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Navigating Discomfort

Finding work and happiness in a foreign land

Words by: Bronwen Horton

With a background in banking, the timing of Bronwen’s arrival in London couldn’t have been worse - right in the midst of the economic crisis in 2007. Upon arrival in London, Bronwen took up a post with ANZ, her previous em-ployer in New Zealand. As a result, most of her business connections were Kiwi women. Noticing that there was no network to connect these women with others and with potential business opportunities, the idea of a New Zealand Women’s Network was born. Bronwen went on in 2011 to receive an International Award from TIAW, the International Alliance for Women, for the economic empowerment of women. Not long after, Bronwen was part of a team of three who were finalists for New Zealander of the Year for their considerable fundraising achievements in aid of the earthquake in Christchurch. Behind her extraordinary achievements, Bron describes herself as “an average Kiwi”. Full of entrepreneurial spirit, hard work ethic, and a can-do-attitude, Bronwen turned her skills to her advantage to navigate the chal-lenges many Kiwis face when arriving in London. Here, she shares her learnings with us about the challenges of finding work and happiness in a foreign land.

Through a love of books, namely Dr Seuss’ “Oh The Places You’ll Go!”, I believed from a young age I was destined to see the world. But there is a huge differ-ence between travelling to or visiting a new country, and actually living in one. For me, later this year mark-ing 10 years of living and working in London, it is an apt opportunity to reflect on the challenges faced when moving around the globe. The initial phase of moving to a new country involves the excitement of new opportunities along with being outside of your comfort zone. There were subtle dif-ferences in culture and class system and, due to the sheer size of London and the UK, business transac-tions seemed to take forever. Being outside of your comfort zone is exacerbated considerably where Eng-lish isn’t your first language and the gap in cultural dif-ferences is extensive. My first reaction in those initial months was one of frustration: Why couldn’t custom-er service be like home? Why don’t recruiters see my transferrable skills? Why is business so hard here? I re-member lengthy phone calls trying to setup utilities in a new flat and having to take a day off work to sit and wait for the company to come and install our internet only to be called at 4.30pm that day saying I’d have to reschedule for another day as they wouldn’t be able to make it to our property. In my view, stretching our-selves out of our comfort zones means learning the systems of our new environment, appreciating how it’s developed that way and then working to navigate it. This is key. One of the sure-fire ways to get through this initial shock period is to find others who have done it before and can teach you the ropes as quickly as possible. In those initial months, I relied heavily on a handful of friends who had come over to the UK, including old work colleagues and university friends, but real-ly I had to start from scratch building my network of people for support and learning around me. In ret-rospect, I think this initial period could have been smoother for me if I’d reached out to learn more about the differences in the way life operates in the UK and to develop further business and career con-tacts before landing. Moving out of the initial transition is different for each of us and depends on how we manage change, the industries we work in and the countries we decide to move to. It can sometimes feel like the uneasi-ness will never go away or that the odds are stacked against you. It’s at this point that we begin to think that it’s just too hard and that the familiarity of our old home seems very welcoming. This is the crucial part, to carry on until you’ve exhausted all options and talking to those who have ‘been there and done that’ can really help. For me, while I loved the excitement of exploring a new city and new work opportunities, it still took nine months to feel settled and another year or so to feel really at home in my new country. Although moving to a new country has its challeng-es, the benefits and opportunities are endless. I’ve grown considerably through working in other coun-tries. It stretches you and opens your mind to new ways of looking at problems and you become more resourceful. It also allows you to appreciate where you’ve come from too.

Tips to get you off to a flying start:

1. Research and reach out to new contacts and networks before you go.
2. Accept the uncomfortable feeling of being out of your comfort zone, it won’t be forever.
3. Learn the new countries systems and fast.
4. Don’t give up.
5. Once settled pay it forward and help others make the move.