Mika Launikari


Working abroad increases self-awareness

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In the past weeks and months I have worked hard on sorting out the data collected earlier this year for my PhD research through 20 in-depth interviews with staff members at three European Union agencies (i.e. Cedefop in Greece, Eurofound in Ireland, European Training Foundation in Italy). Parallel to this I have been in the process of creating a theoretical and conceptual framework for my doctoral dissertation. In broad terms, the aim of the research is to gain a better understanding of how working at an international level influences professional competences and personal perception of life.   

What gets filtered through from the interview data is that the respondents described working and living abroad as a life-changing experience. Many of them were using expressions such as “I would be a totally different person had I not moved abroad” or “I’ve learnt so much about myself and about life during these years outside of my own country” or “It has not always been easy, but I do not regret that I took the step to go abroad”. Somehow all this gets crystallized in a heightened sense of self, in an increased level of self-awareness as becoming exposed to a different reality often redefines us human beings in one way or another.   

What we learn with difficulty, holds on longer

If we consider self-awareness as a meta-level competence, then it becomes the key to learning and developing other important competences. Following this line of thinking, we could propose that the clearer our sense of self is, the better decisions we are able to take in the professional and private spheres of our lives. Knowing that we are constantly creating, re-creating and co-creating our reality (or our multiple realities), it is therefore essential to take time to reflect on who we are and what our personal and professional preferences are. Doing this enables us to construct a broader and deeper view of ourselves.

As regards a professional career abroad, it is of course not only about self-awareness, but about a wide range of skills and competences that are required for good performance at work. Yet what becomes critical here is that moving to another country and being uprooted from one’s own well-established network of social contacts back home, normally means a loss of safe and validating private and professional relationships. This fact was emphasized by many respondents upon entering an international working and living environment for the first time. They placed a high value on having solid learning-to-learn and career management skills as a way to tackle and overcome numerous challenges simultaneously. In summary, the difficulty coefficient usually increases, when the foundation of life changes and our adaptability to new circumstances becomes a critical success factor.  

Validating and differentiating oneself

The way we see and identify ourselves with other people and phenomena defines who we are as humans. Much of our self-identification is rooted in our past and present experiences, but not only as also our future aspirations contribute to the person who we are and who we aim or wish to be later on. Also speculating about who we could have been, had we chosen differently in the past, is an additional dimension in our self-evaluation.

It lies in human behaviour to constantly look for finding validation for oneself and that way situate and justify oneself in relation to all the others. For instance as some of the interviewees reported, going back home for holidays was seen as a most self-validating experience after struggling with an unfamiliar culture abroad. Simply having the opportunity again to be among “one’s own folks” was psychologically something empowering and mentally soothing. It seems, though, that through chaos and confusion within oneself and with the outer world, more self-clarity can be obtained in the end in relation to getting more insight into one’s personal values, beliefs and attitudes.

Finally, living in another country and working in a multicultural setting also seem to make people discover how complex they are as human beings and how many different and distinct layers of being human they have. For many interviewees exploring one’s own self-complexity within a new context has been a fascinating and rewarding learning process. Several respondents also indicated that while they have been exposed to interaction with new people from diverse backgrounds, they have introduced and created behavioural patterns that they did not necessarily use in their own country. On the one hand, this has been a way to survive, on the other hand, through such self-differentiating experiences a more evolved sense of oneself has emerged.

See also: Working in an international environment Short article by Mika Launikari (Euroguidance Insights Newsletter Nov 2015)

Photo: www.philosophy.school.nz

Need a professional change? Reinvent your career today!

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Turbulent times in working life challenge our sense of familiarity, security, safety and certainty. In this increasingly competitive and fast-paced world living in one’s own professional comfort zone, where all activities and behaviours fit a well-established daily routine, is not necessarily possible anymore. Those of us, who can step into the discomfort of uncertainty by taking risks and moving to new directions, will not only reap the biggest rewards, but will be able to survive professionally.   

The best you can do is always to be interested in developing yourself professionally. Entering new avenues in working life is much easier, when you systematically maintain a good and solid level of employability. Remaining employable throughout life means that you have the overall capacity to function in a job and be able to move smoothly between jobs and careers.

Yet the biggest obstacle for most people is self-doubt and fear of failure in relation to new professional challenges. Needless to say, any job or career change normally results in some stress and anxiety as we are not familiar with the new circumstances and may fear of losing control over the situation. This feeling of fear is only humane and will subside gradually.

For initiating a career change, you may consider these points:

What do you like doing and what are the things you do well? Make a list of your strengths and another list of your passions. Also discover what gives you joy in life, then determine your goals accordingly. Research career fields that would fulfil your passion and strengths. Maybe you have transferable skills that you can apply in a creative way to an area other than you are currently involved in.

What are your future career aspirations? Define the steps that are required to bring you to the desired job or career path. Maybe you need to broaden or deepen your skills and thus pursuing further studies will be high on the agenda. For this you may wish to consult a professional guidance counsellor or a vocational psychologist.

Is your professional profile recognizable? A good way to articulate your skills, experience, knowledge, and overall value in the eyes of potential future employers is to create a personal brand that helps you stand out in the crowd. Make an effort to put your achievements forward in a concrete and transparent manner (e.g. your CV/LinkedIn profile, your personal website).

How do your networks look like? Expand your personal and professional networks to include a wide range of different people as through them you can discover completely new career opportunities and get a broader overview of what is actually happening in the labour market.  These days up to 80 % of jobs are gained through networking instead of any other job search strategy. Also see how your network contacts could support you in promoting and marketing yourself.

Are you 100 % committed to what you want to do? If not, simply go on staying in your comfort zone! But if you really want to redesign your career, accept the fact that reinvention at any age can be a little frightening and it may call you to leap empty-handed into the unknown. But always remember, giving up the old and obsolete will bring you something much more valuable in the long run.  

Photo: www.griffith.ie/about-griffith/blog/open-new-doors-2015-your-business-career

A nationwide companionship to help refugees and asylum-seekers

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This week I participated in a seminar in Helsinki that was used as a public consultation among stakeholders across Finland who are dealing with migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers. These stakeholders represented public and private sectors as well as NGOs. The main aim of the event was to generate views, initiatives and proposals to be included in the new National Programme for Integration and Migration that the Finnish Government aims at putting in action in the coming months (during 2016).

At the seminar the lively discussion with active exchange of experiences and open knowledge sharing was not only addressing the current state of affairs, but to a great extent looking into the future. The burning issue at hand was the numerous refugees who have been arriving in Finland in the past few weeks. Yet the views expressed were more focusing on how to support the easy access of these people to the Finnish labour market rather than problematizing their presence at the reception centres throughout the country.     

For the first time in my opinion, there was an intention to do things together (bottom-up and top-down), to do them well and most importantly to jointly work together towards a common goal. This is definitely needed as the financial resources in Finland are diminishing and better targeted and coordinated measures to help arriving migrants are in high demand. If only all actors will pull together, miracles will happen, and everybody will benefit from that.  

The concept of companionship is used to describe the way the national authorities wish that the cooperation across actors and sectors will look like in the future. No stakeholder alone can achieve much, but together we are strong and capable of creating something truly remarkable. So, instead of always emphasizing the administrative and legislative challenges between different sectors, Finland needs to rely on a companionship that reminds of a friendship across actors and sectors.

The current migration flows to Finland put a high pressure on the national authorities, the private sector companies and the NGOs. It is absolutely clear to everyone that there will be more people arriving in Finland from the war hit regions in the near future, and therefore we need a vision, a strategy and a well put-in-place cooperation for handling with due respect all foreigners who happen to come to our country for whatever reason. I am glad to say, indeed we are already working together towards this reality.    

Photo: www.todayonline.com