Published on October 27th, 2010 | by thevyne


My Experiences Living Abroad

In August, Chereese and other Vyne readers described their tips for living overseas. We wanted Chereese to tell us more about her experiences and how she has taken full advantage of her experiences living in France and Angola.

By Chereese Johnson

ESSEC Business School
Paris, France – Study Abroad
3 months

While in graduate school at the Kellogg School of Management, I had the opportunity to spend one quarter at a foreign institution, ESSEC, to complete my MBA.  Although studying abroad meant that I would be missing a quarter of the Kellogg Business school experience, I thought it would be beneficial to start gaining a real life global business perspective.  In addition, due to other obligations, I didn’t get a chance to studying abroad during my undergraduate experience.  So, I felt that this was a chance to fulfill a desire from the past.  A study abroad experience can be a great way to get “introduced” to living abroad.

Paris was an amazing place to study abroad.  The culture, people, and sites made it rich educational experience.  Since France is a developed country, there were many similarities to living in the United States.  So, getting accustomed to the Parisian life wasn’t that difficult.  However, I did find that I started to appreciate the distinct differences about Paris, such as taking public transit as the primary means of transportation, walking up several flights of stairs because there are no elevators, and appreciating the vast history that makes Paris the great city it is.  While there, my French was limited.  This is one of the aspects about the experience that I wish I could redo.  Learning a language is very critical to absorbing the culture.  It makes the experience easier and more beneficial.  Despite not knowing the language, many Parisians spoke English.  While there, I took business courses which provided a very different viewpoint, traveled, and absorbed an amazing city.

Luanda, Angola – 1.5 years

I started Chevron Corporation as a part of the Human Resources Development Program in September 2007.  This program offered 4 rotations in different facets of HR at Chevron.  It was mandatory for all participants in the program to complete an international rotation.  Since Chevron is a global organization, there were various locations to choose from.  I was mostly interested in returning to Africa, after visiting this region of the world for the first time in 2006.  I chose Luanda, Angola because it represents one of the biggest business units in the corporation and because it would be a stretch from a language, culture, and environment perspective.

Luanda, Angola is a place that many people probably have never heard of.  I honestly wasn’t familiar with this part of the world until I started with Chevron.  Luanda, Angola is a former Portuguese colony that gained independence in 1975. After the independence, the country underwent a 26 year civil that ended 2002.  As result of the war, the country is still undergoing major development.  The country’s main resource is oil, hence, why Chevron has operations there.  It is an exciting time for the country and the future holds many possibilities. But, it doesn’t negate the fact that the country still has a long way to go in terms of building a sustainable infrastructure, a educated workforce, and fueling economic trade.

I arrived in Luanda, Angola in February 2009 for what was supposed to be a 6 month expatriate assignment.  However, like many things in life, plans changed and I was asked to stay to help out with a myriad of initiatives within the HR department.  Working in a developing country provides many professional rewards because there is so much to be done.  You get the opportunity to make real impact.  What I love most about the work I am doing is that it is helping to build a national workforce that is capable of sustaining the Chevron Angola operations.  I find a personal joy in helping to develop Angolans so they can progressively assume more leadership positions in the company.  While this doesn’t benefit me directly as an expat, I am happy to see our African brothers and sisters continuously achieving success.  It is not a perfect world here, but I love the imagery and realities of it.

The challenges of living abroad differ from one person to the next.  I feel very comfortable in Angola even though it is very different from the States.  However, I would say that the most challenging aspect is that things don’t operate as smoothly as they do in the US.  It takes a long time to get food at restaurants, you have to ask people several times to fix the same maintenance requests, and the lights go off frequently in your home and at work, just to name a few.  But, these are more like inconveniences that in a broad spectrum don’t hold a candle to the worthwhile experience it is overall.  You adjust and make do.  You learn to be flexible and you learn what is important.

The most memorable aspect of living overseas has been the travel.  While in Paris and Luanda, Angola collectively, I have visited 10 countries.  These experiences have ranged to a camel ride up Mt. Sinai in Sharma El Sheikh, Egypt to sipping a glass of wine in the Indian Ocean on the Bazaruto Archipelago in Mozambique to eating Pastel de Nata in Belem, Portugal. Collectively this has all been absolutely amazing.

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One Response to My Experiences Living Abroad

  1. kingsley says:

    Am Kingsley, i work with Chevron Lekki Nigeria, isaw your beautiful profile and i want us amazed,i want us to be good friends.

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