Being Intentional While Working Abroad
My job has changed significantly since I first came into the office -- way too early for Ramadan hours. (Hint: If you start a job during Ramadan, don’t show up before 10:30 am.) I feel really lucky to try out so many different roles and be part of a company that recognizes strengths and adapts opportunities to meet those strengths and interests. I tried my hand at marketing, UX design, content writing, and everything in between. I thought I had finally settled into a role as a product manager for a new B2B product that we’re launching, but after one seemingly random 2:00 pm email, this changed. The sales team found out that I was actually pretty good with data analysis. For the next week, I became the go-to person for data analyses and sales presentations for some of our big client meetings in Saudi Arabia and Dubai.
Maybe that sounds boring to some, but for graduate students in International Economics (including me), it’s everything we’ve been preparing for. Still seems boring? Yes, sometimes staring at an Excel sheet for hours and making various pivot tables to try and find trends isn’t the most exciting. However, throw in the fact that I’m compiling data from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and Kuwait, then it gets pretty interesting. When you can actually see where the economic downturns occurred because of decreased spending and hires or you have to factor in Saudi nationalization for data analysis, it becomes an enthralling puzzle for anyone interested in economics and the Middle East.
For most expats coming to the region, they don’t imagine working for a private sector company. In fact, the looks of surprise and following intrigued questions when I mention that I don’t work for an NGO or English school are always amusing. Some of my Jordanian friends have even referred to me as a unicorn for being one of the only “white girls that doesn’t work for an NGO.” Perhaps that can be a harsh way to verbalize it, but the statement truly covers a myriad of dynamics that expats need to be prepared for when moving to another country for work. Whether you’re working for an NGO or a private company, you have to understand the underlying tension behind both of these spaces, as not only does it exist but the concerns are 100% valid.
Sitting in a taxi once, the taxi driver exclaimed harami, or “thief,” when finding out that I was employed here in Jordan. He followed it up later with imzah imzah, “I’m kidding,” after offering a cigarette. I had responded to his cigarette offer with, ana harami tathaker, or “I’m a thief, remember.” I learned early that sassy comebacks in Arabic will immediately ease any tension and create a forever friendship between you and the taxi driver. So, he insisted that he was kidding and that I take the cigarette as a token of his apology, but the sentiment of harami remained.
When you come to work in another country that’s facing high rates of unemployment, especially when you’re coming from a country that’s viewed as the epitome of work opportunity, there will be tension. What are your intentions here? Do they justify your time here? Are you really bringing added value in your position or is there someone local and more qualified to be doing this? Are you hired here because you’re white? These are questions that you’ll be asking yourself at some point or answering from others. I found that my time should be intentional and not a lackadaisical entrance into the workforce as an excuse to live somewhere different and foreign for a while. I’ve felt the need to prove my value of being here -- that I can help as an individual, whether it’s bringing a new idea into my company based on my specific qualifications, or spending weekends working on water management projects to revitalize local farmland. I’m not just taking up valuable space here, but trying to give back more than I’m taking from the place that’s letting me call it home.
I love my job and have found more and more satisfaction as I’ve become more intentional about my reasons for being here. I’m not just here because it’s fun and I want to live abroad -- a common trope of expats in the Middle East that can create tension based on the juxtaposition of living and employment opportunities for Jordanians versus expats. I’m here to do a job, provide value to my company, gain experience in a tech company that works across 13 different offices, and learn as much as I can to ensure that I don’t take my work opportunity for granted in a region that has some of the highest rates of youth unemployment. It’s a humbling, gratitude-inducing experience that will truly pave my career path from this point on.