Expats extraordinaires: what agency staff should know when moving abroad

Jo Arscott, who has worked in different countries at J Walter Thompson and Saatchi & Saatchi X, reveals what every expat should prepare for.

After the first relocation, you get used to living in limbo – belonging neither here nor there.

Your pets being fostered in random Hollywood/Atlanta homes while you’re sorting out their intricate move to Dubai. Belongings turning up in a truck three months after you’ve rented your apartment in Atlanta (but you’re used to sleeping on the floor anyway).

Recreating your identity again, with a new bank account, social security number and credit history. Going for hospital health checks, biometric tests in the Industrial Area chaperoned by an agency representative, as you’re too "green" to understand the Middle Eastern caste queuing system. Not sleeping for five months to get your first USA 0-1 Visa approved. "If it is. Will it be? God, I hope so."

I hate it. I love it.

Working abroad is the most incredible advertising adventure, especially when you have global networks WPP, IPG, Publicis to help you through the legalities.

Venturing into the unexpected is definitely a seductive drug for a creative.

I never thought I’d be working for Coca-Cola headquarters and Momentum Worldwide in Atlanta, learning African-American culture for Sprite. Then I could literally walk down the street to sit on Martin Luther King’s doorstep and talk to locals who knew him.

I never thought Saatchi & Saatchi X would take me to "Bible Belt" territory in Arkansas, where I had incredible in-depth client/brand experiences with P&G/Walmart leading huge platforms like The Olympic Games.

I never thought that my first day in the Middle East with JWT would be on a private billionaire's island in Qatar with the chief creative officer briefing us on a pitch…and a week later I would be living in Dubai working out how to sample Coke in Iraq, where the challenge is mums don’t open doors thinking they’re going to be shot.

The big things you learn about advertising and the media global creative culture are so immense and rewarding it would take a book to explain.

But it’s the little things you experience in living in a new world that get to your heart as well. My creatives calling me "Miss Jo" and "ma’am" in the American South. My first sandstorm in Dubai and I’m so clueless I fight through it to the agency. Live Bluegrass music at the farmers market in Arkansas on the weekend. Camping out in my basement from a tornado. A 35-course Lebanese welcome dinner from Sally Tam, creative director in Dubai. Graffiti in Cairo that comes alive at night when walking back from the agency to the hotel. Astonishing new consumers like "Mipsters" (Muslim Hipsters). And of course, new friends.

Who would have thought? That I could step in and out of cultures so joyfully... and painfully.

Right now, London no longer feels like my home and that surprises me. My home is a wooden house with a porch and rocking chair in Atlanta. An incredible James Lambeth designed house on a mountaintop in Arkansas. A glass-walled apartment overlooking the Michigan River in Chicago and a flat with marble floors in the Dubai Marina, just a few step from the sea.

But my wanderer’s heart will make it home, when my household belongings arrive from the desert and I find the right agency role that can benefit from this mass of global knowledge.

The phrase, "You live and learn", is true.

And if you have the opportunity or have a dream to work abroad – grab it.

Because as a creative and human being, you will be forever changed.

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