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How an exchange can shape you into a future manager

While writing this article I am flying through thin air at 30.000 feet high. I look back on an incredible time, the past four months form an unforgettable experience, which I would like to share with you. I spent these months on exchange at Sungkyunkwan University located in South Korea. The aim of writing this article is to give you a brief view, on how I experienced these months, and why I think every potential manager should go on exchange.

Going on exchange has many advantages both on the short and long term. This article does not serve as a story about huge parties or moments on the beach. This article aims to describe the future value of such an experience. In my opinion going on exchange might be a life changing experience, the impact will logically dependent on who you are as a person and will be moderated by your past experience. Nevertheless, I am convinced that every person will learn some important lessons about themselves and the world.

The changes you experience are of great value for your future personal development. That is also one of the reasons why international experience is so highly valued. So what experiences and events do make an exchanges so valuable? The following sections will provide an answer to these questions.

First of all, imagine that you arrive in a foreign country, you don’t speak the language and you feel a bit lost. But you are not the only person facing this problem, almost every student that arrives will feel the same. As a result, a social opportunity arises, because through getting in contact with one other, you can make life a lot easier. Thus, the first weeks everybody is searching for the people that match their personality, values or interests. When the dust settles, many groups have formed and despite some changes later in the semester, most of the people stick together. This is an interesting process, because on the one hand it forces you to utilize your social skills, on the other hand you learn to assess and connect people. The former is an ongoing process, you make mistakes and learn from them. Some examples to illustrate this.

  1. Patience is not my strongest skill, so in general I expect people to come on time. This simply does not work out with a group of French, Italian and Spanish people. Thus, I was forced to broaden my limits and let loose of the time. There is no point in correcting or rushing people, because it is more a cultural issue.
  2. As a Dutch person you are quite direct and straightforward, some people call it blunt. During your semester you become aware of this danger. You learn to be a bit more careful in expressing your opinion. I have to admit that I also made some mistakes regarding this issue. In my class of political development we spoke about powerful countries taking over / colonise / recapture weaker countries. I mentioned that this kind of happened with China and Tibet. Let’s just say that the Chinese people in the classroom could not appreciate my point of view.
  3. A third social skill that you learn to improve is to lower your boundaries. You will face moments that you are in a room full of people without knowing anyone, while it seems everybody knows each other. This forces you to just start a conversations and do not be shy. Such a skill might be important if you are planning to attend network activities where you have to make contact with unknown people.

The latter is about creating more insight in your ability to evaluate and connect with certain type of people. Also this ability will be of great importance during your future career. Again two examples to illustrate the value of this skill.

  1. Climbing up the hierarchical chain of your company, is not just based on pure skill. I can assure you that some politics are involved too. This means that you should be able to assess people and define which people are more ‘worth your time’. This might sound a bit blunt (I warned you before), but it is a rational thought. It is nicer to spend time with people you get along with, so identifying these people in your chain of command might help you climb the ladder a bit quicker. At the same time, you could try to avoid the people that do not share the same values (i.e. to prevent uncomfortable situations).
  2. After a good assessment it is crucial to understand how you should connect with people AND connect people to other people. The odds are high that you have to work with several departments in your future company. These people have different priorities, different opinions and sometimes completely different personalities. For example, the IT department and the sales force employ different kind of people (generally speaking of course). Therefore, being able to assess people and connect these people is very important in your future career. Such moments also occur during an exchange, for instance if you bring some friends to another event or join unknown people for a drink.

The aforementioned examples are just some of the things you might experience during an exchange. I tried to explain in this article; why an exchange might be of future value in you career. The examples are based on my own experience and might differ per person. But generally speaking, you will improve your social skills, cultural understanding and curiosity about the world. This is also one of the reasons why so many recruiters value an international experience.

This article has to come to an end now because I am hitting the Vietnamese soil soon. I will cherish the experience of my exchange, the memories, learning moments and the unforgettable adventures. The past months were probably the best time of my life, now I will try to extent it a little bit longer. So I fasten my seat belts and close my laptop, it is time for a new adventure.

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