Personally, I had some life-expanding events that lead me that direction. It started when I attended my first sales training class when I was 22, and instantly knew that was the career I wanted. And when I got my first job in training, I knew that having a rewarding job I enjoyed was amazing.
I was born and raised in Kansas and Missouri, in the heart of the American Midwest. As a result, I did not experience a lot of cultural diversity. At the age of 25, I took a trip to Europe, where I drove with a friend on a road trip from Germany to Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France, and the Netherlands that blew my horizons wide-open. Bam, I was hooked. I did not know their language, which added to the excitement and adventure of experiencing such different cultures. I would find myself walking around in a restaurant and pointing to what I wanted to order. Friendly people helped when we found ourselves lost on a mountaintop in Italy—talking and gesturing, they drew a map in the dirt with a stick to show us how to get back. It was so amazing and life changing—I was hooked on global travel and knew I wanted to figure out how to incorporate that into my work.
The next stage of my life was as a parent. I had the chance to bring my son with me to Ghana and India to do humanitarian work. If the initial Europe trip was life-expanding, these trips were positively life-altering. Helping people, getting to know them, seeing how they live—it fueled and continued the global passion. I was able to connect with corporations and universities on topics like leadership development, team building, and improving innovation. My world was expanding.
Frequently people ask me how they can get started on the global business trail. Here are some ideas:
- Find a study abroad program to a place you want to go.
- Learn or refresh a language. My goal is to speak Spanish badly. People look at me like I’m crazy, but right now I’m learning. So speaking it badly would be a great deal of progress.
- Find a humanitarian or mission trip through a church or organization. You may even be able to leverage your career skills in the process.
- Research in your current company any global learning opportunities, even if you have to pay your own way to gain experience.
- Check American Chamber of Commerce for different countries. There will be news, events, programs and maybe more.
- Volunteer and do a project for free. There are humanitarian projects all over the world. This will help build some credentials but also a network.
- Connect with a different culture where you live and volunteer to help. Sometimes there is need in your own backyard.
- Submit speaking proposals to global conferences (you may need to cover your expenses as you get started). Do the same to local colleges or universities.
- When attending a conference, hang out where the global folks are hanging out. Attend programs on the global track to learn more and meet people.
I have had good luck combining a vacation with business development. I recently did this in the UAE. I asked around my network to see if anyone had contacts in business or academia in Dubai. I set up meetings before I went with consulting companies. I found contacts on LinkedIn, including university faculty and deans. I made contacts and volunteered to do free programs while I was there. All of this helps to get to know the audience, to learn about customs, and to see how business is done.
I encourage others to add to this list of ideas in the comments. There are as many paths as people. And I wish you well on your journey.