. I traveled to Colombia and practiced my Spanish. Just be open to new connections.
4. Creative soul
Driving home with sunset, looking at the stars on a random Tuesday, hiking or beach on a Sunday, all get your mind in a different state.
“Coming from a country where outdoor life is usually in summer time, let me realize the beautiful simplicity of everyday-life.”
I could be chilling at the beach and listen to the waves when some crazy idea popped up. You probably have been told your whole life to work hard and get your degrees. Guess what, once you get there you’ll think #goals, what now? You may wonder what else there is. Maybe it’s a millenial thing. Sometimes I feel like we’re so focussed on certain goals that we forget to actually live. I got inspired by many people’s stories. Food that tastes too good to be true. Pink sunsets. The moments you’re not even thinking about work is what feeds your creativity.
5. Opportunities; take it or leave it
Last but not least, you’ll get presented by many opportunities. Either you take them or you don’t. Networking, that fancy word which probably gets you thinking about those Friday afternoon drinks back home. I can’t deny it, networking is actually one of the most important skills to develop. In my case I visited companies, other hospitals, enjoyed business dinners or parties, and asked many questions about other people’s careers. I wasn’t afraid to ask for LinkedIn profiles, advice or help.
“One day I could be having a videocall with people from Puerto Rico, and the other day I could be drinking champagne at a health insurance event.”
If you want to know what else there may be for you, you’ll have to approach people. Invest in those relationships. Don’t be afraid. And don’t doubt your level of knowledge.
In the end, think out of the box. Trust your gut. Try something new. Invest in your personal development. Meet interesting people. Don’t overthink. Free your mind. My greatest advice: never let other people doubt yourself. For now, this chapter is coming to an end. Soon I will be moving back to the beautiful city of Rotterdam. I am ready for a new adventure, what about you?
Article by Sade Faneyte, a Biomedical Scientist