Have you ever thought about moving abroad?
When I dreamed about relocating to Madrid, Spain, I imagined a better work-life balance, endless tapas, and amazing travel opportunities a stone's throw from my apartment. What I didn't think about was the difference in work cultures.
When you move abroad, you encounter a new set of expectations and cultural norms that depend on the language, location, industry, and company you choose to work with. It can seem daunting to find the right match, especially with endless options at your fingertips.
But your personal brand is something you take with you into every opportunity, and it's more important than any one job. So, as you embark on new adventures, you'll also want to consider how your online presence may need to evolve depending on your move.
Below, is all the advice I wish I received when I was adapting my personal brand as a freelancer to a new life in Spain.
Research, Research, and Did I Say Research?
Moving abroad doesn't start with a move, it begins with research wayyyy before you leave your home. The options are (almost) limitless, so set aside ample time to learn as much as you can before you pick a new country, city, and job.
Transitions Abroad, a website for expatriates, has an extensive list of online resources for moving abroad. Nomad List is also a great go-to resource, providing a list of cities based on different data points (think, reliable internet connection and cost of living) plus connecting you with others that live there.
Once you have a sense of where you want to move, search for online communities. I joined three Facebook groups before I moved to Madrid, and it helped me to meet people and discover the work culture. Besides social media, try using MeetUp, a site that coordinates, you guessed it, meet ups with others who are interested in the same things in your area.
Is there anyone in these groups who has made a similar move? Keep a running list, and don't be shy about reaching out to connect over video chat. Finding fellow expats in a similar field can help you identify what you may need to change about how you sell yourself, plus they serve as a built-in network once you move.
And even though you're leaving your old country behind (at least for the time being) keep your personal website updated throughout the planning phase, so old (and new!) connections know about your move and can reach out with any tips, advice, or connections.
Find Your Niche
Stepping into a new work culture is an exciting transition. Everything feels fresh, and you have the unique opportunity to build your brand abroad from the ground up. That could mean starting a new website with Squarespace to blog about your travels, or to document your photography. But, a key part of evolving yourself and your brand is finding a community wherever you are.
When I was looking for a professional community in Spain, I started working at a tech-centered, male-dominated co-working space. I began building relationships, but it never felt right for my brand. Although I work with tech companies as a creative consultant, I'm a writer and a small business owner first and foremost. I like to drink tea and write by hand, and I usually wear jeans to work. I knew that if I were going to grow in that community, I would have had to make big adjustments to the way I presented myself and my business.
One day, I stopped by a local co-working cafe in my neighborhood, instead. Two entrepreneurial women manage the space, and it's a relaxed environment filled with dynamic female business owners and multi-passionate creatives.
This space felt like a breath of fresh air and I knew it was the right fit for my brand. Through the co-working space, I met mentors and friends who helped me to discover the layers of work cultures that exist in Spain without requiring a complete overhaul of my brand.
So, when you explore new professional communities, make note of a few attributes that are essential to your current brand. Set the intention to build a work life with those key characteristics as anchors, and you will find the right fit.
Tweak as Necessary
Even though you don't need a brand makeover when you move abroad, you should consider making some tweaks. You'll get a feel for what changes are necessary once you're immersed in your new work culture. Maybe your industry is more formal in your new country, so you'll want to retake a LinkedIn headshot and invest in some formal workwear. Or, you've noticed that people send short emails without introductions or sign offs, so you need to adjust the way you communicate.
It's okay to evolve your brand, in fact, you should. Just make sure you stay true to yourself. Maybe one of Squarespace's new website templates embodies everything you want your new and improved personal brand to be. Or maybe, you write a new about page that is a bit more conversational. Just remember, you're in a whole new phase of your life and your work, so let that shine through with relevant updates and tweaks to your online self.
Making Assumptions Makes a You Know What Out of Me and You
When you make the leap to a new work culture, don't jump to conclusions about the cultural differences. Making generalizations—even ones that ring true to you—won't help you discern the best path forward. I made that mistake when I arrived in Madrid.
Shortly after I moved, I started working with an immigration lawyer in Spain who was extremely unresponsive. Weeks went by and I still hadn't heard anything about the status of my visa. I made the (false) assumption that this behavior was normal, and the work culture lacked accountability in Madrid. But after I asked a fellow expat about her process, she referred me to a lawyer who responds to emails within the hour and is efficiently navigating the red tape for me.
With that in mind, go into every professional experience without preconceived notions. Be open to unexpected surprises and new work standards, but set boundaries. If something seems off to you, it just might be. Use the network you built to clarify norms in your industry and country.
The oft-used saying, “The world is your oyster" couldn't be more true in this day and age. With the rise of digital technology, we have more access than ever to professional opportunities all over the world. And, if you make a plan and keep your mind open, you can honor your brand and find your “place" abroad. So, start researching!