Skip to Content
Skip to Section Navigation
Skip to Footer
Notice: Work on a new CareerHub site is underway and will be in-progress over the next year. During this time, the platform will have limited functionality.
Users will be unable to save results from activities, and some of the downloadable content (e.g., PDFs) may no longer be available.

Success At Work

Succeeding at work outside Canada

Succeeding at work outside Canada


There are a number of variables to look into in order to have a successful experience while living and working abroad. The following list will help you identify some of the key tasks you may need to complete in your new country.

Visa and immigration documents: Carefully check the documents you may require to activate your work visa upon arrival. These will vary by country, but may include valid photographic identification, bank statements, letter of employment, résumé, police checks and visa letters, amongst others.

Additional documentation: Identify what documentation your employer will require; for example, in Canada, a Social Insurance Number is required before you can begin work. You will also need to identify the local tax system and how this will affect your tax situation in your country of residence.

Consulates: Check in to your local consulate to inform them you are in the country in case an emergency occurs.

Stay in contact: Purchase a cell phone or SIM card for local coverage and let your employer, friends and family know that you have arrived safely in the country; provide them with your contact details.

Transportation: Research the public transportation system and how to get to and from your workplace. This may involve obtaining a bus pass, purchasing/renting a bicycle or applying for a local driver’s license.

Set up your bank account: Identify which banks will provide bank accounts to newcomers and provide your employer with your bank details, if applicable.

Organize international insurance or local health coverage: Your mental health and physical health are important, especially when tackling challenging new environments. Find out if your employer provides health coverage or locate other resources and services for support. If you are a co-op student, start by reviewing Co-operative Education health coverage resources.

Build a support base: immerse yourself in the local culture

It can be tempting when moving to a new country to immerse yourself in your work and miss opportunities to explore the culture. It is important to build your International IQ by getting involved in the local culture. This will enable you to gain a stronger understanding of the colleagues you will be working with, as well as help to build a balanced life style.

Here are some of the benefits you may gain from immersing yourself in the local culture:

  1. Meet new people, make new friends—build a support base
  2. Develop your ability to adapt to unfamiliar environments
  3. Gain an understanding of different communication styles across cultures
  4. Deepen your understanding of different cultural norms
  5. Improve your skills in a foreign language
  6. Gain a new perspective of the world
  7. Maintain good physical and mental health

There are many strategies to help you explore the local culture and build your International IQ, ranging from everyday activities to getting involved in the community and professional industries. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Meet new people: Speak to people you meet daily, join clubs, sports teams and mutual interest groups. is a global website dedicated to bringing people together for mutual interests.

Find a culture coach: Ask someone to help you navigate and adapt to the differences in culture that you may experience.

Do more than you planned: Volunteer at an event. If you are already volunteering abroad, find a part-time job. If you are working abroad, why not travel and volunteer too? Remember to check for any visa restrictions regarding your eligibility for volunteering and working.

Build your professional network:Find a mentor in a professional organization that will explain the local workplace culture, suggest local events and help you build your network.

Global knowledge: Read and watch the local news to gain an understanding of the country’s national and international activities.

See this quick guide (PDF) for ways to build international knowledge and skills on campus.

Also, join an internationally focused University of Waterloo Club to develop your international IQ.

Learn the local language

If you haven’t already started, now would be a good time to familiarize yourself with the local language. Perhaps you are already fluent in that language, but is there a secondary language used in the country that you may benefit from learning too?

To find out why learning a new language can be important for your career, see this quick guide (PDF) on Language Learning from MyWorldAbroad

Learning a new language can be challenging but is a great way to learn about a new culture and interact with locals. Here are a number of suggestions to aid in your learning:

Practice regularly:Immerse yourself in the language by reading, speaking and listening to the language as often as possible, even when tempted to default to your native language. For example, watch local TV programs using subtitles when possible to guide your understanding.

Find a language buddy: This could be a friend/colleague who speaks the language, or wants to learn it with you.

Find a lunguage tutor: Find a formal tutor to guide your learning. Consider joining a class or program to stay motivated and learn with others.

Teach yourselfOnline courses can be found on websites such as YouTube language tutorials, Udemy and Also, consider using professional programs designed for learning a new language such as Rosetta Stone.

Mobile apps/games: Practise using apps and language games such as Duolingo, Memrise, Busuu, HelloTalk, Babbel, amongst others

College/university courses:Access a wide range of language courses designed to help students acquire a second language here at the University of Waterloo.

Research how to learn a language:Learn the most efficient techniques that others have used to learn languages. Some examples include:

Experiencing culture shock

As you start to immerse yourself in a new culture, you will likely notice differences in the way that people behave, the living environments and cultural expectations. This can lead to a range of both positive and negative emotions over time such as excitement, elation, awe, anxiety, isolation or loneliness, amongst others. Collectively, this is known as culture shock.

There are 4 main phases associated with culture shock:

  • Honeymoon phase: Experiencing positive feelings related to enjoyment of new experiences, languages, cultural norms and meeting new people.
  • frustration phase: Experiencing negative feelings due to difficulties adapting to cultural norms and expectations, which could result in feeling homesick.
  • Adjustment phase: Becoming more familiar with the new environment and cultural norms, resulting in the return of positive feelings.
  • Acceptance phase: Understanding and accepting the ways in which your new environment is different, in addition to knowing how to access the resources you need to succeed.

Returning to your home country after spending time away may also induce a culture shock, to your own culture. This is known as re-entry or reverse culture shock.

See these PDF guides for advice on dealing with culture shock in a new environment and also reverse culture shock on your return home.

International experiences will allow you to develop in unique ways both personally and professionally. In addition to learning traditional skills that you could gain from any experience, taking part in an international experience will help you develop some distinctive transferable skills. Here are some examples of skills you could gain from an international experience that will be valued by employers:

  • Adaptability
  • Resilience
  • Appreciating diversity
  • Innovation/Creativity
  • Crisis Management/Conflict Resolution
  • Critical Thinking/Problem Solving
  • Resourcefulness
  • Professional Cultural Awareness

For an in-depth analysis of the international skills you can develop abroad and how to build your international IQ, see the resources below:

  1. Your Internationl IQ - People Who Go Aboad Are Different!
  2. Communicating the VALUE of International Work Terms

It is important to plan how you intend to make the most of your unique international experience:

  • What can I learn from this particular experience that I may not be able to in another location?
  • How might this improve my employability internationally or at home?
  • What can I do in this location to help improve my intercultural skills?
  • What additional opportunities are available in this country to supplement my professional development?
  • How can I intentionally use and build on the skills I am learning while abroad?

Once you have an idea of what skills or experience you want to gain from your international placement, it is important to take action to ensure you will actively carry out your plan. To do this, you can set yourself 2-3 short-term and long-term goals. A useful tool to guide your planning is a Professional Development Plan.

Case Study:

Jennifer is a Canadian student who is offered a 4 month Co-op position in Pharmaceutical Regulatory Affairs in Europe. Jennifer knows that in the future she would like to take on a Global Regulatory Affairs role in Canada.

Therefore, she chooses to focus on gaining a strong understanding of the key similarities and differences between regulatory affairs requirements in North America and Europe. Understanding the European requirements will make her more employable in Global Regulatory Affairs in Canada.

She sets a goal to spend the first month learning about the European policies, the next 2 months studying the North American policies in her spare time, and the final month developing a quick-guide comparison chart she can refer to in the future.

Cultural behaviour in the international workplace

The personal and professional behaviours that are common in your home country may be very different in an international context. Having a strong International IQ will help you navigate these differences and adapt to new environments.

It will be important for you to conduct significant research about the cultural norms of the specific country to which you intend to travel. The dominant culture may lean towards one side or the other of the spectrum below for each individual dimension.

Cultural Dimensions Spectrum



Personal identity within a competitive team environment is important. Individuals are responsible for assigned tasks


Loyalty and contribution to the team is a priority. Everyone takes responsibility for assigned tasks

Direct Messaging

Managers provide specific instructions and give positive/negative feedback directly

Indirect/Interpretable messaging

Managers provide suggestions and the employee decides what action to take, feedback is subtle and suggestive

Low use of non-verbal communication

Verbal messages convey the majority of information and body language only provides some information

High use of non-verbal communication

Facial expressions and speech patterns such as long pauses, tone of voice and gestures provide extra context

More written communication

Communicating electronically is very common and in-person meetings occur only as required

Less written communication

Meetings and communicating in person is more common than electronically

Relationships are short term

Relationships last as long as is mutually beneficial

Relationships are long term

Loyalty and long term relationships are important so emphasis is placed on building trust

Space is personal

Offices can be compartmentalized and personal space is important so people don’t stand close to each other

Space is communal

Spaces are shared and relationships are prioritized so people will stand in close proximity to each other

Disagreements are depersonalized

Conflicts are approached with rationality and solutions that allow the assigned tasks to be completed on time

Disagreements are personal

Verbal/non-verbal cues are read for potential conflicts which must be solved to maintain a harmonious workplace

Dealine driven

Deadlines are strict and must be met. Time is viewed as a scarce resource and work should be completed on time.

Task driven

Deadlines are set but may be flexible depending on the time it takes to complete assigned tasks

Schedules prioritized over relationships

Meetings have assigned times and agendas to ensure valuable time is used efficiently

Relationships prioritized over schedules

Meetings may not have assigned timeslots to allow the participants to build strong relationships without time limits

Additional cultural differences

There are additional considerations about local cultures that you should also research:

Greetings: It may be customary in some countries to shake hands, bow, or kiss each other on the cheek (perhaps even two or three times).

Body language:Physical gestures, such as hand signals, that are normal in one culture may be considered rude in others.

Language/word choice:Words may have different meanings between countries and can result in misunderstandings if not used appropriately. In some countries ‘half three’ would refer to the time 3:30am/pm, while in others this would refer to 2:30am/pm.

Religious/cultural celebrations:It is likely that you will encounter different religious norms, holidays and celebrations that would be helpful for you to understand.

Gender: What is considered to be appropriate verbal and physical interactions between genders will vary.

Informal vs formal communication Consider how you communicate with individuals within a business context. You may be required to communicate using more formal or informal language and titles depending on the cultural expectations and the person’s relationship to you.

Working hours: In some countries you may be expected to work extra hours or be accessible by email or phone after hours. Other countries will have strict policies of not being contactable outside of office hours. This may also change by industry type.

Socializing at work: Socializing with work colleagues after hours may be considered optional but valued. However, elsewhere you may be expected to take part in social activities as part of the business culture.

Cultural traditions: It is likely that you will be exposed to cultural workplace rituals, such as offering to pick up coffee for your colleagues or occasionally share food. In order to fit in with your new team, it would be beneficial to participate in some of these cultural norms.

Navigating an international workplace and integrating into a new culture can be challenging. For that reason, developing a strong International IQ is viewed as a highly employable characteristic globally.

For more information on strengthening your multi-cultural business acumen, see the following resources:

  1. Hofstede Cultural Dimensions: Learn more about 5 of the key cultural differences and use this search tool to compare specific countries
  2. Deloitte Business Chemistry: Learn how to communicate with different types of business personalities
  3. World Business Culture: Find out more information about the culture in different countries

The importance of reflection

Reflective thinking is an increasingly important skill as it demonstrates your ability to assess what you have gained from the experience as well as areas you can grow to continue your personal development. It is important to begin the reflection process during the experience as this allows you to assess your strengths and weaknesses in the moment and identify areas for continued development.

The following are reflection questions to help you think about the development of your International IQ:

  • What has been the highlight of your experience abroad so far?
  • How are you experiencing or dealing with culture shock?
  • What strategies are you using to help immerse yourself in the new culture?
  • What cultural differences do you notice and does it differ from your home country?
  • What new understandings have you gained about the different cultures in your host country?
  • What challenges are you encountering during this experience and how are you working to overcome them?

The following are reflection questions to help with identifying experience/skill development:

  • What key projects or tasks are you working on during this experience?
  • In what ways are you excelling at your project or tasks?
  • What previous skill set or experience is contributing to this success?
  • What new skills have you developed so far?
  • What skills do you still need to develop?
  • What are you learning about international communication styles?
  • What strengths and weaknesses are you identifying through this particular experience?

Here is a Reflection Worksheet to get you started during your experience.

See this quick guide from MyWorldAbroad for tips on reflecting after your international experience.

Reflection and your future work search

Reflecting on your experience as you progress enables you to prepare material for your future work search documents and interviews without forgetting any of the important details. Consider the Highlighting international experience section for tips on creating an in-depth list of the skills, projects and key achievements that will best showcase your international experience.

Remember, international experiences and the transferable skills associated with them are highly valued by employers.

University of Waterloo

Centre for Career Development