Pascal Burgard of the blog La Vida in Mexico, a young French expatriate in Mexico since September 2007 shares his rich experience of 13 years of expatriation, from England to Mexico through Ireland.
My name is Pascal and I am now 35 years old. I am a “pure-bred” Alsatian as it seems: my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, all born in Alsace, have lived all their lives in this region.
At school, I was a “scientist” more than a “literary.” But I loved English. I liked the sound of the language of course, but also the ability of English to make me travel; I flew by thought from the classroom of my college located in a small village in the French countryside, to this still unknown island that stood on the other side of the North Sea. I felt drawn to the mystery, to the adventure, to the one who is different.
A school trip to England the year I was 15 years old convinced me of what I already felt in my heart as a matter of course: I wanted to be able, one day, live the experience of living abroad,discovering a different culture from my own, and being able to express myself from morning to night in another language.
I had my first expatriation experience in the summer of my 21st birthday. I had managed to find a job in the UK that would allow me to finance a 2-month stay. It was above all the reward of great perseverance since I had to face more than a hundred refusals before finally being accepted as an intern in a company! This summer 2001 was full of adventures and discoveries of all kinds, so I decided to do it again the following year, but in a slightly more serious setting this time: by doing an internship in applied physics, again in England.
At the end of my studies, the desire to continue the adventure abroad was always present in my mind. I wanted to go back, but to another country this time. I choose Ireland, a bit by chance. I focused on not planning anything, planning anything: I didn’t want to look for work in advance, I didn’t want to do any research; I just wanted to put my bags down and for once let myself be carried away by the events.
By chance, my arrival in Ireland coincided with the time of the Celtic Tiger,a period of strong economic growth throughout the country. The sector that at that time was recruiting young graduates at arm’s length was computer science. I got my first job at IBM.
I knew the basics of computing, but nothing more: a little programming, some knowledge in networks. Yet this was not a hindrance in this country of Anglo-Saxon mentality that advocates “go for it attitude”. In other words, people there place far less importance on a person’s knowledge at the time of hiring than on their ability to learn and assimilate new knowledge. It’s a good thing: I’m quick-witted and I’m learning fast. The Anglo-Saxons love it.
I continued my professional career in Ireland, striving to always continue to learn and to remain attentive to the opportunities that would arise: this is how I was able to get a promotion almost every year and I went from IBM to HP, then to ACS, and I doubled my salary in less than 3 years!
If my business adventure gave me complete satisfaction, my Irish life was slowly becoming more commonplace: the excitement of discovery gradually gave way to routine. I was already dominating English too well. England and Ireland had very few mysteries to offer me. I began to feel a certain nostalgia for those great moments of happiness in my college life during which I discovered, patiently, English and England.
So I tried to relive these emotions by studying another language. I chose Spanish, almost arbitrarily. I didn’t say a word of Spanish and I had never been to Spain, but I had always loved the sound of that language. I was hoping that Spanish would somehow become my passport to new adventures.
Life is full of opportunities that are just waiting to be seized.
You just have to be careful and know what you want. Thus, while studying Spanish, I was looking for a way to make a new expatriation possible while remaining consistent from a professional point of view. The solution finally came to the fore within my company: as part of a project, a Mexican delegation arrived at ACS Ireland. I sympathized with my Latino colleagues who told me that they were looking for people with my profile to complete their team. Two weeks after they left, I asked for my transfer to Mexico, a country where I had never been before and of which I knew almost nothing. The process lasts 6 months, but my application is finally accepted. In September 2007, I flew to America.
The “Latino” mentality is very different from the Anglo-Saxon mentality, but when I arrive in Mexico and for the next 7 years, I will only work on behalf of North American companies that impose their mentality and their working model on employees around the world. The “go for it attitude” remains the order of the day, and I continue with this mentality of always learning and always daring. That’s how I was given a position of “Manager” the following year when I was only 28 years old. This is also how, a few years later, I find myself in an architect’s position at Dell in Guadalajara, the highest technical post in all of Dell Mexico! Not bad for someone who, during his schooling, never really studied computer science. Nor Spanish for that matter…
It is obvious that if I had stayed in France, my career would have been very different. Firstly because in the French mentality, the career path must – at least at the beginning – be the extension of academic training. In other words, I don’t think I could have gone so simply from physics to computer science. The French are not as flexible from that point of view as the English or the Americans. I also feel that my progress would have been slower and that I would have been a victim of the age test (“too young for such a position”). Finally, if I had stayed in France, I probably would not have had the idea and the desire to continue learning languages (I speak 5 of them today, I had studied German in middle and high school, and in Guadalajara I started to learn Portuguese).
What makes me most proud, through the journey I have made so far, is to have been able to be in a certain way the craftsman of my own life. I lived what I had always wanted to go through, and beyond. I have the feeling that anything is possible through willand and hard work. It’s something very exciting that gives me a lot of enthusiasm for the years to come.
Be careful though becauseexpatriation is not for everyone! When we go abroad to live, we must expect that our certainties will be shaken to some extent. When one emigrates, one leaves certain reality,a certain environment, to go and marry another. We’re losing our bearings a little bit. We suddenly find ourselves faced with people who have a different way of thinking, values that are different from our own- but which are just as valid. Of course these changes can be more or less radical, it is not at all the same if you go to Switzerland or China! That said even in a case that I would call “intermediate” like Mexico it can be a bit destabilizing.
We can also find ourselves face-to-face with certain situations that we knew existed, but which set “far away” in our country of origin. I knew for example that corruption existed in some countries, but I was marked when I first saw my Mexican taxi driver get out of the car and slip a banknote to a police officer who had stopped him to avoid getting ready end a fine (I realized since it’s something banal here …). Similarly, I knew that people could be kidnapped, but I was horrified when I saw such a scene unfold before my eyes… Personally, I am pleased to have been able to live these experiences – and many others – because they allow me to have a more complete and just view of the world today. But not everyone will react in the same way to these realities.
The opposite is also true:expatriation is a great opportunity to refine the values bequeathed to us by the country of our childhood. Faced with the discipline and the relative coldness of the Alsatians, the jovial, fraternal, extroverted and disorderly side of the Mexicans represents a real cultural shock, and I tend to say that since I live in Mexico I am probably “less hardworking, but happier than before.”
If I had any advice for a young graduatewho would like to go abroad, it would probably be to have the most flexible attitude possible in the face of the events and opportunities that will presentthemselves to him. You may not find the job you’re looking for in the country you’re attracting, and what’s next? This does not mean that the country you will be going to will be less interesting in, or that the position in question will not allow you to achieve a good career.
You are at all times in control of your destiny, and it is up to you to seize all the opportunities that life offers you at all times. Wherever you are.