Every year, new developments in the internet, video conferencing and other communications technology make the world an ever smaller place. At the same time, businesses are becoming more and more international. A modern company doesnt have to be very large at all before it has offices in more than one country or an overseas call-centre on one continent serving its customers on another.
Many European businesses make their profits on consumer goods imported from as far afield as China, Russia and India. Because of this it can really pay sometimes in the additional thousands on an annual salary to speak a second language to business standard. Graduates who take a year out to learn or improve language skills often find that in a few years time, theyre speaking that same language around a boardroom table. Spending time in another country can provide a real advantage when it comes to doing business with overseas colleagues or clients in the future.
Learning the language is a good way of getting a grounding in the culture, says Gary Hellen, a civil servant from London who has worked overseas in Bangladesh, Cyprus and Bosnia and is now based in Norway. On a practical level, its handy for everything from reading the labels on food to understanding announcements on public transport.
Learn while you earn
Companies such as Real Gap Experience (www.realgap.co.uk) offer various programmes that combine structured language learning with practical work experience overseas. For example, one Real Gap Experience programme offers the chance to learn Spanish while volunteering with street children and their families in Ecuador.
Volunteers can choose two weeks of language training followed by four weeks volunteering, or four weeks language training followed by four weeks volunteering. Both options offer the chance to spend enough time in the country, communicating with the children, their parents and other locals to ensure plenty of practice. Such programmes can provide the perfect opportunity to learn more about countries such as China, which are catching up rapidly with Western Europe in terms of economic importance.
With the thrill of the Beijing Olympics in the air, now is the perfect time to see the country at its best while learning what may well turn out to be the 21st centurys most important business language. Real Gap Experience offers three-month long sports coaching programmes that include six weeks of structured language training combined with working in Mandarin-speaking schools. Rooms are provided in the teachers accommodation blocks.
Greg Cheney, who worked as an English teacher in China says his programme allowed him, to experience the real China, not just what the tour companies want you to see, which can be a real advantage when it comes to understanding the culture.
Other language programmes Real Gap Experience offers include hospital work in Kenya and construction projects in Guatemala. Seeing what goes on in-country can be a huge advantage for graduates planning a future career with a pharmaceutical company or a civil engineering partnership that operates or trades there.
Changing Worlds (www.changingworlds.co.uk) also offers a variety of placements overseas, including some that can work as direct stepping stones to a career, such as working in India in sales and marketing, journalism or law. With so many European companies now having links with India and even offices there, the more potential employees know about the country and its culture, the more likely they are to get
The same is true of Dubai, another of Changing Worlds destinations. The United Arab Emirates is one of the richest countries in the world and as many European and international companies have offices there, spending a gap year in Dubai and learning how the culture works will give a potential employee a huge advantage.
Graduates who arent ready to think so seriously about their professional future just yet can try combining a working holiday with learning or brushing up their language skills. Websites such as Travel Job Search (www.traveljobsearch.com) advertise jobs in hotels, on cruise ships and holiday resorts overseas, such as working in catering in France or Spain or as a travel rep or travel agent in Germany or Italy. With a growing number of Europeans now buying holiday homes overseas, many estate agents are looking for bi-lingual staff to work in their in-country offices, as well as managing international property portfolios. The experience gained can end up being useful in the most unexpected ways.
Becky Davis, who finished a degree in business studies at Newport, University of Wales, three years ago, spent the summer after she graduated working as a holiday rep in Spain. Id been studying hard for three years and thought it would be fun, she says. When I came back to England, I got a job with a company that imported fruit for a supermarket chain and soon after I started they won a big contract in South America. The Spanish Id picked up served me really well. My boss didnt speak the language at all, so I ended up getting invited to deputise for him at some very high-powered meetings and even went to a conference in Lima. The experiences I gained through that did me some even bigger favours when I went for a promotion.
Graduates who have a more defined career path in mind and want something more closely related can simply apply for their first job overseas and see where it takes them. Job search websites such as Monster (www.monster.co.uk) have international sections offering jobs as diverse as software engineering in Singapore to accounting in Switzerland. Wherever they end up, in the short-term and in their eventual career, the more corners of the global village a graduate understands, the more versatile theyll appear to those all-important potential future employers.
About the author
Jennifer Cole writes for a number of education and careers titles and is former editor of student magazine Club UK.
Changing Worlds www.changingworlds.co.uk
International Monster http://internationalmonster.co.uk
Real Gap Experience www.realgap.co.uk
Travel Job Search www.traveljobsearch.com
Year Out Group www.yearoutgroup.org