April 1, 2010

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Thinking about travel

I’ve just submitted my application to IBM’s Corporate Service Corps, which sends IBMers to emerging countries. The volunteers work with local non-profit and government agencies to share their skills in IT, management, and other topics. Applicants need to have been with IBM for at least two years, so this is the first time I can qualify. I joined IBM shortly before the program started, and I’ve been waiting for the opportunity since then.

The program involves three months of prep work, one month overseas, and two months of service afterwards. While a month of travel makes me a little nervous, W- reminded me that he managed just fine during my three-week trip to the Philippines. He needed to come home earlier to feed the cats and take care of the litter boxes, but things were otherwise okay. Maybe longer-term travel isn’t so scary after all. We can figure out going from three weeks to one month, maybe even two. A year-long international assignment still seems like a big stretch, but maybe we can work it out if needed.

I’d love to be selected and to help make a difference wherever I’m sent. It would be amazing if I’m assigned to the Philippines—plugging into my old networks, bringing people together to do something great. It would also be amazing if I’m sent elsewhere, because then I’ll learn about a different place and connect with new networks. I’d love to tell stories from the field!

In the medium- and long-term, both my first-line manager and my dotted-line manager (ah, matrix organizations) have recommended that I look into global roles or growth markets. If I want to keep growing in my career, I suspect that at least some travel will be in my future.

I’m starting to realize that travel doesn’t have to be the bogeyman I’d thought it was. I’m getting better at the paperwork I need for visas. If we can get a cat sitter or housekeeper to drop by the house everyday, that means W- can focus on work if he needs to. I’ve dealt with culture shock before. I’m starting to find role models who’ve successfully pulled it off before, which is even more encouraging.

It’s worth an experiment.  Maybe I can gradually work up to it: one month for CSC, three months helping with workshops, six months or longer… I need to balance that with other things I want to do with my life, but it would be interesting to explore.