David Olsen comes from the land of the hobbits - New Zealand. He was educated in New Zealand and has a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering, with Honours, from University of Auckland.
Currently, David is working as a Composite Engineer at Gurit Ltd on the Isle of Wight in the UK. This is a company in the renewable energy sector, and David is mainly working on ocean-energy projects.
For those of you that are considering moving abroad for your career - do read on.
So it all started when...
We were enjoying dinner with some British friends when the first hurdle presented itself. My wife, and I, had been excitedly telling them that I had been offered an opportunity to transfer to the UK and we were seriously thinking about taking it up! 'That's fantastic!' they said, 'where?' I told them that my company's UK office was on the Isle of Wight. Then three things happened; any mouths full of wine emptied - spraying out of pursed lips so they could laugh properly, then one composed herself enough to say, "don't you mean the Pile of Shite" - said in that 'clever' way Brits do so that things rhyme, then there was more laughing. Not exactly the enthusiastic response we were hoping for!
Professional and personal decisions
The days that followed saw us really questioning whether making this move abroad was the right step for us, both professionally and personally. Sure, the work prospects for me in the UK were really appealing - but I had just spent two and a half years working my way into my desired role in NZ where I was feeling competent. Would a move add more to my career than solidifying my role in NZ? And in our personal lives, should we be guided by our friends initial response and worry about what life might be like on a "PoS"? How can you know these answers before you even get there?
The short answer, I think, is that you can’t. We would never be able to predict the long term outcome of staying or going - either option carried with it some element of risk. We were really struggling with the decision before we received some timely advice from a friend who suggested that you don't often regret the things you do in life, rather the things you don't do. This helped clarify the bigger picture for us - we decided this was one opportunity we did not want to regret passing up and so got on a plane to find the answers for ourselves.
Moving to the end of the world
Fast-forward two years and we find ourselves still living and working on the Isle of Wight and able to offer insight into working abroad by sharing some of our experiences.
One key thing we've learned from the last two years is that variety is critical, especially if you are a recent graduate. Early in our professional careers I think a key focus must be on exposing ourselves to a wide variety of experiences. Most of the positives we identify from our time abroad refer in some way back to this simple concept. In our experience, living and working abroad might just be the ultimate variety generator.
In the past two years I have been exposed to a greater variety of people, ideas, methods and working cultures than I would have otherwise. When I started work in the UK it was immediately obvious that they had ideas and ways of doing things that were quite different to those I had learned in NZ. Being able to experience these differences is critical to our professional development; after all, who is to say your current method of working, whether learned at university or on the job, is the best if it's the only one you've tried? Working abroad helps foster an open-minded approach to work where ideas can be challenged and our working style developed - a huge advantage.
Where is your 'Hollywood'?
In some instances staying in our home country can limit the scope of work we find ourselves able to get involved in; NZ for example is a fantastic place to find work at the cutting edge of the dairy industry but would not be a smart place to try and extend yourself as a budding movie actor (unless of course you look like a hobbit). Perhaps your target industry has its own 'Hollywood', and a move there would give you better access to the work you love? This has certainly been true for me; some of the most rewarding and motivating projects I've worked on to date have sprung up in these past two years, and would not have been available to me had I stayed in NZ.
I have no doubt that working abroad has developed me professionally, but has there been a personal cost? Looking back, many of the fears we had about the move were actually personal - Would we find good friends? Would we enjoy living on an island? What would we do there!? These were the big unknowns.
First important step - meet new people
I don't think many people feel entirely comfortable arriving to a new place where they don’t know anyone; it was no different for us as we stepped off the ferry into a deserted cold raining night....what have we done?! Meeting people was a sure fire way to shake off these let's-just-go-home feelings. The fact that one of us had secured employment before arriving was a huge benefit in this regard. In those first few weeks we were able to met people through my new colleagues. After a few months we had met a good group of friends, the Island gradually began to feel less foreign and we could settle into discovering a new part of the world for ourselves, a place we now love to live. We have a strong sense of achievement in creating a life independent of the comforts and security of home.
So, these are some of our experiences from a chapter of our lives that is still being written. Was the move good professionally? Definitely. Was this achieved at the expense of our personal lives? Definitely not - in fact, quite the opposite; we have felt real satisfaction in discovering another place in the world to call home - an experience we will never regret.