Tell us about your first experience working overseas? What led to that decision?
I worked for 3 months in Toronto within months of graduating from Uni; it was a way to see the world and pay for a few months of travelling through Europe. I had an amazing time working in Canada, learned a lot and made many good friends. Since then, I’ve lived for longer periods in both London and Hong Kong. The first time in London was very planned: I was in my late twenties and after a few years of work post-Uni, I wanted more diverse experience and challenges than I was getting in Australia. By contrast, the first Hong Kong move was not planned: I was asked to go up and look at a business that Macquarie was thinking of buying, led a big team that did the acquisition and then ended up staying in Asia for more than a decade!
When did you first hear of Advance? How is it different today?
I first heard of Advance more than 10 years ago but I thought of it as rather US focused and not so relevant to me in Asia. The Global Australian Awards are a particularly well known part of what Advance does and I certainly became aware of them as such a great celebration of expat success. But Advance now does so much more and Aussies in various parts of the world are being encouraged to use the Advance umbrella to do more events locally too.
You have a number of board and Chair roles. Why did you take on this role, and what change do you hope to lead?
The attraction of Advance for me is that I really believe in the importance of Australia’s diaspora. People who go out and do interesting things offshore are an underestimated reason for Australian prosperity and resilience, whether they come back and bring new technologies, ideas and skills, or whether they stay abroad and are part of Australia’s soft power and engagement with the world. I would like to see Australia really embrace our expats, even more so after the bruising experience of Covid-related border closures, and for the diaspora to become far more recognised and valued.
What have been the biggest challenges for you maintaining a relationship with Australia when working overseas?
I think it is very challenging to stay ‘in the flow’ in Australia while you’re working overseas. Tragically, I see a lot of people who’ve had extraordinary roles in Asia, Europe or the Americas come back to Australia and struggle to find the sorts of jobs that their talent and experience would suggest. The business community in Australia can be quite inward-looking and offshore achievements won’t just ‘speak for themselves’. You need to be quite proactive in maintaining your relationships and being involved in organisations like Advance that nurture your connections. This should happen throughout your time overseas, not just when you’re starting to think about going back.
Any advice for those beginning their journey of working internationally?
Firstly I would say, congratulations on your initiative and imagination. I would advise reaching out to other expats in the place you’re going and learning from the things they are glad they did as well as the things they wish they hadn’t. In my experience, most Australians working overseas are delighted to help new arrivals and to be mentors. And, of course, staying connected with Advance and all the wonderful events and online material that Advance provides to make the expat journey even more productive and satisfying.
Read more about Andrew Low here.