Working in different countries and exploring the world is a dream for many people. At the same time it can be a frightening experience to go into a foreign country with a different culture while making everything work smoothly.
It's important to embrace the opportunity to work abroad but at the same time to prepare for the unknown. Moving to another country temporary or permanently for work is always an exciting adventure. Exploring new towns, places, food and culture sounds like a dream come true while working and getting paid to travel. The harsh reality is often that the transition and adaption can be quiet difficult especially in the beginning. Everything has to be organized from what to pack, transportation, accommodation, navigation and so on.
Let's start packing: 🧳✈️
A common way of working in visual effects, animation and games is project to project. A new Marvel movie is in development and needs hundreds of artists to finish it before the Christmas holidays. For that all the local and international artists and technical director are hired for a few months to help finishing the movie. After delivery most of them will leave to work on another projects, in another companies and potentially in other towns or countries. Big visual effects cities like London houses a variety of studios from Framestore, ILM and DNEG housing in close proximity which allows project hopping. The moment one project is wrapped up another one is in full swing and gets hired for. In other places like Wellington (Weta FX), Madrid (Skydance) or Warsaw (CD Project Red) there could only be one valuable company around and you're forced to either work remote or travel.
Nowadays we've won the option (mostly thanks to COVID) of remote work which is not always an option or the best solution. Neither is it preferred by everyone; there is only so much fun to have in working everyday from your kitchen in pajamas while lacking personal teamwork and social interactions with your colleagues.
Watch this clip: How working from home has an impact on the team
The next step is to apply internationally, to go through the interview and maybe even visa process and finally to pack our bags and to move for a few months to another town. It's an exciting time with a lot of new impressions, changes and adaption. It's also a time of anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, lonely and readjusting. It can happen easily that though you're now abroad you don't have much time, are tired from work and being overworked since there're a lot of things to do in the new workplace with the deadline closing in. At the same time you try to adjust to the new environment and learn a lot of new things which can be a tiring experience. You easily can end up not really being exposed to the environment, not really enjoying what you see and what you could do. At the end of the day the main focus of the whole trip is to work and that the work is in a different country is just a side note.
This is one of the hardest parts of working abroad specifically for a project:
Avoid falling into the trap of traveling the world for work but actually not seeing anything. There has to be a conscious decision to create time and space to live life, to explore and experience the new environment; not to just experiencing the hotel, work, the road and airport.
What I usually do is to create some extra time in the beginning. Maybe I negotiate a clear no overtime rule, more time on arrival or plan to stay longer after the project is done. It's always wise to plan some time to arrive and explore. This allows you to appreciate being in a different country, taking this unique opportunity of traveling somewhere foreign and - at least for me - it's a great chance to potentially find a new future home.
Watch this episode to explore your career in another country.
The other option is to live abroad for a longer period of time. Depending on the opportunity you're maybe able to work in London for a few years then move to Vancouver, Munich, Wellington and so on. Living in a different country has a lot of perks especially the time to explore and experience but also a few new challenges:
Opening a foreign bank account, applying for insurance, work visa, ... which can be a challenge especially in the beginning. The wheels of bureaucracy are turning differently in other countries including language hurdles and cultural misunderstanding.
Moving to a different country is always a big step and it's important to realize that it's a process that can time. So it's good to enjoy and accept the challenges and process. Just be aware that it'll take some time to adjust.
The same tip as for the short term stay applies to living abroad as well: Set up some time in the beginning at least a few days to a week to set things up or at least in motion. Talk to your company about support. A lot of bigger companies help with the moving process.
Whenever you travel or are moving abroad it's a great opportunity to experience life, the environment but also to create time and to stay positive because there will be a lot of small and big challenges along the way. Things will not work out so it's important to setup the right mental and physical space so we can handle them and come out ahead at the end.
Enjoy your travel,
PS. Learn more about the TD role? Check out my Free 7-Day TD Bootcamp: Technical Director.
About the Author
I'm Alexander, an Award-Winning Technical Director & Coach in Visual Effects, Animation and Games. My skills are solving technical problems, simplifying workflows and mentoring career goals.