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.

A Quaker in the Middle East – guest blog from an alum

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

I think I’m a little bit crazy. Just a little. Just enough to pack my life into three suitcases and move half way around the world to a place I had never been before. In my four years at Penn I studied abroad in South Africa, obtained a research fellowship at the African Department of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and worked at the Office of International Programs, all solid experiences relating to international culture and travel which I thought made me well suited to work oversees. I was excited to travel and thought I was more than ready for life abroad. Little did I know that there was nothing that could have prepared me for my international experiences since May 2008.

Hill International is a worldwide construction claims and project management company, and one of countless companies I applied to in the hopes of working abroad after graduation. For me, that was the defining factor of all my job applications- that I could and would be stationed abroad. I cared about little else and I applied literally to jobs on every continent save Antarctica. If the job I have now hadn’t worked out, my backup was a teaching position in Mongolia. The Hill recruiter interviewing me was perplexed by my social sciences background and the complete lack of construction related-anything on my resume. In asking me what I wanted to do, I said I would do anything (and cited clerical-type work I had done at previous jobs). In asking me where I wanted to go, I said I would go anywhere. I walked out of the interview having been told that I should go home and pack for Vietnam, but then I got a call the following week that the Vietnam project was off.

“But how would you like to go to Doha, Qatar?” I hesitated since quite honestly I’d heard of the place before and could tell you which continent it was on, but I knew little more about it. We talked, I did some research, we talked some more, and then one week later I was on a plane from PHL to DOH.

From July 2008 through July 2009 I was the Recruitment Coordinator for the Doha, Qatar office, solely responsible for the office’s staffing requirements. The Qatar staff was truly global, with 75 people representing close to 15 nationalities. I was the only American. I was also the only native English speaker. I was the first and only recruiter Qatar’s office had ever had (and me without any recruitment experience). I was one of only two women in an overwhelmingly male environment that did not have a secretarial position. And I was the youngest by about ten years.

It would be a lie to write that this past year has been easy or that the transition was relatively smooth. I experienced the common growing pains of a first job right out of college compounded with the cultural challenges of living and working in a foreign country where I knew no one and did not speak a word of the local Arabic language. When talking with friends in Philadelphia, D.C., and New York, they complained about their long hours or the boring content of their work while I worried about the language barriers I face daily and the vast cultural challenges of working for an American company in the Middle East. The differences in the challenges we face frustrated me at times. I often felt patronized at work and stifled in life outside of work in a country under monarchical Sharia law, where pork and alcohol are outlawed (there are a few exceptions, bars and a liquor store) and women, who must cover shoulders and knees at all times, are second class citizens. That said, my year in Doha was absolutely a fantastic experience…

Maura’s post  to be continued tomorrow…

Visit Careers Services’ International Opportunities page for resources and tips for working abroad.

Can you (and you, and you, and YOU?) hear me now?

by Sue Russoniello

You’ve heard all the job search advice about cleaning up your voice mail message and untagging Facebook photos of you at that incredible party last weekend.  Hopefully you’ve even followed that advice.  But have you thought about the conversations you have with friends while walking across campus, or on your cell phone while standing in line for coffee or working out at the gym?

Remember that there are people all around you and you don’t always know who they are. There was a man near me on the train one evening talking on his cell phone.  He had obviously had a bad day – I’m guessing even a bad week.  He was very loudly sharing this with a friend on his cell phone and, in turn, with every occupant of that train car.  This man was naming names and giving specific examples of things he didn’t like about his place of employment, his boss, his co-workers, his clients.  After about 10 solid minutes of this rant, no one on the train could possibly read their book or work their Sudokus and we were all exchanging glances with each other.  When I got up to leave, I SO BADLY wanted to suggest that he be careful during his next conversation that his boss’s wife wasn’t sitting in the next seat. Can you imagine if that really had been the case?!

Think everyone here wants to hear your conversation? Think again. (Image via Tarotastic on Flickr)

There were students next to me at a popular campus restaurant earlier this week conversing in the explicit vernacular of many college students about the OCR process — what they REALLY thought of the internship search, how they were as good as that #$%^&* loser George who got 8 @#$%^&* interviews, how they’d rather sit at home with their &*%$# parents (the ultimate bad Friday night) than listen to their @#$%^&* friends talk about their @#$%^&* job search.  On and on it went.  Think about this; if I was a recruiter grabbing a quick sandwich on my lunch break and I overheard this conversation, what image of them would have been left in my head?  What if you were one of these students and you went to your interview that afternoon and came face to face with me?   And you’re already lamenting how competitive these interviews are?  You may have just helped that recruiter make the very difficult decision between hiring you or the next guy.

To broaden the scenario, maybe I’m a professor you are about to start a class with and you need a letter of recommendation from me for your med school applications. Or I’m the administrative assistant to a person you’ve been dying to get an appointment with for job shadowing. There are any number of other nightmares waiting to haunt you in that sea of unknown faces that surround you daily.

The advice about emails applies to public conversations as well…..if you wouldn’t write it on a postcard, say it directly to the person you’re talking about, or use that language in front of your mother (yes, that pesky mom again) then perhaps you don’t want to share it while walking down Locust Walk, sitting on the trolley or waiting for your cheese steak.

Do yourselves a favor and don’t air critical opinions and inappropriate language in public.  Help that recruiter or professor think of you as the mature, polite person you are, ready to join the professional world.

A Day in the Life of a Penn Entrepreneur

Read Rich Cisek’s archived tweet feed here: http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/RichCisek_Feed.pdf

Energy Efficiency Entrepreneur and SEAS ’93 Alum, Rich Cisek is our first alumnus featured on our newest initiative @PennCareerDay (http://twitter.com/PennCareerDay).

Rich Cisek is the Founder and CEO of Green Home Energy Management, a company that specializes in solutions for utilities to help consumers better manage energy costs.  The Green Home solution consists of proprietary monitoring hardware and specialized data analysis software.  This product helps individual consumers reduce their energy use and in addition it aggregates data so that utilities can help all consumers learn how to better manage energy costs.   Green Homes is currently conducting field trials and raising venture financing.

Rich has a deep background in product development and operations.  Rich graduated from Penn with a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering in 1993 and he also has an MBA from the Wharton School.  Early in his career he designed air traffic control solutions for Lockheed Martin, followed by various operations and business development roles for America Online where Rich played a significant role in launching AOL’s broadband service.  Prior to founding Green Home Energy Management, Rich served in various senior leaderships roles at Comcast including the general manager for Comcast.com where he had responsibility for the overall site user experience and online sales.

This is your chance to find out what a typical, or not so typical, day is in the world of an entrepreneur focused on energy.  If you have questions for Rich, @reply to @PennCareerDay and check back here for his answers at a later date.