An international career is something that a lot of communicators have thought of at one point in their lives. That’s why Karen Matthews, currently Communications and Engagement Manager at RMIT Europe, shares with us her experience after over 9 years of working internationally and what she thinks are the most important things to keep in mind if you want to work abroad.
Originally from Australia, Karen’s career has taken her to Canada, Vietnam, and Spain, as well as different locations in Australia within the last decade, and in this interview, she tells us all about it.
✨ You can connect with Karen through LinkedIn ✨
Gabriela: Tell us a bit about yourself and where has your career taken you?
Karen: I started my career in communications in Australia, and not long after I finished my undergrad degree I headed to Canada and I was there for around a year. Following Canada, I was in Vietnam for several years and then I’ve ended up in Spain, which is where I’m currently based, working with RMIT University.
Gabriela: Which abilities and skills do you think have been crucial for you, to have been offered these roles in different countries?
Karen: I think for me it’s really about being adaptable. So, adaptability has been key. You know, moving to a new country, it’s really important to get outside of the expat bubble, taking the time to immerse yourself in a different culture. Learning and understanding the landscape is also really important, so not just at an organizational level, but also external market trends and insights. Getting to know what’s best practice in your industry sector or for the organization where you’re working. It’s really talking to your stakeholders, listening, asking questions and not thinking that you already have all of the answers.
Gabriela: Do you recommend people to stick to an industry, just like you have with higher education, or do you think jumping from industry to industry works as well?
Karen: Take for example in my situation, that’s certainly something that has helped me along the way, working in higher education. But in saying that, I think that we’re fortunate as comms professionals that our skills are transferrable across different sectors. So, it does mean that there are diverse opportunities across different organizations and different industry sectors. And you don’t always need to stick to one area, but sometimes it can be easier if you do.
Gabriela: Do you think it’s important to know many languages to have a better shot? Would you recommend people learning other languages as well?
Karen: Absolutely. I think knowing multiple languages is such an asset that you can have. I guess for me because I’ve been working for organizations where the working language and the language of the organization is English and my first language is English, so you know that has been key for me. But I think knowing other languages, certainly opens up many more doors.
Gabriela: What are the most gratifying things you have experiences outside of your home country in addition to your career?
Karen: It would have to be experiencing all the different cultures, making new friends, learning new things, taking on new adventures, getting outside of my comfort zone really.
Gabriela: That’s tough and it has been for me as well. So I can’t imagine what’s it been like for you since you’ve been outside of Australia for a really long time, but I guess it gets easier somehow after a while?
Karen: Yes, I guess if you look at what are some of the challenges about having a global career I think that this is one of those things for me. At times it’s really hard being away from my friends and family. Currently, where I’m now in Spain, Australia is a long way away but I think on the other hand when we do catch up it makes for pretty incredible reunions in different parts of the world.
Gabriela: That’s totally true. I guess you miss them a little bit more? That happens to me. I guess you get to value certain things that you didn’t so much before.
Karen: Yes, absolutely.
Gabriela: So is there anything that you wouldn’t do again or something that you’ve learned and you would do differently maybe?
Karen: Yes, I think that I probably wouldn’t wait so long to study again. So, when I decided to do a master, it was almost a decade after I’ve done my undergrad. And I think, of course, we always say and we know that learning is lifelong but I think it really took when I was working in higher education to open my eyes to that. So, I guess that’s something that I probably would’ve done differently. I wouldn’t have waited so long.
And you know, today there are so many different ways of learning and different delivery models, so many things are online. So I think it’s really possible to balance having a full-time career, as well as continuing to be a learner.
Gabriela: That’s great. I think from my own experience, I did wait five years to do my master and time-wise a year or two less would have been fine as well. But waiting a bit and having that work experience was really valuable for me when I came to Spain because it somehow allows me to stand out in comparison to others that are here and that got their master’s degree right after graduating from their bachelor’s degree.
So that was good and a lot of my friends have been through the same. Therefore I think maybe you don’t have to wait that long but just get a bit of experience before you do something else in another country because if you want to stay there after, work experience is something that will help you and it goes a long way.
Karen: I think the same, I think definitely it’s better to have industry experience before you do your postgrad, but probably not waiting ten years like I did.
Gabriela: Great, so this has been amazing. Finally, I would like to ask you what is your favorite communications tip that you’d like to share with all of our listeners?
Karen: I think for me it’s always having your audience in mind. Putting yourself in the shoes of your reader, your listener, your viewer. What are their content needs? What would they find interesting about what you are communicating? And how can they engage with you if they want to?
And I have another one, actually. The other one is to get yourself a mentor and it doesn’t necessarily have to be someone that is in communications. I had my first mentor when I was in my late twenties and I was working in comms in the engineering sector in Australia. And my mentor was a wonderful man, who looked after business development for the organization. We had sort of a formal mentoring relationship for around a year, but we’ve stayed in touch since. And we’re talking maybe eight years ago, that was when we first started the mentoring.
So we’ve stayed in touch and I caught up with him and his family when he’s been traveling in Europe and it has been really a very beautiful and valued relationship with a very smart person so I would also recommend that.
Gabriela: That sounds great. I agree with you, I currently have two mentors as I see it. I have a person, a comms expert, that works in the UK that is helping me through some things and you as well, you’ve been my mentor this last year. And I think these relationships have allowed me to see outside of my bubble and see other things that otherwise, I might have missed. So I think it’s really important to talk to people that have been in other countries and know how things work, especially if you’re starting in your career.
Karen: I also think it’s mutually beneficial. So it’s not just about the mentee learning and being guided, but also for the mentor is a learning experience as well.
Gabriela: Oh I’m glad to hear that.
So, where can people connect with you to learn more about RMIT if they want to get in touch?
Karen: You can find me on LinkedIn.
Gabriela: Great! Thank you so much for being with me here today Karen, and I know the experiences you shared will be very useful to anyone who’s looking to start a career in communications outside of their home country.