FIRST TIP: LEARN THE LOCAL LANGUAGE
Before you move to England for a professional career, obviously, you need to speak English. But you should be prepared for the oddities of the language and be willing to make mistakes. No doubt you’ve heard this before, but it’s worth repeating.
English is a high-context language – a literal translation can sometimes be hugely misleading and leave you with funny ideas. This isn’t just the sort of thing that impacts on Germans like me. For example, it’s vital that an American or a Canadian learns about what an English person means when they say “scheme” – while in America, a “scheme” implies something criminal, in London it’s a perfectly respectable term. This can work both ways, with you using common phrases from back home, which have a different meaning in England. For example, a typical mistake Germans make is to ask for a financial client’s “actual” figures (“aktuell” in German meaning “latest”) – in English, the meaning can be quite different and even slightly offensive.
SECOND TIP: NETWORK AND MAKE FRIENDS
Making friends and developing contacts is an integral part of being successful overseas. It can be a challenge in a new country and it doesn’t happen overnight, but the sooner you start making friends, the sooner you will start to enjoy living as an expatriate.
It can be tempting to spend all your time hanging out with other expats, and while you will no doubt form friendships with others from your country, I do think it is important to immerse yourself, at least to some extent, into the local culture because you have such a unique opportunity to do so. It’s also crucial as a professional – you need to get out and about and start networking and making contacts if you want to move up.
Don’t take it too far though – it is all too easy to get caught up in the party lifestyle when you are young, but I’d advise a young expat looking to make a career in England to keep under control – especially on school nights.
THIRD TIP: GET INVOLVED IN THE LOCAL CULTURE
London is one of the best and most exciting cities in the world, and English hospitality is wonderful (if a little odd sometimes). After the initial burst of tourism, it’s all too easy to get stuck in a rut of going to work and out in the evening to your local pub. You should get out of your comfort zone. It makes for wonderful conversation with the people you meet in business, and helps you feel much more at ease with living overseas. For example, on moving to England, I developed an interest in watching cricket – which always comes as a pleasant surprise to the English lawyers I deal with.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be anything as typically English as cricket – you can check out local musical acts, do a yoga class, take in a show – anything that takes you out of the expat bubble and into wider English culture and society.
FOURTH TIP: BE READY FOR ENGLISH BUSINESS CULTURE
The other kind of culture you need to be ready for is English business culture. Although we all have the impression that things will be terribly formal in England – all lords and tea and butlers – in fact, in the typical meeting, things are often quite informal. I remember when I first got to England being surprised that people would remove their jackets in client meetings, which at the time would have been unthinkable in Germany. Of course, on occasion (for example, in front of judges), you must be more formal than would normally be expected. The main thing is to be aware that what goes on in your home country may or may not be appropriate behaviour – if in doubt, ask an English colleague.
FIFTH TIP: BE OPEN AND WILLING TO LEARN
Regarding business, you should always keep an open mind; it is all too easy to get a reputation for rigidly insisting on “doing things the way we did them back home”. When you’re presented with a new manner of working, ask yourself “Does it work if we do it differently?”, and if it works and produces similar or maybe even better results, then I would recommend you go along with how your English colleagues are doing it. You certainly do not want to be known as a precedent pusher who is unable or unwilling to learn new ways.