A man in a white shirt stands outdoors surrounded by trees and greenery. He is smiling at the camera.
Steve Rayner. Image: Henkel

How working abroad can ‘build a bit of character grit’

11 Jan 2022

Henkel’s Steve Rayner traded in snowmobiles and desert cacti for blended seasons and old castles when he moved from Canada to Ireland for work.

While holidays can give us a snapshot of what another country is like, nothing truly immerses you in a culture quite like living and working there.

Steve Rayner decided he wanted to live and work abroad to have that experience and left his hometown of Kamloops in Canada for Ireland two years ago.

Rayner works as a global innovation project manager for Henkel, having been with the company for about seven years.

Here, he talks about his decision to work abroad and what differences surprised him most, including the lack of distinct seasons in Ireland compared to Canada.

‘I did experience a bit of culture shock, which really surprised me’

Where are you from and what’s it like there?

My hometown of Kamloops, British Columbia is a desert, surprisingly complete with cacti and rattlesnakes! It is very hot and dry in the summer and can be quite cold in the winter at times. The temperature swings from more than 40 degrees Celsius in the summer down to minus 40 degrees Celsius in the winter.

There is a litany of outdoor activities to take part in, from boating to hiking and biking in the summer, to skiing and snowmobiling in the winter. It’s a town of about 80,000 people, so the pace around town is quite slow and there is still a nice sense of community in many areas of town.

The natural beauty there is really something to see. The town is positioned at the crossroads of several major roadways and railways, so there are always international tourists coming through on road trips or rail adventures. The town is also very lucky to have an amazing ski hill that doubles as a downhill mountain bike facility in the summer.

What prompted your decision to move to Ireland?

During a holiday trip overseas 10 years ago, I decided that I wanted to live and work abroad to truly experience another country and culture. Ireland was a natural fit for me, as the language is the same and culture is similar.

Canada has seen many Irish immigrants over the last 150 years, so there has been a significant cultural influence on Canada and the US. Being able to live and work full time in a European country while being able to travel to other European countries on the weekends is an amazing reality for someone from outside Europe.

We so often get caught up in our own way of life that we forget billions of people have different customs, cultures and norms. International work and travel are a great way to challenge your expectations and cultural norms as well as a great way to build a bit of character grit.

What’s your role in Henkel?

I’m a global innovation project manager at Henkel, so my role is to coordinate functions of the business to ensure smooth development and launches of new products.

My counterparts and I interact with a wide variety of functions, from product development chemists, manufacturing and regulatory to marketing, business development and sales – and, as such, we must be able to understand a wide variety of material and understand the most important aspects of a project to each of these functions or stakeholders.

Essentially, we are the connective tissue between all the different functions within our innovation process.

How would you describe your working environment?

The culture at Henkel is exceptionally supportive, collaborative and welcoming. I have yet to come to work feeling frustrated, like I had with a previous employer. Moving to Ireland was challenging, but it was made all much easier due to the outpouring of support, recommendations and help from co-workers.

Day to day, working in Henkel is challenging but also rewarding. The amazing people here make coming to work an easy task. Working from home during the pandemic has been challenging for us all, but the support from Henkel has been really great.

What do you like most about your job?

No two days are the same in Henkel, particularly in my position. There is always a new challenge, project or problem to overcome or solve. Day to day and week to week, the job is always changing.

I also love the fact that the people I work with are so incredibly collaborative and willing to support other business functions in achieving their goals. I have never run into, ‘That’s not my job.’ It is always, ‘I can help with that’ or, ‘I don’t know, but I think I know the person who would. Let me put you in touch with them.’

I would say without a doubt, I am incredibly lucky to be surrounded by amazing people.

Was it difficult to adjust to living and working in Ireland?

Other than moving to a new country and new continent before the onset of a pandemic, adjusting to life in Ireland has been quite easy. Most of the services, shopping, transport, etc are not much different from life back home, so it was relatively easy to get adjusted.

There were some frustrating aspects to getting settled and getting set up with all of the relevant ID cards, driving licence, transport card and so on, but all things considered it was straightforward. It certainly helped that I am able to speak the language.

I did experience a bit of culture shock, which really surprised me. Coming from an English-speaking country, I was expecting things to be very similar. I was surprised how different things actually are. It was the little things. For example, at the grocery stores essentially all of the same products and foodstuffs are offered, but they are just a little bit different! Finding out which one I like is all about trial and error.

Adjusting to work life was easier than I expected. Having worked for Henkel for five years prior to moving, I was familiar with the work culture, expectations and the majority of processes.

What surprised you about moving to Ireland?

With Ireland being a left-side driving country, I was expecting the adjustment to driving on the other side of the road to be a bit of a challenge.

I was really surprised at how easy it was to transition to driving on the other side of the road. The major surprise with this is that most of the vehicles in Ireland are manual transmission. These are not very common back home, so I was very surprised to see that just about everyone here is driving a manual transmission car.

The lack of distinct seasons was another surprise. I am very accustomed to four distinct seasons and getting used to having the seasons blend into each other is a bit strange for me.

How does your working life help to make you feel at home here?

Working for the same company has really helped me feel at home. There is a sense of normalcy at work, the culture is familiar and I still work with many of the same people I’ve worked with in the past, just in a different capacity. My colleagues at Henkel have also been great about adopting me into the team, which has really helped.

What do you like most about your adopted home?

There are old buildings and castles everywhere! Coming from a very young country, there are no old buildings. It is pretty special to walk into a castle that could be up to a thousand years old and feel a sense of wonder about how people accomplished the construction of these buildings with relatively primitive technology.

As wet as the winters are here, I do not miss the heavy snow and extreme cold from back home – except for the skiing!

The other amazing thing is the train system. I am not used to such a great train and public transportation system. It is very easy to get around to major centres by train and bus.

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