The personal and professional benefits of working abroad
After returning from the HKS xChange Fellowship in New Delhi, India, a US-based young architect shares his insights for other emerging professionals who want to work abroad.
To broaden the work and life experiences of its employees around the world, HKS developed the xChange Fellowship. Open to all staff, the short-term transfer program enables participants to spend a quarter of a year working at one of three HKS office locations worldwide, supporting the company’s effort to create a “one firm” culture. In 2018, I was thrilled and honored to be selected for the New Delhi xChange Fellowship, where I gained new skills and deepened my cultural sensitivity, two things that have helped me become a better architect.
Here are some personal stories and lessons I picked up during my time in India:
Utilize your travel opportunity as a platform to understand and experience life with your colleagues
Being culturally open to new experiences in the office and out of the office was important during my time in India. Upon arriving in New Delhi, the office held a potluck lunch in my honor, which made me feel welcome and introduced me to things I had never tried before. After settling in, I quickly realized that names can be difficult. I was never so humbled than when I couldn’t remember, or in some cases pronounce, my new colleagues’ names. Thankfully, they were forgiving and patient. Some of my fondest memories of India took place outside of the office—dinners, evenings out, and weekend trips solidified bonds, which will last throughout my career.
Take opportunities as they become available to diversify your project experience
During my time in India, I learned that office culture is different everywhere. As I got more involved in day-to-day, I became more familiar and entrenched in efforts and challenges unique to the projects we were designing and the specifics of a new geography. I continued projects in the US, keeping up with key documentation and client relationships at my home office but in addition to those assignments, I was able to work on hospitality projects in India. Had I not participated in this program, I may not have been able to explore a new project type.
When called upon, flex your skill set insightfully
It can feel nerve-wracking to get new opportunities you wouldn’t find at home. I found it invaluable to listen carefully and ask questions. It helped me figure out what role I could play, and how I could best contribute. While working on a hospitality project with my new colleagues, I found that no one had been advising on accessible room mix. After I brought this up, suddenly we were redesigning quite a few rooms.
Leverage the opportunity to expand your network
The friends I made at the office are more than contacts. They ushered me through a new culture, assisting me with personal and professional problems. But going outside the firm proved valuable for me, too. At home, I am a member of a yacht club, so when I was in India, I contacted a club in Chennai, India. When I was unable to get security clearance for access to the national port, my contact invited me to their home, prepared a fine dinner, and I left with new friends. Likewise, I met people through a networking groups for expats and travelers, and am happy I stepped outside the firm to enrich my experiences in India.
Get the word out
After returning home, the first few months were quite challenging. I found myself thinking, “I am home from India; now what?” My office leadership heard me out and helped me look at new opportunities. I was soon placed on a team for a project in the Middle East, which let me fine-tune the communication and collaboration skills I gained working internationally. Throughout my time in India, I also shared what I was learning about Indian architectural practice through HKS’ internal blog. Upon my return, I put together an AIA continuing education course to discuss my experiences with the xChange Fellowship, with the hope that other emerging professionals take advantage of similar opportunities.
Matt Guinta, AIA, is a proud Detroiter and project architect at HKS. A year since returning from India, he continues to keep touch with his Indian colleagues.