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The unquestionable benefits of my work placement abroad

Elliot Howells

Technology Solutions Professional

​​​I’m sat writing this blog post overlooking London from Microsoft’s offices in Paddington. A role at Microsoft has always been a bit of a dream for me; one that I didn’t think I had even a chance of achieving until much later on in my career. 

However, I joined the Dynamics 365 technical team here just over six months ago - about a year to the day after graduating – and I haven’t looked back since. When I consider what it was that helped me get to this position, the answer isn’t particularly concise, but one experience springs to mind; my work placement abroad. 


In 2015, just before starting my final year at Cardiff University, I spent four weeks working for a digital currency exchange in Hong Kong. The company was a relatively small, but leading, start-up, called Gatecoin, working in the fascinating world of Cryptocurrencies. My role was a Management Intern and involved benchmarking Gatecoin against its competitors globally while writing briefings and whitepapers for colleagues at all levels in the business. Having spent two years as Vice President and President of Cardiff University Students’ Union before joining Gatecoin, I was very used to the world of full-time work. However, what was new about this role was the very-international element. 


The staff team at Gatecoin was made up of people from all over the world and a flurry of different languages were spoken in the office at any one time. Our customers, competitors and partner organisations were based in all corners of the globe. We were managing the challenges (and opportunities!) that come with a truly global marketplace; time zones, conference calls and language barriers to name just a few. This was, of course, all in addition to the fact I was working in a business culture that was entirely new to me. The team at Gatecoin were fantastic and did a great job of helping me get to grips with a new industry in a new country and I very quickly felt part of the company.  


Now, working for an organisation headquartered in the USA, with over 125,000 staff spread over 123 countries, the benefits of having some experience working abroad beforehand are unquestionable. I speak to colleagues in other countries on most days and having a consideration and appreciation of the challenges that come with these practical and cultural differences is invaluable. I am also certain that the fact I had taken the initiative to spend time working abroad said a lot about my character and played a big part in the recruitment process for my current job. 


While I was working a full-time role when in Hong Kong, it would be remiss of me not to mention the fun I had! I went abroad with a cohort of about 15 other students from Cardiff University and another 15 from around the world on a programme organised by Absolute InternshipIn addition to organising the work placement, Absolute had prepared an action-packed agenda meaning we made the most of all that Hong Kong had to offer. While there, we visited famous sights such as Victoria Peak, Lantau Island and Avenue of the Stars. We had many a night out in Lan Kwai Fong and tasted some incredible food. 

Top tip: if you’re not a meat-eater, do some research before eating out in Hong Kong. If a traditional dish is advertised as being “meat-free”, it probably just means it doesn’t have beef in it. My vegetarian roommate found out the hard way!


I also met some amazing people while abroad – those on the Absolute Internship programme and those calling Hong Kong their home. My best advice would be to put yourself out there because you really will learn so much. This was particularly the case on some of the international business experiences we had, like visiting IKEA Hong Kong’s headquarters and the country’s Bloomberg offices. 


I can’t recommend an international experience enough. I was fortunate to be studying at one of the country’s leading institutions for student mobility so was supported massively by Cardiff’s Global Opportunity CentreHowever, with UUKi’s Go International campaign underway, more and more universities are developing programmes to support students working, studying or volunteering abroad. Do your research and see what opportunities are available for you…you certainly won’t regret it.

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