In This Part of the World We Call This Small Talk

Published on March 22, 2016 in The Wall Street Journal: Expat:

WSJ ExpatThe Wall Street Journal‘s hub for expatriates and global nomads, recently published my piece on how small talk varies around the world. Here’s a snippet:

When living abroad, your ability at small talk needs to be rebuilt from scratch, along with your knowledge of which topics and comments qualify as casual or intimate. It’s not called an art for nothing.

For instance, in the U.S., directly asking a new acquaintance how much they paid for something is akin to a needle scratch (unless you preface the statement with an apology and the excuse that you’re shopping around for the same item). In the Republic of Ireland, the U.K. and Japan, it’s doubtful that even that qualifier would be enough to stymie the awkwardness. But in China, Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries with large Chinese descendant populations, money isn’t tinged with the same shyness. A casual conversation on which neighborhood you live in can readily lead to the question of how much rent you pay. It’s a question I still stumble to answer graciously.

Read the rest HERE!

WSJ Expat

WSJ

Developing an International Resume

Written in March 2015 for Aureus Consulting:

Applying for a job in a foreign country contains a myriad of communication challenges. How do you translate your school records? Should you use British or American English in your cover letter? What if your references don’t speak the language of the company you hope to join?

Business standards and professional expectations can be tough to navigate, particularly when it comes to the crux of your application: your resume.

The UK and the US wish to know nothing about you but your qualifications in order to minimize the amount of influence your gender or race has on the decision to call you in for an interview. Many people even forgo listing hobbies. Singapore, on the other hand, normally wants a photograph and a date of birth, and you’re more likely to be selected if your experience or previous titles directly overlap with the position you’re applying to. In addition to a photo, the Philippines sometimes go as far as expecting your height, weight, religion, and even parents’ occupations. Be prepared to fax your resume in Japan, where cultural/organizational fit often outweighs hard technical competency. Inappropriate email addresses are grounds for immediately rejecting a CV according to 38% of employers in Brazil and 36% of employers in China.

Research has shown that it takes just 6 seconds for a potential employer to decide to reject your resume or get to know you better, which means no matter where in the world your career takes you, the first impression of your curriculum vitae is crucial. So how can you develop a resume that is impactful worldwide?

Regardless of cultural norms and expectations, some elements of a strong resume are universal. Your contact information should be near the top and your email address should be professional (no “Iheartmartinis@hotmail.com”). Formatting should be consistent and clean – bullets should be neatly aligned; bold and italics are great ways to highlight achievements but they should be used sparingly; and don’t mix and match fonts. The descriptions of your work experiences should be evocative and your accomplishments should be quantified. Don’t say you were the number one sales person without including the net gain you earned for your company. Don’t say you increased the efficiency of production without including by what percent you increased it by. Numbers are clear markers of success in any language.

Put the effort in to make sure your experience is accessible to a person who knows nothing about your country. Every employer in Malaysia will know that Petronas is a Fortune 500 company, but odds are that employers outside of Southeast Asia will not and so it’s up to you as an applicant to include that detail. Generic job titles can also work against you. A potential employer won’t be able to visualize your responsibilities from “Marketing Manager” alone. Even if that technically was your official title, add a qualifier – like “Head Marketing Manager for APAC Region” or “Digital Content Marketing Manager” – to give readers a shortcut.

And lastly… Spell-check. A careless error makes a poor impression in any culture.

aureus

 

“A Single Man” & Baja Fish Tacos

Woo! Recently posted over at PAPER/PLATES is my review of Christopher Isherwood’s short novel A Single Man, which is 50 years old this year and still incredibly meaningful.

Here’s a snippet of my piece:

George not only faces the challenges of an expat but, due to his sexuality, he also has a much smaller pool of people he can trust with his true self. It’s akin to speaking a foreign language well enough for day-to-day interactions but not for communicating deep feelings or complex thoughts. You get along with the people around you but you are forever dogged by the knowledge that their impression of you is incomplete, that you have yet to find a way to say exactly what you’re thinking, and that you have no idea how they would respond even if you did.

You can read the rest of my article and discover why I paired A Single Man with a recipe for Baja Fish Tacos HERE.

PAPER/PLATES is an awesome blog run by my friend Amina Elahi and features insightful literary reviews, interviews with food bloggers, and (the best part) recipes inspired by books. So make sure to check out the rest of the blog while you’re at it!

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5 Things to Know Before Accepting a College Offer

Written in April 2014 for Aureus Consulting:

Congratulations! You’re in! You’ve been accepted to not one but several universities! …Now what? Which offer do you accept? How do you choose between top schools? There are 116 universities in Great Britain and over 4,000 in the United States, so any school in the top 25% is going to offer you a quality education. The key is figuring out which education is the right one for you.

1) Consider the money. I know, I know, a good education is priceless. Except it isn’t. According to The New York Times, the number of students who have to go into debt to get a bachelor’s degree in America rose from 45% in 1993 to a little over 94% today. So even though you might be eager to accept an Ivy League’s offer, take the time to weigh the costs. While the school’s reputation may boost your career in the long run, it might be too much of a burden on your job requirements in the short term (especially as fresh college graduates don’t earn as much as they used to). If schools with similarly reputable programs are offering you scholarships or have less costly tuitions, they might be worth looking into.

2) Don’t be blinded by celebrity. Yes, we all want our resumes to feature the name Harvard or Oxford at the top but just because a school is prestigious doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for your future. Find a program that fits you. Did you know that Durham University in the UK is ranked in the top five globally for Geography studies? And National University of Singapore is in the top ten. Harvard isn’t even in the top 50. So if you have your heart set on becoming the world’s best geographer, Harvard wouldn’t be the place for you. Do your research and make sure a school fits your unique needs before signing on.

3) Environment. Would you prefer a quiet study session on a wooded campus or a fast-paced debate in a busy city coffee shop? Colleges come in all shapes and styles: from tiny rural communities to business-oriented hubs to sports-loving schools the size of small towns. Coming from secondary school, which doesn’t offer much choice in learning environment, you may not know your ideal study setting. Give it some thought. You’d be amazed at how much your surroundings impact your educational experiences.

Bard College

4) Ignore the rankings. Or if you can’t ignore them, then go by brackets instead of digits, since they tend to be less changeable (i.e., a school in the top 20 instead of school number #7). Different publications have different parameters for their rankings and those parameters might be completely irrelevant to what you value in a school. For example, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2013-2014 put the California Institute of Technology as #1 but the U.S. News & World Report put it at #10 and Forbes placed it at #18. You’d go nuts trying to make your decision based on college rankings.

5) Know yourself. The better you know what you want to do, the easier it will be to figure out where you want to go. Take some time to really ask yourself what is important to you. Is it being close to your family? Is it getting a high-paying job in finance? Is it having time to write in your journal? Where do you want to be after university? Believe it or not, those four years will go by fast and before you know it, you’ll be setting off into a career with a degree in hand. Determine what you want that degree to say about you now and your journey will be that much smoother.

 

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