A Quaker in the Middle East – guest blog continued

By Maura Connell, B.A. Cultural Anthropology ‘08, and now Human Resources Coordinator, Hill International

This post from a Penn alum who is working in Dubai is continued from yesterday.

When I got on the plane in July 2008 I did not think I would be gone for longer than one year. In July 2009 I moved within Hill to their Gulf headquarters office in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, a 45-minute plane ride from Doha, Qatar. I am no longer recruiting but am now a regional HR Coordinator, overseeing employee programs and new hire mobilization and orientation for the Gulf region, which includes offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Bahrain, Kuwait, Riyadh, and Jeddah. Tentatively

Living overseas and especially working overseas is very different from visiting, even from an extended study abroad trip, and I really love it. For all the challenges it presents and all of the frustrations related to being in an unfamiliar place, those same challenges and frustrations are what make life abroad interesting and exciting. Those are the same things that I will miss when I leave. The thought of working in an office where everyone speaks the same language, where people aren’t traveling internationally on a regular basis, where you don’t debate walking to the Indian or the Lebanese restaurant for lunch is a disappointingly bland thought. I would put money on my settling in the States at some point, but the more I travel and work overseas the more I relish the exposure.

What I discovered on a trip back home last winter was a disappointment in knowing that so many people in the States would never have a significant experience abroad to expose them to different peoples and different ways of life. There is a quote from Mark Twain that reads, “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” and while some will always uphold discrimination regardless of their travels, I believe there is undeniable merit in opening one’s eyes through experience abroad.

Over the past 14-months I’ve gone from camel races to roof top bars at 5-star hotels to Indian dance clubs to desert camping to British social activity clubs to working next to Qataris to staff meetings at construction sites of towers that are defining the Doha skyline. I’ve had discussions and debates with my older Arab male bosses about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I’ve gotten my SCUBA certification and have dived in the Persian Gulf. I’ve stepped carefully to avoid camel dung and frozen my buns off while cooking a late night desert camp dinner by the Inland Sea bordering Saudi Arabia.  I’ve had homesick nights and all nighters talking with friends about the American Presidential election and its impact on us as young expatriates. I’ve attended events with ambassadors and foreign ministers, and have been privy to exclusive tours of world-class hotels before their grand opening. I cannot stress how much I enjoy being in a place that has such international influences.

And so I encourage you to explore the possibility of working outside the United States. After all, never has the prospect of applying for jobs abroad been more appealing than in today’s economy. But make sure before you jump in that you are ready for the unknown challenges that you are sure to encounter. If nothing else it is vital to be both flexible and open-minded whenever venturing beyond American borders. One of my favorite quotes and one that I have found to ring true in all new endeavors was said by a French marquise, Mme. De Deffand, that “the distance doesn’t matter- only the first step is difficult.”

Careers Services’ International Opportunities page is a good place to start.

Author: Guest Perspective

Our guest perspective account includes views from Penn alumni, current students and employers, writing exclusively for Penn & Beyond!