Category Archives: Living Abroad

Graduation Reflections & Going Forward

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And just like that…I am now an International MBA graduate of the Moore School of Business! April and May have been two of the busiest months of my life, completing my last semester of graduate school, preparing for graduation, searching for housing in Greenville, moving across the country, visiting family, and planning summer vacations before my next chapter begins at Michelin.

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Thank you so much for your patience in my time of transition – I can’t wait to be more active on inspirNational again once everything is settled this summer. Right now is one of my first moments in months where I have more than a half hour to spare as I am waiting for my trip to Seattle to begin. I have so many thoughts to share with you about my last few months, including my weekend trips to Savannah, Charleston, and Traverse City, my graduation, and my reflections as I prepare for my next life phase. Over the next several weeks, I will share these thoughts with you.

To begin, I wanted to pass along my graduation speech that I shared at the MBA Soiree on the evening before my graduation. It captures the essence of my IMBA experience and was an honor to represent my class.

“Hi Everyone! My name is Brittany VanderBeek. I am an International MBA graduate in the French track, who studied supply chain management and business analytics. As the MBA Student Association President, I wanted to share a few thoughts with you.

First of all, thank you to MBA Programs Office for making today possible and for your endless support throughout our MBA journey.

Thank you to the faculty and staff here today who have been there every step of the way – pushing us to reach our potential, growing our understanding of the world, supporting us when we need it most, and cheering us on during our successes.

Thank you to all members of the Student Association for your enthusiasm and hard work to represent the voice of our class and to plan events to strengthen our MBA community.

To our families and friends – thank you all for being here to celebrate the MBA graduates. We couldn’t be more grateful for your support throughout our lives.

To the graduates – it is incredible to think how far we have come. Let’s take a minute to reflect. To the International MBAs – in two or three years we learned another language, completed the core business curriculum, specialized, and earned additional certifications. To the One-Year MBAs – how amazing that you completed all of your business curriculum and certifications in less than a year! At the same time, all of us were maintaining on our relationships and our homes, making new friends, getting involved on campus, going to football and basketball games, and staying in touch with loved ones. Some of us welcomed new life into the world, some of us have said goodbye to loved ones, but all of us have prepared for an incredible life ahead of us. We have had our fair share of challenges, but we have also had some of the most rewarding experiences of our lives. I can say that the Moore community, especially all of you, are what made my experience possible. As I mentioned at our welcome mixer, we have created a lifelong network and community. I hope that we all take what we have learned and soar in our careers throughout the world. I also hope that we never forget our roots at the Moore School and come back to visit.

Let’s toast to the graduating class of 2017 – I couldn’t be more proud to be standing next to all of you! Thank you!”

Reflecting upon graduation, it was one of the most hectic, but also exciting few days of my IMBA experience. I was very grateful for my mom, boyfriend, and boyfriend’s family who attended my ceremony and festivities. I was also grateful to attend my boyfriend’s graduation ceremony from law school, which was an incredible experience because we both graduated at the Horseshoe, one of the University of South Carolina’s idyllic locations. One day I was the graduate and the next day I was the attendee, which made my experience feel full circle. The University of South Carolina business and law schools treated us graduates and our families like gold, with delicious Southern food, cocktails, and live performers (I’ll never forget the steel drummers after my graduation!). I am so happy that I experienced graduation, but I am also glad that I can now move on and relax (or more so travel and visit family) this summer.

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I hope you all have an inspirNational weekend (and holiday weekend for those in the United States)! Off to Seattle for my boyfriend’s cousin’s wedding and to visit my best friend from preschool – I can only imagine what stories I will have to share with you over the next couple of weeks!

Universal Lessons from an International MBA Internship

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Capturing one of my international career insights posts below. For those of you interested in a career in international business or earning an International MBA, I hope that these insights are helpful!


My International MBA (IMBA) program at the University of South Carolina Darla Moore School of Business has been an exciting opportunity for me to pause, reflect, refine, and prepare to re-enter the workforce with a global perspective of business, cross-cultural and inclusive managerial skills, and enhanced technical skills in business analytics and Lean Six Sigma Green Belt process improvement.

Half way through my IMBA program, I embarked on an internship journey with Michelin’s Global Leadership Program. The internship provided me with an incredible opportunity to engage in challenging projects in supply chain management and human resources, to gain broad exposure to the business and senior leaders, and to give back to the community. I couldn’t have asked for a more empowering or exciting internship.

Image Source: BSN International

Image Source: BSN International

Throughout my internship, I learned some universal lessons that I will carry with me throughout my career and wanted to pass along to others working on their MBA or interested in getting an MBA.

  1. Be humble. Humility is one of the most impactful, yet often forgotten about, leadership qualities. So often getting an MBA and the interviewing process lead people to brag and have a “better than” attitude, rather than focusing on what they can do for others and what teams can achieve together. When we remember that we are all people, we become much easier to work with and work for as managers.
  2. Manage your 3P’s – Purpose, People, and Projects. I “coined” these 3P’s to help me juggle priorities throughout the summer. First, focusing on purpose has reminded me to take a step back and remember why I am here and what my vision is for the world. Then, focusing on people has reinforced the importance of family, friends, and co-workers in my daily decisions and actions. People are what make the world go ‘round. They bring joy to our days, impact our lives, challenge us to improve, and influence our future as our advocates. Grounded by my first priorities of purpose and people, I am able to strategize, innovate, manage, and execute my projects well.
  3. Ask questions. As my dad always reminds me, when you ask for something, the worst answer you will get is “no.” So, why not ask questions? My curious and inquisitive nature has enabled me to learn from more people than ever expected and has helped me be resourceful and efficient this summer.
  4. Be opportunistic. Related to asking questions, it is important to seek out opportunities and voice your ideas whenever possible. Seeking opportunities, finding connections, and utilizing strengths and resources of a team has enabled me to develop an inaugural sustainability collaboration with Michelin, the University of South Carolina, and Clemson University.
  5. Don’t be afraid to take the backroads. This is a literal and metaphorical lesson. The backroads may take longer when we are traveling, but they often help us avoid traffic and are more predictable for transit timing. They also help us discover and appreciate new areas that we may have not otherwise experienced by taking the direct route. This also applies to the workplace, where the direct route may seem the most obvious to complete a project, but the backroads may lead us to more innovative thinking, new connections, and new opportunities. Something to consider as we are working on project management in our MBAs and beyond.

As always, this is an open dialogue. I would be grateful to hear from those of you who have earned (or are pursuing) your MBA and have lessons to share with the international community.

Overcoming Living Abroad Challenges

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We often learn about all the adventurous and joyful stories of studying abroad. But what happens when life gets in the way? Studying and living abroad are very exciting life experiences, but they come with challenges. Below are some of the common challenges I have faced and insights about how to overcome them to make the most of your time abroad.

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Source: expatexchange.com

Insomnia: Time differences and foreign beds make insomnia a likely occurrence when moving abroad, especially when you first arrive to the destination. I experienced this intensely when I studied in Spain a few years ago. It took me almost a week to adjust to the time difference! Now in Paris, it took me no time whatsover to adjust to the time difference. My secret this time was to not take a nap when I first arrived on a Thursday morning, and to instead go to bed early that evening. I have experienced insomnia in recent days, likely related to doing too much (e-mails, studying, blogs, social media, chatting with friends) before bed. This is common for me even at home so I need to remember to give myself time to disconnect and unwind before bed.

Adapting to food: With a new destination comes new cuisine and dietary habits. I like to call myself a fish for the large quantity of water I prefer to drink. In Europe, I have felt like I have been living in a dessert because of the small portions of liquids and tiny cups to fill with water. In class, I bring two cups of water to make sure I stay hydrated throughout the day. I encourage you to bring a water bottle that you can easily refill (assuming that water is sanitary in your destination). It is also challenging to adapt to the timing of meals, quantity of food, and food content. For example, in the United States, I am used to Greek yogurt and fruit for breakfast at around 8am, a salad or sandwich for lunch at around 12pm, a protein bar at around 3pm, and meat/carbs/vegetables for dinner at 6:30pm. I have learned to let go of this expectation, as it is common to not eat snacks in France and to have dinner at 8pm (or 9pm for my host family). Despite Americans having a reputation for eating poorly, I have learned that I actually have access to more fruits and vegetables in the United States than in France. I have learned that Parisians often eat fruit as a dessert rather than a staple food for meals. Vegetables are often cooked or are prepared in soups rather than in the form of a salad. I have adapted to this custom, but also make sure to purchase salads and fruit when I eat at restaurants. Enjoying the local cuisine is part of learning process of living abroad, but make sure that you maintain a balanced diet to keep your digestive system in check!

Living with a host family and cultural differences: This is one of the best ways to fully immerse yourself into a new language and culture! However with that immersion comes the expectation that you will adjust your routines and adapt your behaviors to mesh well with your new family. It is sometimes difficult to let go of everything you know. Before moving abroad, I encourage you to research your new destinations and customs. For example, it is an adjustment for Americans to get used to the French greeting of a kiss on each cheek, rather than a handshake. The more informed you are about the new culture before arriving, the more mentally prepared you will feel. However, don’t be afraid of the unexpected – this is part of the adventure! I am still trying to figure out why my host family closes every door of every room in the house – but I am starting to realize it is a habit of privacy, which is less common in the United States and respectable in some ways. Adaptability is one of the most important life skills, especially in the ever-changing global world where we live.

Keeping in touch with loved ones: Time differences and new schedules make it difficult to contact our loved ones. However, modern technology has been a God-sent in our mobile world. My favorite communication tools are WhatsApp (free international messaging and calling) and Facebook messenger (which now allows international calling). I also plan Skype dates with friends and family to have an “as-close-as-possible” experience to chatting in-person. Postcards also seem to be a more thoughtful approach to staying in touch, since they take more effort and are a flashback to the past of international communication. I encourage you to use all the new applications, but don’t forget to be a little old-fashioned and send postcards, letters, and packages to stay in touch with your loved ones!

Making friends: This is often what intimidates people the most when moving abroad, especially because of language and culture barriers. A university setting caters to social networking with planned activities and field trips for students. For those outside of the university setting, check out http://www.meetup.com which provides networking groups related to any and all topics (local events, sports, arts, dating, etc.). I have enjoyed attending expat events in Paris, which includes expats from around the world. We can all relate to the adjustments involved in moving to Paris! Also, for those hoping to learn local languages, check out conversation circles. Especially if you speak English, many countries have conversation exchanges between English and the local language. I look forward to trying this in Paris. It is a win-win for me to practice French and help others practice English!

For those of you considering or in the process of moving abroad, you may face these challenges like I have, but I hope that you remember with any challenge comes a solution. Now that more and more people are moving abroad, there are more advice articles than ever before. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about moving abroad!

United by the Circle of Life

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After traveling across three continents and studying intensively in three countries, I am realizing that while it is easy to focus on differences between cultures, it is even more interesting to focus on similarities.

Religion, culture, language, and customs may divide us, but we are all connected by the core purposes of life: milestones, values, relationships, careers, memories of the past and hopes for the future. I am going to combines these core purposes of life and describe them as the circle of life. We are all united by the circle of life.

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Source: http://www.canstockphoto.com

I have been reminded of this unity recently while living with my host family in Paris. Almost every evening, we enjoy dinner together and have interesting conversations about life

The Joys of Being a New GrandparentOn Friday, my host family welcomed their first grandson into the world. My host mom discussed how excited she was to share in the “new grandparent” experience with her husband. She described that when women deliver their own baby, mothers and fathers cannot relate. The mother already knows the baby after nine months of carrying it. The dad meets the baby right when it is born. However, grandparents can share in the experience of just meeting the baby because it is new to both of them. This is an exciting time for my host family, which is relevant to any family throughout the world with new grandchildren.

Celebrating 33 Years of MarriageI had a dinner with my host dad one night and discussed the secrets of a lifelong marriage. He and his wife celebrated their 33rd wedding anniversary in December, beating the odds of only a 51% marriage success rate in France (very similar odds in the United States as well). He said, first of all, there are no secrets. You have to make your marriage work in your own way. He also described that communication is the most important part of a successful relationship- catching up on each other’s days, discussing successes and failures, and overcoming conflicts. He said he follows his dad’s advice to never go to bed angry. With the challenges of marriage throughout the world, I was intrigued to learn insights about successful marriage in France.

The Purpose of Strikes: Last week, Paris experienced another strike with taxis blocking the streets and requesting higher wages. I learned from my host family how common strikes are in Paris and how they are always related to money. My host family was frustrated with the strike’s disruption to the city and the corruption of Paris’ tax and immigration policies. While our conversation remained politically neutral, it was interesting for me to learn that debates related to social change, taxes, and immigration are present no matter where we live or travel. We are united by our societal challenges, and diverse in our responses and reactions to these challenges.

Stop Striving for Perfection: One of the most insightful life conversations we had was how people are striving for perfection in their careers and relationships. My host family emphasized that perfection is not realistic. There is no perfect job or perfect spouse. People are “job hopping” more now than ever before, assuming that the “grass will be greener on the other side.” In reality, there are no greener pastures, just greener perspectives of the situations we face. In the past, my host family said that they were just grateful to have a job and a steady wage. If they didn’t enjoy their job, they would focus their energy outside of work rather than letting their job consume them. My host family also described that people are also getting divorced too soon, giving up before giving it their all. Now people are expecting so much more and rarely feeling satisfied. I can attest to these sentiments from my own experience and that of my friends, especially those of us in our 20s. The post-college decade is full of uncertainty, change, and striving for the perfect life rather than focusing on the good in today. I posed a question to my host parents, asking how they think we can all stop striving for perfection. They said they didn’t know, but knew it was possible. My proposition is to first stop comparing our lives to others (which is easier today with access to friends and family’s life updates on social media). After, we should create our lives as we see fit, combining our upbringing with what we learn as we live and travel throughout the world.

Each of these circle of life conversations sparks thoughtful insights that we can learn no matter where we are in the world. What life conversations have you had during your travels?

Enlightenment from Living in Paris

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Approaching my first two weeks abroad, I already feel that I have had substantial time to reflect on my adventure in Paris. As expected, I have learned a great deal about the French language and culture while in class, living with my host family, visiting tourist sites, and exploring the city. More significantly, though, I have learned about myself and how I can apply my Parisian mindset to my daily life. Below I have captured some of the key lessons that have enlightened me while living abroad in Paris.

  • Eat to enjoy, not to indulge. Many Parisians eat bread and cheese at every meal, and chocolates or pastries after every lunch and dinner. Most of our waistlines are saying “no fair! How is that possible?” This seems contrary to all diet rules we have heard. I eat sweets almost every day now, including crepes with Nutella, creme brulee filled chocolate, coconut cookies, and chocolate waffles. One significant observation is that the portions are a quarter of the size of those in the United States. The smaller portions are encouraging me to enjoy each morsel, rather than feel full after eating sweets. My host sister told me that the average French woman’s BMI is 19, which is on the verge of being underweight.  This reminds me that portion control is key. Rather than restraining ourselves and then indulging too much, we should allow ourselves to enjoy small portions and satisfy our cravings.
  • Look to appreciate, not to just see. Notice differences between your new destination and your home, and learn from them! Tourists are often better at looking to appreciate than locals, especially because tourists experience a series of “firsts” when traveling: “first time seeing the Eiffel Tower,” “first time cruising on the Seine River,” etc. For those living abroad, it becomes easy to overlook our surroundings. We may walk past monuments without appreciating their history. Or we may drive home from work when the sun is setting without noticing the beautiful sky. With the opportunity to visit Paris a second time, and now fully engage with the city as a student, I am focused on appreciating all of my surroundings. I am taking several photos to capture memories. I am reading every sign and researching the significance of the buildings, monuments, and streets around me (centuries of history I should mention). This appreciative outlook is helping me become more understanding of the French culture. I also feel more grateful for the small things that bring me joy and empowered to face adversity in my daily life.
  • Listen to understand, not to judge. While traveling and especially while living abroad, we are constantly encountering new people, which means new perspectives. In various conversations, we will likely hear things that enlighten us, surprise us, or even enrage us when living abroad. I’m surprised by home many expats in Paris I’ve met who have said, “You’re American, why do you need to learn French?” Or “Why are you traveling in Europe? I thought Americans only stayed in the U.S.” I have chosen to listen to their questions respectfully and respond with my genuine interests and goals about learning French. I realized that according to this stereotype about Americans, I might be rare for having the travel bug, eager to learn new languages, and explore new cultures. Rather than judging their assumptions, I am working to be an American ambassador, demonstrating that many Americans do in fact enjoy learning about other languages and cultures.

On a separate but similar note, traveling often forces us to take the role of listener. Particularly when we are learning a new language,  we are still learning how to formulate words to contribute (confidently) to a conversation. This intensive listening is a good exercise particularly for those of us who often voice our opinions. Without having to (or being able to) speak, we become more understanding and less apt to make quick judgments in a conversation.

  • Speak to communicate, not to fight. The world is full of hateful words, and it is easy for us to engage in a fight. We can be more effective by having the objective to communicate and foster understanding in a conversation. This became more apparent to me when I visited the Place Republique in Paris, which has a monument with a memorial for the terrorist attacks in January and November 2015. The memorial speaks volumes about the pain the French felt when attacked over the past year. Hundreds of candles, photos, poems, and letters surround the monument, voicing the Parisian’s sadness, values, and dreams for the future. The memorial has a way of communicating powerful words that inspire the world, rather than engaging in a fight. If we truly want to end the war on terrorism, we need to disengage from the “dirty fight,” respect each other, and not fall victim to the endless fear that terrorists are hoping to provoke. I have faith that goodness will prevail, especially if we can effectively communicate with eachother throughout the world.
  • Live to experience, not to achieve. Every year, I have come closer to the realization that life is a series of experiences, and not necessarily achievement milestones. With the expectation that we will have a series of experiences (and not just accomplishments), we will no longer fear failure. One of my favorite quotes that I recently read was by Nikola Tesla: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” We will go through ups and downs, all of which combine to create the experience of life. My time in Paris has been a great example of this “experience” mindset. My first weekend in Paris I went the wrong way on the metro a few times, but it made me learn the “ins and outs” of the metro before beginning school. My phone died a few times and I didn’t have a charger, but it reminded me to pause and look with my own eyes rather than the eyes of my iPhone camera and social media pages. Despite all the changes and new beginnings in 2016, I have a sense of calm within me, solely because I am enjoying considering both positive and negative moments as life experiences.

I hope these inspirNational lessons I have learned while living in Paris can inspire you too. What other enlightenment have you experienced while living abroad?

Life Abroad in the Military

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Let’s take a quick trip across the world to learn an interesting perspective about life abroad in the military. I asked my cousin, Michael Spoelstra, who is a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy and based in Okinawa, Japan, to provide us with insights about living as an expat deployed in Japan. He provides a thoughtful and honest perspective about the challenges of living abroad. Thank you, MP (my nickname for him!), for writing for inspirNational!

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Photo Credit: Michael Spoelstra


 

It is difficult to put together the sentiments one feels. I think there are stages people experience in being removed from what they’ve been so accustomed to, so I’ll try to address the three stages which I’ve experienced – the Vacation, the Rut, and Reality.  Keep in mind this disclaimer; my experience is not the same of the typical traveler.  I had no choice where I ended up, due to military orders, nor any say in the duration of my tour.  I’m also writing this on a birthday, alone, on a grey, gloomy day – so some context may shed light on the tone of this post.

Stage one, in relocating to Okinawa, Japan is the Vacation phase.  I am approximately 7,307 miles, 14 hours in time zone, and thousands of years steeped in culture away from home.  Fighting through jet lag one is overwhelmed by the alien feeling of it all.  The sun feels different.  Flora and fauna are different.  The stars in the night sky seem rearranged.  And for once in my life – I am the one who is different.

Excitement courses through your veins – you want to try all the food, you want to see all the cultural sites, you want to engage these strange new people.  The deeper, more complex human needs are shelved while you figure out how to get places, what your routine is, how to stay out of trouble, who to go to for help…etc etc etc.  This phase lasts approximately 3-4 weeks, or as some say, long enough to break a habit.  Stage one is a “yes” stage, a stage overflowing with optimism, opportunity, and adventure.

A routine is developed, novelty erodes and a foreign national enters into the Rut phase, developing a deeper understanding of where they fit in this new culture, and what’s expected of them.  This second stage is highlighted (or low lighted) by the fact that a routine is developed.  Loved ones from home message less – the novelty has worn off that you are away and messaging is inconvenient and sporadic.  The time difference is most debilitating.  Everything familiar that you followed back home is on an opposite schedule.  The distance you feel isn’t just physical, it is a cultural and emotional distance – you hear about an epic football game with a close ending – the world could end for those poor fans on the losing end – yet it is inconsequential here.  You wonder whether those same people that stopped messaging you think of you often – if everything will be different when you come back.  Coping with this comes in the form of planning travel, understanding new people and melding with new social groups.  These friends aren’t just friends.  They replace your family, friends, and are the tie you have to what you have always known.  The uniqueness and cultural differences among the locals you once found humor in suddenly becomes obnoxious.  This stage persists for different amounts of time among different individuals, and sometimes the lines between the Rut and stage 3, Reality.

Reality is, I think, the most mature stage there is in being so far from home, a long term resident in a different part of the world.  A self-subsistent state occurs when you are alone or so long.  You become emotionally hardened, locked-up, and accept the world as you’ve observed it.  The differences between myself and the Japanese are nothing to be annoyed with.  Annoyance is a form of refusal or inability to understand why people do what they do.  The reality in being away from home here is the same it would be if you moved 80 miles down I-94.  Change is inevitable in life, and the attitude you bring to the table shows what substance will come from the heat of your crucible, whatever that may be.

I miss home.  There are great opportunities here that I cannot miss despite that. The experience of living in Japan has been humbling, it has been challenging, and it has been acculturating.  It tests your mettle, your mental fortitude, and the relationships you have had.  While this isn’t a ringing endorsement for relocating across the world, it isn’t a damnation either.  I am thankful to understand myself more.  I am thankful for the mental toughness I’ve developed.  I am thankful for my parents.  Mostly, I am thankful to have become the person I am through these experiences.  You can never know your country’s greatness until you have truly experienced another country.  On the flip side, you can never know your home’s faults until you have made another home.


Michael’s last point is what really “hit home” for me. I think it is so important for all of us to experience travelling (and ideally living) abroad to appreciate our home country and become open to other ways of living throughout the world.