How to make an international career change, when your job is closely related to a language?

During my first year in Switzerland I once burst into tears on the train, upon my arrival at the Geneva railway station. Those were not tears of homesickness, but they were caused by a conductor’s German-speaking announcement, which made me realise even the train staff in this country has more adapted language skills than I do. (To give you more context, I had just received a refusal letter for a job because I did not speak fluent German.)

Since my job in communications is very closely related to language, an international career shift has not been easy for me. For years, I could not see myself working outside my native Finland for this very reason. 

In my first French-speaking job I overheard occasional discussions mocking me of my accent – probably I was allowed to overhear, because my teammates did not realise how good my language skills really were and thought I wouldn’t understand. 

So, it was and still sometimes is a painful journey. I don’t always feel like I manage to express what I want exactly, or I know my writing lacks nuance. I need a proofreader and sometimes I am slower than I would like, because double checking spelling and searching for synonyms takes time. 

If you’re struggling with similar issues, I hope these tips help you:

  1. Take a step sideways.
    If your career is as tightly linked to language as mine was, maybe doing the exact same thing is just not an opportunity. Be realistic and have a look around: could you do what you love from a different angle. For me, in the beginning, it meant project management in communications instead of content production.
    Pay attention to your passions though. After two years, I realised I missed the content part of my work too much. I’m happy I tried something different – and proud that I knew when to correct the course again.
  2. Take time to deepen your expertise and gain new skills.
    Especially if your living in a foreign country is a temporary assignment, this can be a wonderful opportunity to try something new. Study photography or social media management, maybe try your wings as a graphic designer. Or write a book, start a blog – maybe following your passion can lead you to a new career path later on!
  3. Use your network.
    If you’re determined to crawl back to professional life in spite of missing language skills, networking is the best way to do that. And take another look at tip number 1: your first step can be something slightly different than what you did last time.
  4. Work for yourself.
    Could you work as a freelancer? It can be easier to find small projects to start on, which can grow into something bigger overtime. And entrepreneurship doesn’t have to be a short-term solution but it can turn out to be the best career choice you’ve ever made. 

Sometimes, time and distance can help you see things differently. I thought I had to  give up writing entirely, since I wasn’t a native English or French writer. But that doesn’t mean I can’t work with texts! That’s why I’m working on editing this summer: my editing coaching and tips work across language barriers.

What could your editing be? Share in the comments or social media channels. 

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