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Walden Magazine // Jul 01, 2012

Taking Your Career Overseas

Dr. Ruth Stark ’88 offers a practical guide to teach anyone how to work in another country successfully.

Ruth Stark

Make a Difference. Professionals who accept overseas assignments expect to make a difference—to bring about change. And they do. The very presence of an outside foreigner brings about change and affects the organizations and individuals. So if you accept a position in a foreign country, whether a short-term job or a long-term assignment, don’t worry. You will make a difference. The difference you make will depend in part on how you approach your international job and on how you interact with your local colleagues.Are you considering an international position? If you answered yes, even tentatively, pick up a copy of Dr. Ruth Stark’s How to Work in Someone Else’s Country(University of Washington Press, 2011). In this down-to-earth how-to guide, Dr. Stark offers lessons she’s learned during more than 30 years of experience as a consultant in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Pacific Islands. She demystifies everything from what to pack to making the most of your field visits. In this excerpted chapter, the PhD in Health Services alumna tackles how to make a lasting impact:

Build a broad base of support. Collaborate with all relevant stakeholders and seek their support. Don’t let yourself get identified with a certain group of enthusiastic supporters to the exclusion of others. Involve as many people as possible in your work so it will be sustained when you are gone.

Bring positive energy to your work. You can make a difference with a positive “can do” attitude. Bring positive energy and enthusiasm to the task at hand, and give people hope that progress can be made.

Keep it simple. Don’t make things more complicated than they need to be. Find ways to make it easy for people to implement the changes you are recommending.

Book cover 'How to Work in Someone Else's Country'

Focus on the key priority areas for action. You won’t be able to tackle everything that you think needs doing or changing, at least not all at once, no matter what your job description says. Decide on the few things that really matter and work toward those.

Encourage local decision making.Make a difference by identifying those decisions, big and small, that still remain to be made—and there will be many—by encouraging your local colleagues to make those decisions. Take every opportunity to put the decision making back into the hands of the local people.

Be prepared for change and be prepared to change. Changes will bring opportunities as well as challenges. Write your action plan in pencil and make the most of the opportunities that change brings your way.

Let the country make a difference in you. Whether you intend it or not, working abroad will change you forever. Yes, you will make a difference when you work in a foreign country, and the biggest difference may be the difference you allow to happen inside yourself.

Book excerpt reprinted by permission of the University of Washington Press.

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