There it is. That 5pm invite for an 8am meeting… your stomach sinks so low you can almost hear it hit the floor.
You escaped the first round of layoffs but you know that this time, you won’t be so lucky. Two of your three clients had to scale back on their budgets, leaving you with a lot less to offer your company. You know what that means. They just can’t afford to keep you on in this unstable economy. So, what is a person to do?
Head to another country, of course!
Bri Kapellas was working for a tech PR firm in 2008 when the recession hit. She knew that her current job was going to end and so she made the decision to return to Chile and make a life there for a while. She’d volunteered there as a recent graduate and was actually still in a relationship with a man she’d met during that time.
So she moved there on a tourist visa, found a job, and created a life as an expat. In our interview she explains the challenges of moving, working, and creating a life in a foreign country. If you’re curious about what it’s like choosing to work and live in a foreign country, read on!
Kellen McKillop: What spurred on the decision to move to Chile?
Bri Kapellas: It was 2008 and the market crashed. Over the next couple of months, there was a lot of client attrition and people were scaling back. Layoffs were inevitable and two of my three main clients had been ones who had chosen to leave so I kind of knew what was coming. The company was really kind and generous and there were no hard feelings, but I was left with a chunk of severance money in a bad economy.
Chile was still a pretty thriving place for business. [Editor’s note: Chile is one of the only countries that mines copper. The president had decided to save and so they had a reserve. When things got rocky, they were able to disperse that and the market crash didn’t end up hurting their economy too much.] I was also still in a relationship with someone there and since it was not a good idea to bring him here [to the United States], I figured I’d go there.
I knew that I couldn’t go back to Chillan (where I had volunteered as a recent graduate) because it was such a small town. There would have been nothing for me to do but volunteer teach, and that was no longer an option for me. So I went to Santiago, my boyfriend moved up there with me, and I started my job search.
Kellen McKillop: What was the job search like for you in Chile?
Bri Kapellas: I didn’t have a job and so arrived on a tourist visa which was valid for 90 days. The cool thing about Chile is that if your visa is about to expire, all you have to do is take a bus to Mendoza which is like a two-hour ride away from Santiago, just up and over the Andes, and when you come back, your visa resets for another 90 days. You only have to go for an hour if you want. I went for a weekend. It’s a big thing with expats. I only had to do that once.
Craigslist isn’t really a thing in Chile, but it was just what I was used to checking in my job search ritual in general. There were only around five jobs posted a week. One of the jobs that happened to be posted was looking for people who spoke English and who wanted to work in sales. I had just enough experience working in retail that I could finagle my way into an interview with them.
Here’s one of the funny details about Chile. In Chile, you always have a “psychological interview” first. So I arrived at this office thinking that I was going to talk about all of the attributes that were going to make me a good salesperson and my past work history and why I would be a good fit. But then I sit down with the HR person and I’m shown an inkblot and asked, “What do you see?” There were other questions like, “You get off a phone call with a client, what color do you see—black or yellow?”
It was about a half hour of that and then they thanked me and told me that they’d let me know. Then I got a call back saying I could come in for a second interview where I actually talked to people about my qualifications.
This happens at every job interview in Chile. I came home and told my boyfriend about it and he said, “Of course. That’s the psychological interview. They don’t do that in the USA?”
KM: Whoa. Very interesting. After you got the job was it easy to get a new visa?
BK: They supported me in getting a visa, but that just meant they gave me the work contract that I needed to submit. I had to do all the work myself like going to the civil office. It is a really bureaucratic society where they have to stamp everything and if one page isn’t stamped it could totally ruin everything down the line and you’ll have to start all over again. So you end up with like eight carbon copies of something stamped and one has to go to this person and another to that person. It’s a really complex process.
Luckily the office I was working in was a company called Business News America and it was a lot of Latin American business information source companies from all over the world, so everyone who worked there was bilingual because they were either journalists or working in sales with international companies. A lot of people were in [or had been in] my situation, so there were a lot of people I could lean on who would tell me what I had to do and what the processes were like and everyone was really good about sharing that information.
KM: So what, exactly, was the job you were doing?
BK: I started with a job that was for new client business and that was basically cold calling people. That’s the job I applied for and got. I started and was trained in that. But at the end of the week of training, they let [all of us new hires] know that there was one spot opening up on the existing client portfolio (ECP) team. I knew I needed to have that spot.
I’m really good with people but I can’t do the cold calling. At the end of training there was a presentation that we had to give and the prompt was something like “Choose an industry that Business News America worked with [telecom, petrochemicals, oil and gas, electricity] and show us how you would keep them with the company” or something like that. You had to do industry research and I made mine really geared toward how the products we had would engage them and how we could make sure they were using them. I made it very ECP focused because I knew that the ECP team was going to be there watching it.
Sure enough, they realized that I had tailored my presentation to their team and understood how it was going to work and had a client-centered mindset. Because I was already thinking of ways to retain people, they picked me to join that team.
So that’s how I ended up in that job and I was much happier. I really liked the idea of being able to bring solutions to people and it’s a lot easier when you have that springboard of them knowing who you are [as a vendor]. They had given us money before so why wouldn’t they give us more now? We had a certain amount, a percentage, we had to raise the price by, so it definitely wasn’t all roses. We had our key performance indicators (KPI) and a certain percentage over what they paid last year was our baseline and then anything we could get over that, we’d get commission on.
KM: And what was the training like for that?
BK: The only training I got was the sales training at the beginning before I was chosen to go to ECP. So yeah, it was just figuring it out on the job. They gave me a list and I had probably anywhere from 15 to 30 companies a month that I was responsible for renewing. You would want to start the renewal process three months in advance because it would take a lot of time. People would have to get approvals and you just didn’t want to run out. So I would have three pieces of paper with the different months like March, April, and May and just highlight who was done and write notes next to names like, “This person is checking with so-and-so,” or “He’s on vacation until this time.” Anything I could do to keep track and stay on top of like 90 companies at a time.
KM: And how was your Spanish at the time?
BK: At the time it wasn’t that great. I was really scared to start that job and was really scared to make my first calls to people in Spanish. It was good enough but it’s one thing to speak face-to-face with someone when you can see their expressions and everything, and it’s totally another to be talking to someone on the phone and knowing they’re probably only paying half-attention to you and you don’t know what face they’re making or things like that.
I bet my first phone calls were just horrible. But somehow you muddle through it and you get better and better as you get more comfortable with the material because you’re giving a similar spiel every time about the product and how it can be helpful for them.
I would do mid-subscription calls which is when you call just to ask how it’s going and you could see if they were using it or not and things like that. You were just making sure that they were finding value in it. That way when it came time to renew, hopefully they would want to.
KM: Were there many clients who only spoke Spanish?
BK: Yeah, I can’t say exactly, but probably 60% of the companies were based in Latin America and spoke Spanish. But that was the other thing—you had to deal with all sorts of Spanish accents. You might call someone in Colombia and they speak so clearly! Then in Spain and Argentina, they have crazy thick accents. So you would really get the gamut and have to get used to figuring out where you were going to call and preparing yourself to interact with that kind of accent.
KM: And did you figure that out as you went?
BK: Pretty much and again, you hear about people from your coworkers so they could prepare you like, “When you call this guy…”
My team was really great and diverse. When I started it was a Chilean, an Argentinian, a Brazilian, a German, a Canadian, and me. So it was a very cool environment and everyone brought their own background and different things.
One of the hard ones was if you didn’t speak Portuguese (and Brazil was so big in oil, gas, and petrochemicals), you had to hope they spoke English and if not, the client had to go to the Brazilian so you’d have to ask to trade companies. But if you called France or Germany, everyone in the business spoke English. Like better than we do.
We had clients all over like Japan and China and we’d have to call at crazy weird hours. Sometimes we’d come in early or stay later. Sometimes I’d even do Skype calls from home just to get them while they were in the office.
KM: So do you have any advice in general for recent graduates who are interested in working in another country?
BK: Talk to people about their experiences. It was crazy dealing with insurance in Chile and all those logistical things like opening up a bank account.
KM: And you had to deal with that? How did you figure it all out?
BK: There’s socialized healthcare so if I got hit by a car or something I would be taken care of, but it’s not good for preventative care like lady doctor things because you can’t choose when to make an appointment. They tell you when your appointment is in the socialized system. But if you pay to have insurance (that’s also a big class division thing), you can call to make an appointment. So dealing with what the differences are there and getting things covered was interesting.
To figure it out, I asked people. Again it was a lot of “What do you do? What is this?” And then you also have crazy experiences and you’re kind of forced to figure stuff out when it happens. Looking back, I’m kind of like, how did I figure that out?
The bank account thing was also really hard to open because you had to prove all sorts of residency things like you had to have a place to live but it was hard to get place to live if you didn’t have a line of credit so it was kind of like a chicken and an egg thing. You had to have a certain amount of money in your account at all times and there were a lot of regulations for foreigners. You also have to pay into the AFP, the retirement situation down there, and it’s like impossible to get your money out before you turn 65.
When you move to and work in another country, I would say just talk to other expats in the area. Try to get on a network. There was a Chilean spouses email list thing that you had to be invited to, but it was all of these wives and partners of people who had moved there for that situation and it covered everything from doctor recommendations to how to have a Thanksgiving and find cranberry sauce. So it was a place I could ask questions and someone had inevitably been through what you were going through or had a recommendation. I would say wherever you want to move, start trying to build a network and usually expats are super nice and welcoming.
Do your research online, but that’s only going to get you to a certain point because if we’re being honest, you’re not going to read every page of a government website until you really have to. You can’t know everything about the process until you’re faced with it and then you just have to figure it out.
Homework time! Thinking about moving to a different country after college? Consider what Bri said and look into different expat networks you can become a part of. See if there are any Facebook groups, email lists, or friends of friends who can give you advice about what it’s like to live in that country. Also, check out this post about living as a “serial expat” after college.