Migrant workers: Case studies

Around the world, there are a number of professions that are in high demand. Read the stories of eight professionals who have made the move to another country.

Rebecca, a Philippine nurse in the USA

Rebecca, a Philippine nurse in the USA

"I moved to the US in 2006 [having worked in Saudi Arabia] after applying through an immigration agency that recruits nurses for the US.

Workwise, it's not so different as patient care is universal, but the US is well known for its advanced technologies and many breakthroughs in science and medical research. Nurses are more independent and are listened to by doctors. Our input also has a significant impact on the care plan for patients.

I was shocked to hear nurses call doctors by their first names. Our culture doesn't allow us to do that. It took me maybe a year to get used to it. But I love the way working relationships are more casual here. I was awarded an excellence award for peer education after working two years in my department. It was quietly humbling to know that many had been nominated across the hospital, but I had won the award.

It's like living a dream life here. I love my job. We just bought a house. We can travel when we want to. We spend the money we work hard for. We provide good education for our children. We are able to help our families in the Philippines if needs be. We are free to worship as Protestants. Life is more meaningful that way."

Marcus, a British doctor in India

Marcus, a British doctor in India

"I'm of Indian origin; I grew up in London and graduated as a doctor there. After working at several London-based hospitals, I decided to make the leap and moved to Mumbai in 2008. It's a reverse migration trend where people move back to India from overseas.

India's healthcare market is at a very interesting point. It's opening up; people can afford more; people want quality healthcare at an affordable price. There are more corporate private players. There's also a big change in medical technology, facilities and infrastructure. It's exciting.

But of course, there's also a reverse culture shock. When you work in a very Western society, you learn a set of processes and have a set of expectations. Things are very ordered, very structured in the UK, whereas in India, it's almost like a controlled version of chaos.

Another aspect I have to learn to adjust to is the wealth of a patient. When you are in India, it becomes a critical factor, not just for the drugs that you prescribe, but also for whether they can afford a test. The entire treatment of a patient might fall through or change drastically if they are from a lower class.

The clearest difference between being a doctor in India compared to the UK is that there is no clear distinction between personal life and professional life. In India, you're always on call. [But] one of the most rewarding things about working here is that you have a greater feel of autonomy. I bring the lessons learnt from the West to India, and generally am in a position to help change things for the better, as opposed to having things dictated to you by other people."

Thuy, a Vietnamese IT engineer in Norway

Thuy, a Vietnamese IT engineer in Norway

"During the recruitment process, they asked me if I could tolerate cold weather conditions. I have no problem with that as I come from north Vietnam and lived in South Korea, which has very cold weather, for four years.

I have been really impressed by this country's equality principles. The way my company operates reflects the overall culture of the country. For example, after the interview, I didn't know how much my salary would be. But later on, I found out that if I had the right qualifications and experience, I would be paid as highly as a Norwegian. Whereas in South Korea, I could be paid half of what a native Korean earned, even if I had the same qualifications.

The working culture in Norway is very flexible. You are required to be at work from 9am to 3pm. But you can start the day as early as 7am and leave early, as long as you work 7.5 hours per day. The unions here are very strong. They negotiate the salary for you. The salary is automatically updated every year to reflect the inflation rate.

It's very easy to integrate. Although there is a language barrier, almost all Norwegians speak more or less very good English. People are very relaxed, not too serious. I'm learning Norwegian after work now. I also know some Vietnamese people who came here as boat people. But in winter, the weather is very cold and it's very dark most of the time."

Ranu, an Indonesian chef in the UK

Ranu, Indonesian chef in London

"When I arrived, I studied to become a professional chef because I wanted to acquire the skills to work in the hospitality and catering industry. I worked my way up: in the beginning, I couldn't work as a chef right away, so I just worked as a helper.

I remember wiping things and learning on the job by observing other chefs. How do they do it? What kind of food and menu do they offer? It's hard work. After 10 years of living in the UK, I got my residency permit so that I could apply to work as a professional chef in 2007; that was a turning point of my life.

Now, I'm at the top of my career specialising in South East Asia cuisines. It's a special skill that not every chef has. For my recipes, I always try to use the tastes of foods I have come across in my travels to Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, etc.

London is a very cosmopolitan, multicultural city with lots of ethnic cuisines, but most of the chefs here just make instant food. For example, they just import the stock from Malaysia and heat it up. They are not creating something new. I can't work like that. I need inspiration in my work. My dream for the future is to have my own restaurant in this country."

Stellah, a Zimbabwean nurse in the UK

Stellah, a Zimbabwean nurse in the UK

"I feel very privileged and very happy to be a migrant. I feel lucky I was given the opportunity to pursue further education in the UK, then get a degree and now work in the UK, helping people, taking care of people.

The main thing in this country is that everybody should be treated with respect and dignity. That is the one thing that you, as a nurse working in this country, have to understand. This principle is put in practice, for example, in the way patients are involved in the care plan. I was shocked to see how much a patient is involved in the care plan. This is one thing that I really like in this country.

Another difference is that you are accountable for all your actions and omissions. In other countries, sometimes things happen and it's just brushed under the carpet. But here, being a nurse is like being on the front line. Whatever you do, you have to be responsible.

But the main goal is working with people, encouraging them to achieve well-being. This is dedication."

Nathan, a British oil engineer in Singapore and South Korea

Nathan, a British oil engineer in Singapore and South Korea

"Here in Ulsan, South Korea, what I find most impressive is the scale of the manufacturing operations and the dedication of the workforce. In general, there is a can-do culture here and things are very organised. The work we do is completed efficiently and delivered on time.

There are subtle differences between doing business in South Korea and in Singapore. In South Korea, hierarchy in an organisation is very important. If seniority is not acknowledged, it can pose challenges and potentially cause loss of face and embarrassment. It is critical that you recognise when a change or disagreement arises and allow both parties a graceful 'out' to avoid causing problems and embarrassment.

Living somewhere so different is a step into the unknown to start with, but soon you find your way and realise that, culture aside, people are all really the same. The food can sometimes be a little challenging, especially combined with the language barrier. Once you've overcome your initial trepidation, you find a rhythm. Of course, you sometimes miss those back home, but these days, modern technology keeps you in touch.

The greatest barrier is definitely language, but this is closely followed by culture. The Korean language is really unlike anything I have experienced and that includes having learnt some Russian. Because South Korea is so developed, there is less need for people to learn other languages. We have learnt a few words and gestures, and smiles somehow always seem to help get us by. And nodding may be an indication that you are being understood, but not necessarily being agreed with."

Zhen, a Chinese sales manager in Brazil

Zhen, a Chinese sales manager in Brazil

"What I enjoy about living and working in Brazil is that I can relate to my local friends' mentality. We're all from developing countries, so we share a mutual understanding of our countries' cultures and development. If I tell someone in Europe that Chinese people eat dog meat, for example, they will be disgusted, but in Brazil, they'll just say: 'Oh, it's a different culture.' I was very surprised.

But it's very hard to find a job and get a work visa here. Many of my foreign classmates [at university in Brazil] wanted to stay for work, but very few were able to because of the competition with local students. Brazilian students usually spend two to three years doing internships in local companies, and they also speak several foreign languages.

Bureaucracy is one of the obstacles here. I still have to sort out my work visa now. My Chinese company asked its Brazilian distributor to help me get a visa by hiring me directly. Otherwise, I would have to travel back to China every three months because my company is not registered in Brazil as a local commercial business.

My advice to migrant workers to Brazil is that first of all, you have to speak the language. Secondly, it takes time to make good, long-term friends. Brazilians in general are very friendly and hospitable, so it's easy to make friends. But it takes a lot longer to make friends that you share everything with. From my experience and all the exchange students I know, in the end, what makes you like the city is the people. So you have to give it enough time."

Hariram, an Indian engineer in Germany

Hariram, an Indian engineer in Germany

"Germans don't work long hours like Indians do, but they are highly productive and efficient, thanks to their machinery and equipment. They take more holidays - up to 30 days a year - to recover and stay on the ball. They are professional at work, but don't socialise with workmates the way Indians do.

The most difficult thing has been integration. It takes a long time to earn their trust and be accepted as a team member. To integrate, I have learnt not just their language, but also cultural details about German artists, writers, musicians and sports people.

In my region, wine is quite popular. If you talk to them about the local wine, they think you know a bit about their region, so they are interested in talking to you. Language is just one aspect. Culture is another, for those really trying to integrate. At work, I try my best to do work of the highest quality to show my high potential. Germans expect high quality in any work they do. Rules are pretty much the same for everyone. You are expected to deliver the goods.

People tend to make snap decisions and assumptions about how things work in the world of others. So it's important to understand prejudices. For example, in other countries, the boss takes decisions and workers are expected to accept them. But in Germany, you can voice your own opinion. For people from a developing country, it will take quite a lot of time to grasp this difference. It took me six or seven years to understand this."

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