Teach and be taught as an HR ambassador abroad

The number one tip for international work opportunities for HR practitioners? Don't blend in!

For many HR professionals, an opportunity to take your skills and develop them further in another country is a major milestone in their careers. One that will teach them more about themselves, their work, the world around them and their role in it than any course or tertiary degree ever will. 

Three individuals who’ve done just that shared their key learnings at the HR Indaba in Sandton on 3 October. Christian Schaub, group CHRO at Alexander Forbes, is a US national who’s currently living that dream here in South Africa. For him, the single most important thing is to be open to experiences and learning.

He said:

“Go into this experience with the attitude that this will change you, and be open the various factors. Learn about the people, not just in the company but in the country, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself – this is your opportunity to expand your comfort zone.”



Malisha Awunor, HR director at BHBW, spent time in Chile and Brazil and discovered that to make the most of the experience, you have to completely immerse yourself into a country’s culture. “Be humble, get a sense of their language and remember, you’re an ambassador too,” she said. She recommends an international experience to any HR practitioner at any stage of their career. “The things you learn will only enrich you, spiritually as well as professionally. If you are not willing to learn you will only hamper your career.” 

Pamela Xaba, HR director: sub-Saharan Africa for the Ford Motor Company, called her stint is Dubai in 2015 a “humbling experience”. “The Arabic region was so foreign to me. I went there with my own pre-conceived ideas and didn’t know much about their labour laws or way of life. I went from being in the majority in my country to being a minority in Dubai.” To those hoping to go on a similar journey, she says: “Be curious. Raise your hand and be willing to do more. Get yourself out there so that people notice your accomplishments and strengths. If you have a curious mind, you will be first on the list when opportunities to abroad arise.”

Pamela added that as South Africans we often put ourselves down, but we have a lot to offer. “We go overseas to learn, but we also have a lot to teach people. Go there and brag about our culture, our achievements – don’t just blend in,” she said. Christian’s advice for those afraid to take up a role in a foreign land is to know that you don’t know everything but there are people there who want to help you because they can learn from you too. “It’s mutually beneficial!”