Back in 1990, somewhere between only 10 and 15% of the US population had a passport. That number has shot up to 42% although it lags behind Canada (66%) and the UK (76%). But while it is a mind-expanding thing to visit different countries, it is an entirely different experience to live and work abroad.
Living in another country changes your perspective
When you have one set of experiences you tend to think that is the way for things to happen. You assume that the way they do things at home is the way they do it everywhere. It is a bit of an eye opener when you find out that it is not.
Being forced to consider a different point of view makes for personal tolerance as well as the ability to consider an alternative perspective.
Vacations and Holidays
One of the first differences Americans will experience when they work abroad is a completely different life-work balance and approach to it.
Americans have a completely different view about vacations. Some see it as a badge of honor not to take all their vacation days. It is as if by not taking your days off, you somehow become indispensable.
Elsewhere your days off are sacrosanct. Most countries in Europe get at least 4 weeks’ vacation a year and that does not count all of the other days that are considered holidays which are much more frequent than in the US.
Being in a minority is a major experience
Americans are not used to being a minority population. Even at major international events, there are plenty of Americans. Think of the relative sizes of the US Olympic teams for example.
When you’re in the minority you need to learn the ways in which minorities adjust. Some do it with humor, some do it by sticking to their beliefs come what may. Regardless of the way you deal with it, you have to deal with it.
You may also experience the feeling of not being popular. In America, we assume Americans are popular. It is an eye-opener to see America the object of disdain or outright hatred. It is out there though, believe me.
A difference in how you move about the world
American language usage tends to imply the words please and thank-you by the tone of voice, by inflection and situation. It is not uncommon for a person to hold a door open and for the one for whom it was held to walk through without acknowledgment.
This isn’t rude, ok not acknowledging a door opener for you is, but it is casual. Elsewhere you will be seen as the epitome of Americanism if you don’t thank people or acknowledge them properly. You soon learn in Japan to look at someone’s business card when they hand it to you.
Bringing back knowledge
The best thing about working abroad is what you bring back home with you. You have a greater respect for others and tolerance too. You also might have just created yourself a competitive advantage too.