Do I really have to work abroad as a scientist-title

Do I really have to work abroad as a scientist?

Young scientists often get the advice that they *must* work abroad for several years to pursue a career in science. However, is this really true? There are multiple arguments for and against this often-heard advice.

Working abroad has a lot of costs and negative side effects

There are many good reasons to go abroad. However, there are also a couple of unpleasant side-effects of mobility nobody dares to talk about, such as starting a life from scratch, losing contact with your family and friends, putting tension in your relationship, and experiencing discrimination, xenophobia, and racism. 

Base your decision on a sound analysis

If you are considering working abroad or having doubts, read through the following pros and cons to make a balanced decision. Ideally, discuss your motivations and doubts with at least three persons you trust.

Why should you go abroad?

1. Do go abroad if you want to broaden your horizon

The most important reason to work abroad is that you will definitely broaden your horizons. 

You will integrate into a new culture, experience new working environments, and make new friends.

You may reflect on your own cultural traditions because you suddenly realize that many things you take for granted are not at all self-evident for people from another culture, including simple things like how to eat, show affection, and behave in traffic. 

Thus, you will improve your adaptability, flexibility, and communication skills. 

This will help you understand how relative your values and those of others can be, how to negotiate between different ideas of right and wrong, what good and bad behavior is, and how to live your life.

2. Do go abroad if you want to develop a stronger personality and more self-confidence

Working abroad increases your stress resistance and improves your ability to solve problems and improvise. Since many things are not self-evident, when you live in another country, you have to solve a lot of small and intermediate problems, such as opening a bank account or handling xenophobia.

This will make you stronger and more self-confident because you will solve many of these problems in a very short time.

3. Do go abroad if you want to live an exciting live

A beautiful desert representing exciting locations when working abroad

Without any doubt, living and working abroad can be very exciting. You may choose exotic destinations (the Antarctic or the Sahara) or exotic topics (life extension, exoskeleton robotics, or space travel), which will be fantastic memories for the rest of your life.

4. Do go abroad if you can learn something you cannot learn somewhere else

If you want to become an expert in tropical diseases, marine biology of the Antarctic, or developmental aid in the South-East Sahara, it will dramatically help your personal and professional development to work there.

5. Do go abroad if you want to improve your English

English is the international language of science. Thus, – if you are not a native speaker – you will definitely improve your English by living in an English-speaking country such as the UK, the US, Australia (or even the Philippines).

In other countries, you may do excellent research, but your English may even deteriorate because everybody speaks ‘international English,’ which is a charming term for bad English with simplified grammar. However, if you want to live in France for the rest of your life, working in a French-speaking country and learning French is a clever move.

6. Do go abroad if you want to broaden your international network

Whatever your future job will be, having a broad international network is always an advantage. If you work abroad, you will get to know many local people and other foreigners who work abroad with similar motivations. 

Thus, you will get to know many people from other countries.

7. Do go abroad if you want to become a professor

If you want to become a professor, it is nearly obligatory to work abroad. Experience abroad is a necessary qualification for becoming a professor

Most academic research institutions highly value international experiences because a scientist who has experienced the culture of other laboratories, different leadership styles, and cultural challenges (including feeling lost or experiencing xenophobia) typically develops a much broader view of science and cultural differences. 

They understand better the challenges that young foreigners working in their lab will face.

Briefly, you become a better leader because you are able to look through the eyes of persons from a different culture.

Many prestigious universities explicitly demand international mobility from their young professors and do *not* select candidates without international research experiences.

8. Do go abroad if you want to work for international corporations or institutions

This is a no-brainer: If you want to work for an international corporation or institution (for example, the European Commission or other policymakers), you will be expected to have international experience.

Why shouldn’t you go abroad?

In the previous sections, I suggested eight healthy motivations to work abroad. However, there are sometimes strong arguments against working abroad.

1. Do not go abroad for the wrong reasons

If you have no plan, no motivation and no good reason, you should definitely not go – even if all your colleagues or friends are going. Do not follow the herd. The probability that you will experience it as unpleasant is high.

2. Do not go abroad because somebody told you so

Cows representing the tendency to follow the herd

If you are not convinced and somebody else pushes you to go, consider whether it is really beneficial for you and your career to work abroad. If your family pushes you, discuss carefully why they want you to leave the country. 

If your supervisor or colleagues push you, analyze what is at stake for him or her. Maybe they have a hidden agenda. Do not go abroad if you do not have a good plan.

3. Do not go abroad if you leave your children behind

From personal experience, I know that leaving your child or children behind is a bad idea. You will never catch up the time with your child growing up. These years are lost. Being an absent parent is bad for your child and cannot be compensated by having “really fantastic bonding time” during an online meeting, a weekend, or once a month.

4. Do not go abroad if you destroy your relationship

If your partner pushes you to go abroad together, you should carefully analyze the economic and emotional costs. It may be a fantastic experience that may strengthen the relationship. However, if one of you leaves the country, you will strain your relationship seriously.

Online communication is not compensation for hugging your partner. However, your relationship may survive (and even get stronger) when you are away for only one or two years. Read more here: 9 reasons not to go abroad – and how to handle them!

5. Do not go abroad if you work on an alternative career

If you are in the middle of building a business (locally or online), it may be the wrong moment to go abroad. Working abroad always means you must learn many things again, such as how any kind of administration works (banking, passport, visa, etc.), and your technical possibilities may be limited (internet access, legal help, etc.). 

This may substantially delay the success of your business.

6. Do not go abroad if you do not need it for your future career

Analyze carefully whether it really serves your career. If you want to become a professor or work for an international institution, there is little doubt that you should go.

In contrast, if you want to build a local farm for organic food or any other kind of local activity, it may not be the highest priority to work abroad. 

However, the older you get, the more obligations you have (family, local network, local career) which may limit your future possibilities to make up leeway.

In summary, there are multiple arguments for and against working abroad. Discuss carefully with all relevant people whether it is worth it and ask at least five persons in and outside your field about their experiences.

Acknowledgments

I have used AI systems, including Grammarly, Google Gemini, Groq, and ChatGPT, to enhance the English and comprehensiveness of this article. This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a small commission if you decide to purchase through my link. Thus, you support smartsciencecareer at no cost to you!

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One Comment

  1. Quoting you: “Since many things are not self-evident when you live in another country you have to solve a lot of small and intermediate problems as simple as opening a bank account”. There are countries where opening a bank account is very difficult. I know of one, I happen to live there. The language is extremely difficult and the locals create all sorts of problems if you do not speak the language perfectly the instant you set foot in the country. One of the locals (who knows me rather well now) explained: “This is our country, this is our home. We do not let people we do not know into our homes, this is the same with our country. This country is for us and we want the foreigners to go away.”.

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