What You Need to Know Before Working Abroad

By: Marisa DeGennaro, Account Executive for Penn State Global Entrepreneurship Week


The idea of traveling the globe is enamoring to most, but it is easy to forget how much effort it really takes.

This past summer, I embarked on a journey to Rome, Italy for an unforgettable internship. I expected to have the full on Lizzie McGuire experience, but it’s not all gelato and scooter rides around the Trevi Fountain.

Expect A Culture Shock

Sure, to some extent you know a few key facts about your abroad destination. You’ve looked at all the brochures and done your research. You’re a pro. Right?


Little things like climate changes, lack of outlets, or an obscene amount of mosquitos might really start to get to you. And don’t even get me started on the cravings; I mean seriously, there’s no Starbucks?! What do you mean you don’t even have iced coffee?!?!

Language Barriers

Unless you are already fluent in the language, be prepared to communicate through over-the-top hand gestures and a series of head nods. And even if you are fluent, I hope you know the region’s slang!

I know what you’re thinking, everyone speaks English (duh)!

While you might find a good number of people who have at least a basic knowledge of English, most people actually don’t know enough English to understand you (unless their business revolves around English speakers and tourism).

The reality is you’ll find yourself at a grocery store with no way of communicating that you want a quarter pound of mozzarella. I mean 0.11 kilograms, because incase you forgot everyone else uses the metric system.  

Business Practices

Business practices vary from country to country and are largely based on culture and laws. In Italy, if you have 15+ employees it is nearly impossible to fire someone. If you do choose to fire someone and win a lawsuit, you are responsible for paying their court fees, paying for their time off, and rehiring that employee. As a result, the majority of businesses are very small, even working out of shared apartments rather than office buildings.

Imagine my surprise when my first day on the job included a desk in an office with my boss, another intern, and myself handling multiple clients’ accounts.

Cultures also have a habit of entering the workplace. Days were slower and filled with more espresso – and did I mention lunch and espresso breaks are considered work. I’m serious – you can put that on your timesheet.

The Takeaway

Working in another country can be glamorous whether it is for a short or long period of time. The history, culture, and vivacious way of life will inspire you. However, don’t take for granted how much you enjoy being right where you are now.

All of that being said, working abroad could be one of the best things that you ever do, and I highly recommend it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s