Essentials for the International Young Professional

William Strachan

Young professionals have access to the world at a level never experienced before in history, and there are several capacities the international young professional must develop to ensure success.


I once heard the first female Surgeon General of the United States speak at a conference. She gave a recommendation to the audience: “Attain the highest level of education possible.” This is especially pertinent for the international young professional.

It has been my consistent experience that if one has a PhD and can rightly be called “doctor” then he/she will capture a prestige and respect trumped only by high-society status. The point is not only to have prestige and respect, though. The importance comes from what prestige and respect lead to – trust. Trust is invaluable to the international young professional and a high-level of education establishes trust in a way that many other capacities do not.


Language skills are essential for the international young professional. A personal anecdote illustrates the point:

I was part of a research team that conducted government-sponsored ethno-archaeological research in Oman. At the end of our research we were asked to give a presentation to the Ministry of Heritage and Culture. Because the audience was Omani and some attendees had limited English language skills, the presentation and subsequent discussion were conducted mostly in Arabic. That left me privy to one-third of the session.

The point is that it does not matter how educated, skilled, or experienced the young professional is if he/she cannot communicate. By developing language skills, one will be part of the entire conversation and in many circumstances become an invaluable interlocutor between parties.


I know what readers are thinking: “Flow is not a capacity.” That is correct. Flow is not a capacity, it is the capacity of the international young professional and it manifests in countless ways. Here are some examples:

  • As a foreigner, the international young professional is likely to receive exceptional amounts of invitations to eat, visit, etc. Although leading to unknown and potentially uncomfortable situations, these invitations are part of what makes international work so magical. One can never know whom they will meet or what they will experience. That is why it is important to flow and say, “Yes.”
  • Agendas and schedules take on different meanings outside of the West. Having lived on “Fiji Time” for a year, I can attest to the fact that meeting tomorrow at one o’clock might actually mean meeting on Thursday at eleven. Although difficult, it is important not to get uptight when this happens. Instead, one must go with the flow. Embrace the difference in fact, because that too is part of the benefit of working internationally. One gets to leave his/her cultural mores behind and try-on different understandings of things.
  • The international young professional must learn that perceived agreements are not necessarily actual agreements. People from some cultures will communicate agreement when in reality they disagree. This can be frustrating when in the future one wants to progress from a perceived agreement only to discover that nothing was agreed upon. Again – do not get frustrated. Flow and recalibrate.
  • As a last testament to flowing, the international young professional must be comfortable not only with different foods, but with different eating conditions. Sharing food is so important for many cultures and it is important not to exclude oneself by refusing foods even in what are sometimes gross situations. For example, a man once served me a piece of orange with the hand he just used to drag his ox around by its nostrils. I ate it. Flow.


International young professionals must always pack formal wear. It does not matter if the trip is for the sole purpose of going on a safari for two weeks. The international young professional who flows will find him or her self in situations demanding formal attire. That is yet another part of the beauty of international work. One will get access to people and situations that are rarely encountered at home. Be prepared to dress appropriately.

Of course there are other capacities that are important for the international young professional to develop, but this is a solid starting point. Bon voyages!