Friday, May 17, 2013

Why I love working with expats

Lately, I have allowed myself to go to uncharted territories. The journey so far has been exhilarating, I can't confidently say though it's rewarding because I have yet to see. But these new directions caused me to be pensive and press rewind. I have gone this far because I learned from some of the best people to work with - expats

Now before you raise that eyebrow and ask how much I must've been paid to write this post, allow me to qualify my statement. I know some of you have horror stories about working with foreign nationals and how they caused you sleepless nights and fleeting moments of insanity. Albeit some who made me work wounded to the point of almost second-guessing my capabilities that took so long to build, my experience is generally happy and meaningful. 

We were one big happy family! (circa 2004). 
I noticed that I actually work better with foreigners than with Filipinos. I'm not being critical of my own race here, however I personally find it relatively easier to share the four corners of an office with them. And from my years of experience with them, here are some reasons why: 

1. They say things upfront. I think you would agree that the Filipino culture, like any Asian culture is very polite. We tend to sugar-coat things and soften the blow because we were raised to be polite by our parents. Remember "po" and "opo"? When I began working with expats, I was initially shocked by their lack of guile. My other Pinoy colleagues found it offensive. Looking at the big picture though, their being frank actually helps set the direction. No beating around the bush which saves a good amount of time. They will tell you what needs to be done, when it should be done. No reading between the lines. In return, they also expect you to cut the crap and say it as you mean it. 

2. They are not afraid to ask questions. Nobody and I mean nobody has a monopoly of knowledge regardless of race, especially when working in foreign soil. My expat colleagues were not afraid to ask questions. Even my Australian BEAM boss D'Arcy is not shy to ask me how to correctly spell English words. I was his spell checker. Now that's the project director asking. He's not a big fan of using the computer and would rather turn to me. Him doing that did not make him less of a boss. Instead it made him more human to us. One of the things he taught me was never to be afraid to ask. It is better to ask when you do not know before doing anything rather than finish the wrong thing.

3. They openly appreciate good performance and says "Thank you.". Unlike most Pinoy bosses who are stingy with pats in the back and are somewhat haughty, expats have no qualms in praising a good job. They openly tell you that you did well and in turn this encourages you to do more and builds your confidence. I know, I've been there. They speak well of you when you have shown your worth and once they see your potential, they take you under their wing to help you develop your skills. When I would hesitate to jump on a task, my expat bosses used to crane their necks, look at me and encourage me to give it a shot.

4. They do not tolerate mediocrity. I am speaking from my own experience here guys. This is the bitter half of number 3. Once you hand in a mediocre output, they will tell you that it is not good enough and that you can do better than that. Call it constructive criticism and it's not towards you but they are pertaining to the job that you do. My attention has been called quite a number of times when D'Arcy is not happy and he tells me straight to my face what he sees wrong with my work. Initially I felt insulted but that built my character and work ethics. "Pwede na" (this will do) will never do. 

5. They go out of their way to know their people. There were I think 160 plus of us in BEAM. But the expats know each of us by name and calls us on a first name basis. It made us feel acknowledged and important. During our last Friday get togethers at the end of the month, our foreign colleagues would sit and chat and joke with us and catch up on the goings-on of our private lives. D'Arcy was especially interested how his admin "angels" are faring in our love lives. When we were working for this mining firm in GenSan, some of our team mates were shocked when D'Arcy opened bottles for them and threw his arm around them. Those simple gestures of genuinely reaching out to subordinates is one of the surefire ways to gain respect, not barking orders on a daily basis.

6. They are not afraid to have a good time. One criticism I got from them is that Pinoys are so hardworking, we work our hands to the bone that we forget to have a life outside work. Expats work hard but they also party harder. Don't get me wrong. What I mean is that they are not so square and boring that all they do is churn reports. Foreign colleagues always encourage us to travel - even locally- and discover new things. As the adage goes, all work and no play makes Juan/Juana a dull boy/girl. They love good food and good wine and do Karaoke on Friday nights!

So to all my former expat colleagues and bosses, thank you for imparting good lessons. I have had the pleasure of working with you and some of you became my mentors and helped shape who I am today. I will end this with another of D'Arcy's teachings - respect is not how people call you; respect is how they react to what you say. 

Oh and by the way, they don't want to be called Sir or Ma'am. Their names will do. Missing you D'Arcy Walsh and Ms Carol, Max Walsh, Gio McKay, Ali Douglas, Scott Cawrse, Rose Green, Peter Klar, Roger Saunders, Deb Moulton!

Some of the happy photos of my fairy tale job that was BEAM. 

Get-together and catching up over pizza and wine
Can you find Ina-Tay?
No me here, me photographer?


  1. HI Nits.. thanks for dropping by my blog... I used to work with PBSP back when my toes can still climb mountains hahahah... and yes, worked with expats too, and another yes, what you said were true.

    But giving voice to the Fil workers... it comes with our long history ... hehehehe

    Hope to see you around.

  2. Thank you for returning the visit Mommy Verns. I didn't know you're from PBSP! That explains the affinity fellow development worker. See you around gyud, I intend to be more visible now that I'm back in Davao. :)

  3. I am going to graduate soon and planning to work abroad but it scares me to think of working with foreigners. Just so you know, I am enlightened while reading each item in the list. Thank you :)

  4. Hi Debie Grace,

    Wow, thank you for your very kind words. Congratulations on your upcoming graduation and for having a clear vision of what you want to do after. Initially I was also scared when I started working with foreigners but like anything in life, we would never know unless we really get into it. It will be a great learning experience for you that I'm sure. I appreciate your visit! Good luck on your future endeavors! :)