Why did you move abroad?
I moved to Esbjerg, Denmark to become a school principal. I was vice-principal at an international school in Turkey, where my family lived for four years. This is my fifth international school since graduating from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. I started at the Anglo-American School of Moscow, then went to the Ruamrudee International School in Bangkok, then the Karachi American School in Pakistan, then the MEF International School in Izmir, Turkey. I’ve been in Denmark for the past four years.
I’ve been away from Canada for all but one year since 1998. I’ve never had trouble finding work internationally and I feel the whole experience has sharpened my skills as a professional in a way I am not sure would have occurred had I stayed in Canada to teach.
What do you do?
I do the usual principal things – except I recruit teachers from all around the world and likely do much more human resources work than most principals would do in Canada.
Why is your location the best place for you to be right now?
This is a great place to live and work. I have a young family and the system here is very supportive of that – my wife has over one year of maternity leave. To offset this, though, the savings potential here is very low because of high taxes. The air is clean and the streets are safe.
What were you worried about before you left Canada?
At the time, I was so eager to travel that I was completely fearless. Now that I have started a family abroad, I’ve become more sensitive to travel risks. But it still hasn’t stopped us. I wouldn’t worry about leaving Canada for opportunities abroad.
How has the transition been? Any amusing stories?
In Russia, I lived with a family that did not speak English. It was a tremendous incentive to learn Russian. However, late one night after coming home from Christmas holidays, jetlagged and still struggling with the language, I misunderstood the verbal instructions my “Russian mother” gave me about heating up the special breakfast she’d prepared for me to eat the next morning. Long story short: the special breakfast was the dog food her precious poodle had to eat, specially prepared to cure one ill or another. I was supposed to eat porridge from the box. I thought it tasted especially crunchy and that I had to gnaw on the food a bit more than I’d expected. Still, I was full and no worse for wear!
At the start of spring every year, Danes celebrate the new season on Sankt Hans Day. They have big bonfires and almost everyone participates – it’s a very popular event for people young and old. By tradition, a local gives a speech meant to usher in the new season. I was extremely honoured – and nervous – when the local association organizing this event asked me to give the speech last year … in Danish! Well, I worked on it – with some help from my wife, who happens to be Danish – and let ’er rip. It went over well and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
How has this experience been for your family?
Excellent. We’ve had the usual ups and downs that life deals you, but those would have happened had we lived in Canada.
What things have struck you about your location?
Danes are very forward thinking and break nearly all of the stereotypes I had of them. Some Canadians would look down at the socialism practised here but, in many respects, Denmark is far more capitalist and pro-private enterprise than Canada.
Danes are excellent planners and communicators. They see the tradition of having minority governments as a positive: it means more voices are included in the outcome of a final decision; in Canada, we view minority governments as a weakness to be cured by having yet another election. Ironically, the governments/policies here over time are much more stable over time than ours might be.
Have you had to change the way you work in any way to succeed?
Yes, both in terms of cultural adaptiveness but also, of course, in terms of legalities. This is true in every country I’ve worked in. I’m reminded of the failures of characters from the Joseph Conrad novel, An Outpost of Progress, who try to westernize sub-Saharan Africa during the colonial effort. If one can’t, or won’t, adapt to new realities, then we’ll fail in the long run.
Any advice for someone who might want to follow in your footsteps?
Work hard, play hard, be interested – it’s very rewarding when living abroad. I met my wife while we were both working abroad. Being an expat has changed my life.
Do you know an executive or leader who has an interesting career story for My Career or My Career Abroad? E-mail email@example.com