This week, regular contributor Susan Hayes, a financial training and business consultant www.thepositive economist.com based in Ireland, and experienced business traveller provides her insights on maximising time overseas.


Tips for making your time abroad the optimum experience in every way.

“For me, it started with thirteen weeks in Edinburgh when I was still a student, and culminated in the last two-and-half years, when I've been travelling non-stop. Going abroad, to study or to work, or sometimes, to accompany a spouse on a contract, or to help a long-distance relationship blossom, is a wonderful opportunity.

These are ways I've augmented my own experience; they're relevant for students, for employees spending time abroad to attend a course, or for people holding jobs where foreign travel is part of the job description.

Go to events, both professional and leisure. Look out for events outside the main focus of your trip or stay: I have gone to networking drinks in London on my way between Amsterdam and Bristol. It was easy to plan a short detour and opened up serendipitous opportunities – in fact, I'm still reaping the rewards of many of these impromptu gatherings!

Blog about your experience. This will help you record and process what you are living and will enhance your memories, but it is also a great way to keep in touch with those at home, and to deepen local relationships even as you're building them. And it can pay off in unexpected ways, in the form of future commercial or employment opportunities. I’ve written about several of them on my own blog at www.thepositiveeconomist.com.

Use LinkedIn (if you don't have a profile yet, create one immediately!) to connect and then stay in touch with everybody you meet: lecturers, course colleagues, people who help you in any capacity. You never know: somebody you meet on that trip might end up working for the company you're targeting five years later, or you might need a professional contact in that country at some point.

Use difficult or negative experiences to your advantage. Studying and travelling in foreign parts offers a whole host of challenges, from feeling lonely and getting to know people, to overcoming cultural barriers and misunderstandings, to negotiating a completely unknown environment. Even as you're going through them, learn from these experiences. See what you can do to turn the tables in your favour and convert unpleasant experiences into CV-worthy specific episodes that will demonstrate your problem-solving skills, self-awareness and initiative.

Don't move halfway across the continent or the world to only do what you do at home. Be culturally aware: what is making headlines locally? What are people talking about? What shows, festivals or other cultural experiences can you attend or take part in? Really be interested in where you're going and notice the simple, subtle things of everyday life. This will make you a better, well-rounded conversationalist and give you endless topics to break the ice! I became engrossed in the Maltese culture when I lived there for a month when establishing contacts there during May 2011.

Gather references. If you're attending a course, get references from lecturers in subjects that you did well in, or get a character reference if you're just starting out. When you're very young it can absolutely set you apart: getting feedback and testimonials will give you a headstart. Getting in the habit of gathering references will ensure your CV/business portfolio portrays you in the best light.

Remember that time flies. It's only too easy to think that you're here for a long time and have all the time in the world to do all you want to do... But suddenly it's one week before you leave and you haven't done half the things you were planning. Very often people ask me "Aren't you sick of travelling and spending time in airports?" Not at all – you never know when you might not be able to go again, for good or bad reasons. See the bright side of each experience and make the most of it as nothing lasts forever.”

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