Guidelines For a Single Man on Foreign Assignments

There are many advantages of traveling around the world and working in exotic locales on foreign assignments. But it has its disadvantages, too. A single man’s foreign assignments can get lonely, the food isn’t always so healthy, there’s often the threat of danger, and he can expect to work long hours. Here are some guidelines for a single man such as an engineer or computer professional working on foreign assignments, realizing that assignments vary greatly from the hours worked to the location.

The recent civil strife in Thailand proves that no place is immune to violence. Bangkok, the veritable fun city has recently been through weeks of civil unrest and the US Embassy there was besieged by demonstrators. Many foreigners have a false sense of security during political unrest and freely walk the streets and even take photographs of the goings on. In Bangkok, Japanese and Italian journalists were killed while filming the demonstrations. Many tourists (and expats) were lucky they weren’t. Don’t take any chances-avoid the areas of unrest and find a way to bypass them if it’s in they’re in the path of your workplace.

A single man’s foreign assignment can get lonely, there’s no doubt about it. You need to make some friends and hopefully find a girl friend (preferably a caring person and a good cook). With all the stress in the international workplace it’s extremely important to have companionship and a social outlet. They say “there’s no place like home” but you can try your best. Don’t live in an apartment, hotel or house that doesn’t say something about you. Bring photos of you and your loved ones in your airfreight. Include some of your favorite hardcover books, music, and magazines. Ask your girlfriend to help you cheer the place up with plants and flowers. Join a club, go to church, and cultivate friendships with your counterparts at work. If you have servants, be careful. They are generally underpaid and sometimes have sticky fingers in the kitchen (and elsewhere). Just to be safe, obtain references and if possible talk to their previous clients. Monitor your foodstuffs, especially staples such as sugar, flour, and grains.

The single man will probably find himself eating in restaurants much of the time and this isn’t healthy. Restaurants do whatever possible to make the food taste good and this can include fats, MSG, and the like. This isn’t such an issue in Asia but in Europe especially, it can be a problem. Be brave and learn how to cook some of your own meals unless you have a servant/cook or a girlfriend who likes the kitchen. You should counteract the heavy food with plenty of exercise. Join a health club. Jogging is not recommended in many places overseas. Ask your foreign counterparts if it is safe in your neighborhood.

You will probably spend a lot of time of time at Starbucks (there are close to twenty thousand franchises worldwide). It’s a great place to relax and meet people or read the International Herald Tribune and the local rags. Stay away from their desserts (make sure you have some energy bars in your backpack) and try the “non fat” latte in the tall size (12 ounce). Just sip on it slower and longer.

Unfortunately, in the international workplace the work hours are often long and days off can be few and far between. The first weeks of your assignment determines how valuable you will be to your foreign counterparts. Work your butt off when you first arrive and cultivate friendships at work. If you are just on TDY for a few days or weeks the same holds true. If your foreign partners see how great of a worker you are they may ask your US boss to assign you there for a couple of years. By shining in the first weeks it might get you some time off down the road to tour the country. As mentioned, the single man needs to learn to deal with stress on a foreign assignment. It’s extremely important to deal with this when you first arrive. If your assignment is a year or more it’s recommended you immediately enroll in a language class (your company should pay for it). You should evaluate the workplace and see where you can best utilize your time and where you will might fit in best (this is especially true of a startup). During this time it is also crucial to maintain good communication with your US boss.

Despite the downsides the single man can enjoy foreign assignments if he realizes the pitfalls and learns to work around them. The advantages far outweigh the disadvantages of foreign assignments and they are heartily recommended. Balancing your life overseas, utilizing good time management, creating your own nook, and learning to deal with your foreign counterparts (and their language) is paramount. Follow these guidelines and you are sure to have a rewarding experience on foreign assignments.