A crazy number of people pass up the opportunity each year to go on secondments to other countries, especially those of the shorter-term variety. This is something that has me perplexed, so I figured I’d share my own experiences and reasons and let you make up your own mind.
If you work at a bigger audit firm that allows you the opportunity to travel for work I would encourage you to grab it and run, for many reasons:
1. Short-term secondments are lucrative
No jokes, even if you aren’t interested in all the other reasons in this post, get in tune with your materialistic self and go for greed. Depending on the length of your secondment, the benefits may vary, but on my 6-month secondment to Sweden, I managed to travel 15 countries, eat like an absolute glutton and still walk away with more money than I started with.
The way short-term secondments typically work is that you are paid your salary in your home country as you would normally be paid, but you also get your rent and a generous daily stipend on top of that to live off of. This means if you don’t travel you could save all of your salary each month.
Still not enough? Your firm will likely sponsor your flights to and from your secondment destination and, if you’re lucky like me, and additional 1-2 home return flights (or the value thereof).
In my case, fortune favoured me. Being from South Africa where salaries are low, in order to get my Swedish working visa my firm had to pay me more every month than I was getting before. I know… winning!
I could probably end this post now as I’m sure most of you are already convinced. But I won’t, because the best bits are still to come.
2. Travel, duh…
Before I went on short-term secondment, I’d only ever been to one other country, under the strict supervision of my mother. How… fun.
By the time I flew home after 6 months, I’d been to 15 different countries in Europe and walked out of it all a thousand times richer with cultural and human experiences. You can dream about one day seeing the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), or you could let your firm pay for you to make it a hell of a lot more possible.
You can watch Barcelona play Real Madrid at your local pub, or you could be stumbling through the streets of Barcelona as the sun rises after a famous victory; the party only just getting started.
You can read about the atrocities of Auschwitz during the World War, or you could visit Krakow, Poland and feel the emotion as you are guided through in a total state of shock.
I opted for the latter in each of these scenarios and I will never forget these memories for as long as I live. Your secondment could be your opportunity to make your own memories by traveling somewhere you’ve always dreamed about.
3. Grow up, fast
I’d lived on my own before my Swedish short-term secondment, but had never done many things that people across the world consider normal, like ride a tram. One girl on secondment with me had never lived away from home before and had never even operated a washing machine before.
This is the beauty of a short term secondment. It’s a short, sharp trial by fire in which you get to adult your way, without any of your mates or family around to watch in the unlikely event you crash and burn.
The thing is, you’re going to do just fine. And you’re going to feel like an absolute champ when you’re out there, figuring out how to drive in a new place, how to operate appliances when everything is in a new language and how to navigate different transportation throughout the world.
You might catch the tram in the wrong direction a couple of times (guilty) but you’re learning every day. With technology these days – especially tools such as Google Translate – it really is significantly easier to navigate the globe than it ever has been
This is time for you to embrace your adult self with much lower risk than you might think.
4. Appreciate your home more
When times are tough at work, it’s easy to slip into the trap of constant complaining and always thinking the grass is greener on the other side. I lived in South Africa for most of my life and we have a whole host of other things to complain about.
What the secondment did for me was to give me a whole new perspective.
It showed me that every office and every city in the world will have its share of problems. I loved every moment of my time in Sweden, but would I live there long-term? No.
My time there only made me miss South Africa more. I realised how much I appreciated and missed the warmth; both from weather and people. I missed driving everywhere. I missed the passion of South African people in everything they do, even when those things are… questionable. I also realised that at our office in South Africa, we were incredibly good at what we did; perhaps among the best in the world. After years of slogging it out and even bearing a bit of resentment at times, I couldn’t wait to go back to these people who were absolutely crushing it, day in and day out.
When in a new place, you might quickly realise that not everyone in the world is easy to get along with and not every place in the world is necessarily better than your home.
If you don’t plan on moving elsewhere, take this time to reset your perspective on your home. I can almost guarantee you’ll come back with a different view.
5. Expand your network
On my short-term secondment, I found it a little difficult to make true friends. This says a little bit about the Swedish culture (which is often a little more reserved than what I’m used to) and also a little bit about what it’s like to move to a new place.
Having said that, I can honestly say I walked away with more than a handful of great contacts and, dare I say it, friends for life. We may not chat every day, but I’ve stayed in touch with many of these guys and am convinced that there’ll be several beers shared down the line, in one place or another.
The world is truly becoming more of a global village. Thanks to the ease and lower cost of transport, fewer language barriers, etc. you really might be working or meeting up with someone you met overseas far sooner than you expected.
Oddly enough, the contacts I made in Sweden have helped me in more ways than one since moving to Australia; something I would never have expected!
One of the great things you learn on secondment is the nuance of communicating with different people from a range of backgrounds, who might speak different home languages than you do or have different beliefs. Negotiating these circumstances and building meaningful relationships in a foreign country is one of the greatest thrills I’ve experienced.
Use your short-term secondment as an opportunity to build a network. You never know when it’ll come in handy.
Well, what are you waiting for?
We’re quick to lament our low salaries and the fact that it can feel like we’re selling our souls to our respective organisations. Let’s not be so quick to forget that travel opportunities are often part of “the deal” and that there aren’t many people in the world who are lucky enough to get those same opportunities and be paid more for them. In my mind, these opportunities are worth my annual salary several times over.
If you haven’t been on a short-term secondment, what are you waiting for? Get your name on the list?
Been on one already? Apply for another one while you still can. 3-6 months is way less time than you think and if you don’t have a serious reason keeping you grounded, find your wings and go get yourself some culture.
Have you been on a secondment before? Did you love it or hate it? What was your biggest takeaway? Let us know in the comments!