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Why World Travelers Make the Best Workers

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My little sister and I had decided to go to Morocco. I was a junior in college, and I was studying abroad in Spain. She came to visit, and she figured that since we were already in that part of the world, we might as well go to Morocco.

So we went. We took a boat across the Mediterranean, then we took a bus to the border. We walked across the Moroccan border—women in one lane, men in the other.

We got to the other side. We did not speak Arabic or French, the local languages. We did not have any local currency. We did not really know where we were going.

There were no “Welcome to Morocco” visitors booths on the other side of the border, and no guides—just 50 cab drivers rushing at us and yelling in languages we didn’t understand.

But we went onward. Those days in Morocco redefined travel for me. We took buses that should have broken down decades earlier. We stayed at a five-dollar hotel that may or may not have had running water. We had no way to communicate with the outside world.

And yet…it was a wonderful experience. We got ourselves lost, and then we found our way.

If you haven’t already, you should try it one day. Getting lost could make you a much better employee.

The Case for Chaos

Here’s a secret: those who’ve gotten themselves lost when abroad—and particularly those who’ve found themselves in trouble—are often the ones who know how to stay calm when everything goes wrong at work.

And I promise you: One day, everything will go wrong.

Some people rise up in those situations. Some people blow up.

Don’t be the latter.

Some skills you cannot learn at school, and this is one of them. School cannot teach you how to keep your head on straight in a bad situation.

The only way to learn that is to put yourself in weird situations and try to find your way out. And the best place for that is abroad. If you’re lost in Morocco or China or Saskatchewan, you might not be able to rely on the smartphone in your pocket for answers. You might have to (gasp!) use your own intuition and resourcefulness to fix the problem.

But what’s wonderful is that once you’ve figured out how to solve a problem under the weirdest of situations, you can find the confidence to deal with stress at the office. You can probably fix whatever’s wrong back in the real world.

Step Outside Your World

Here’s another thing world travelers do well: they’re often willing to step outside their comfort zones and try new things.

That’s a hugely underrated skill. Many of the best workers are the ones who are willing to go way outside the box to find answers. They’re also often the ones who’ve done the same thing abroad. Anyone who’s ever had to talk their way out of a weird situation in a language they only half-understand knows what I’m talking about.

That’s why I make a point of working with people who have had experience abroad. And it’s why I’m leery of working with those who don’t travel—or those who are just bad travelers. If you’ve ever watched an episode of The Amazing Race and seen a team blow up at each other when the littlest thing goes wrong, you know the kind of people I’m talking about. Those people are fun to watch on reality TV, but not so much fun to work with.

I’ll take the coworker who’s gone abroad and stayed cool when things fell apart over the reality TV star anytime.

How To Get Lost Abroad

So do me a favor: the next time you travel abroad, spend an afternoon without a map. Spend a day without a full plan.

Let yourself get lost. Let yourself be curious.

Let yourself find your own way.

I promise you: one day, those skills will come in handy at the office.

Now, I don’t encourage you to make the travel mistakes I’ve made. I don’t recommend that you intentionally get yourself into significant trouble abroad.

But if you do, and if you survive it and stay composed along the way, you’ll have an answer the next time a potential employer asks you how you work under pressure.

“Well, that one time in…”

Dan Oshinsky (@danoshinsky) is the founder of Stry.us, a band of reporters in pursuit of great storytelling. He blogs about doing great work at danoshinsky.com.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1227421880 Byetool Husna

    the feeling of being lost in a city without map and without knowing their local language is scary. But the situation and environment push you off your limit to survive, how creative we are to find our hotel/location without map and the way we communicate with local people that don’t understand anything except their own language. Once we found the hotel/places of interest….it is a sweet success ever! :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=15920947 Dan Oshinsky

      Totally agree! Thanks for sharing your story!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1075860124 Bert Walker

    I don’t know, I worked/lived in 2 foreign countries, visited a third, and…just not feeling the ‘go get lost in a foreign country’ spirit of adventure-thing, anymore. I’d like to see Japan, someday, but that’s on the other side of a couple thousand dollar vacation budget and time off to match. Want to see Honda, Mt. Fuji, and Tokyo.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1278486611 Matheus Mello

    Hey @Dan Oshinsky, awesome story! I really feel that way too, regarding not only to work but as to life in general, definitely travelling made me a better person and makes me want to improve everyday as being able to see the world, people and their relationships in a totally different view. I invite you to check our roadtrip from Canada to Brazil @ Sexy Panchita… Cheers

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=67900071 Amelia Brandt

    Totally agree! I’ve heard feedback from coworkers that it’s hard to ruffle me… I never thought that I might have learned that during my time living and traveling abroad but I guess it makes sense. I do know that staying calm while traveling, especially when you speak little or none of the local language, is something you have to build up over time with lots of practice :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=569963326 Tess Brancato

    In 1983-84 I traveled extensively while studying abroad only speaking English. I had wonderful experiences getting lost and finding my way. No employer has made my experiences a reason for hiring me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=125739494150763 EiAbroad

    Study abroad gives students that competitive edge, making them more attractive for any job. You will now have a story that stands out in an interview and skills that are useful when working. Another GREAT option is interning abroad. http://www.EiAbroad.com offers all inclusive internships abroad opportunities! Check us out :)

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1563720055 Ben Paviour

    I agree with the general argument that travel has enormous potential to help your career. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I don’t trust people who haven’t done it. They might have survived other sorts of personal chaos and might be just as levelheaded if (when) things soured. And I’d argue people who get accustomed to the nomadic lifestyle can become almost as complacent as cubicle dwellers. That lifestyle can become very familiar and easy if you do it long enough.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1012141042 Linda Myers

    YOU get this, Dan, and you’ve clearly stated why. I get this because I’ve traveled all seven continents and worked on four, and have loved (almost) every moment. However, I do agree with Tess and Ben. It is our job to find ways to make this work for us without coming across as arrogant since not everyone can manage to make this opportunity happen, even if they want it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=698266172 Sarah Marie

    I did an amazing study abroad on Semester at Sea (Spring ’09 woot!) and in Russia, among the various places I have ventured to on my own. Nothing can change someone so deeply and being transplanted from their version of “normal” and “the usual” and being placed in situations where you cannot hide, have no idea what is going on around you, and figuring it out as you go. I hold my experiences and those that experienced that with me, as the most important lessons and bonds I have learned thus far in life, and a definite asset in my future career. I learned to lust immerse myself in something completely strange to me, to problem solve without a cell phone, to survive and fully experience my surroundings and to just shrug and say “well fuck it” when something problematic posed itself. It was absolutely amazing and whimsical and something that will never leave me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1127887002 Sarah Simpkins

    @danoshinsky Great Post! As someone who has done quite a bit of studying abroad and traveling in college, I couldn’t have said it better myself: “the next time you travel abroad, spend an afternoon without a map. Spend a day without a full plan”…

    Makes for the best adventures!
    Sincerely,
    @sarahdsimp (memoirsofamillennial.com)

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1007861654 Alan Hoffberg

    As an avocation, I became a pilot and fly medical related missions for a a non-profit organization. While I do not have tens of thousands of hours flying experience, I acquired and developed the skills to fly in weather which most low time (and some high time) pilots hesitate to do. It is the learning how to handle situations outside the comfort zone, which includes planning during the (ad)venture and adjusting course as necessary.

    Traveling abroad locally in an unfamiliar area also works as a training ground.

    And yes, that is a live lion I am touching while during one of my many trips to Africa.

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