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Life Abroad

Advice for adjusting to life and work overseas

A former basketball player for the French national team, Allison Vernerey (MBA’19) first came to the United States for undergraduate studies—and to shoot hoops for Duke University. She spoke only basic English, but her teammates helped her adjust and acclimate to life a continent away from home. Today, she provides that support for others. Vernerey, who’ll join Home Depot as a product manager after graduation, is the founder of Global Connections, a student-run organization that offers social and practical support to Questrom’s international graduate students. If you’re preparing to move or work abroad, take her advice for fitting in—and keeping homesickness at bay:

1Don’t hide “As long as you don’t really have the language down, everything is an extra effort—it just makes it harder to connect with people. Sometimes you come in and you try to find people who are like you, from other countries as well as your own, because it is safer and really nice to have. But try to open yourself up to people from the country you’re in, so that you’re forced to speak and learn the lingo.”

2Go easy on yourself “You’re learning and adjusting, and you feel like there’s a lot you don’t know. And anytime you speak, you feel very self-conscious. I realize now, from seeing other people, that it is actually very impressive to just see someone trying to learn a different language and adjust to a new culture. Don’t beat yourself up, and be patient with the time it’s going to take.”

3Remember, you’re not alone “The mistake a lot of people make is that they want to show they’re doing well, especially if they’re there on business. You shouldn’t be afraid to put yourself out there and to admit that you might be struggling a little bit. A lot of people are, and they are everywhere in the world and going through the same thing as you.”

4Turn homesickness into opportunity “The thing that I do, but that’s very French of me, I guess, is that I’ll go get some good French food and I’ll buy things that remind me of home. And I think that makes it a little bit easier, especially if you share it with other people where you are.”

5Expect a bumpy return journey “When you move to a country you don’t know, you expect to have to adjust, but when you move back home, you don’t. I actually moved back to Europe for three years and I had changed a lot. I had never worked in Europe or in France, so all I knew was the business and work culture of the US. There were some things I’d only learned in English, like technical vocabulary, and I got pretty frustrated at first. The main thing is just to be aware of it and that it’s normal.”