The surest way to success overseas

April 19, 2011
Manila, Philippines

Tim Staermose here. Simon is out looking at property in Paraguay today and asked me to fill in.

Simon has been writing a lot lately about how the financial opportunities overseas are often greater than at home. More specifically, the opportunity to make money by ‘creating value’ overseas is substantial. As an Australian citizen who has lived abroad for most of his adult life, I couldn’t agree more.

Thing is, not all of us are meant to be entrepreneurs or run businesses. While, to a certain extent, it is a skill that can be taught, being an entrepreneur or business owner takes a certain type of personality. It’s not for all of us.

But, don’t let that hold you back. The core premise of creating value can be applied in other ways.

Where the entrepreneur creates value for his customer or marketplace, you might be the sort of person who is ideally suited to create value for the entrepreneur, perhaps as a manager or consultant.

Let’s face it, no business is a one-man or one-woman show. Even gung-ho entrepreneurs need other people on their teams to help them turn ideas into reality.

Consequently, one approach that you can take is to learn a valuable skill, something that business owners will find useful.

In the particular context we’re talking about here — internationalizing your lifestyle — that might mean becoming totally fluent in another language. Or, it could mean learning all the laws and regulations pertaining to a certain business in a foreign country.

Perhaps you are socially outgoing and find it easy to strike up conversations and develop a network of contacts in an unfamiliar place. In this case, you can build a rolodex of key people that someone moving to a country would need to deal with– you become the facilitator other people need to get things done.

Everybody has SOMETHING (usually a lot of things) that they are naturally gifted at… something they can use as the seed from which to grow a truly valuable skill.

And I do suggest you use your natural abilities to get a head start on something. Developing a valuable skill not easy, it cannot be done overnight. It’s been said that it requires about 2,000 hours of study, learning, or practice to become truly competent at most things.

If you break that down into smaller chunks, it’s not so daunting. It’s 8 hours a day for 50, 5-day weeks, for example. (1 whole working year.) Or, 4 hours a day for 100, 5-day weeks. (2 whole working years.)

Could dedicate 1 or 2 years of your life to learning a valuable new skill that will set you apart from the crowd and begin to open all sorts of doors to moneymaking opportunities?

If you truly want to change your current situation, I bet you can. I did it.

About 20 years ago, I decided to learn Korean. I got a basic grounding in the language at university in Australia. Then I took the leap and spent more than a year in Korea.

It was tough. For six months I lived in a student boarding house and ate rice and kimchi for breakfast. In winter, it was so cold that the (outdoor) bathroom’s pipes sometimes froze. You had to break the ice on the water in the washbasin to shave in the mornings. I used to spend an hour going to another part of town to go to a communal bathhouse that was “foreigner-friendly.”

I studied formally for 4 hours each morning at a language school. Then, on most days come late afternoon, I would take a 90-minute subway ride across Seoul to meet with my girlfriend after she finished work. There I’d spend another 3 or 4 hours having dinner and talking with them, all in Korean.

It required dedication and commitment. But, within less than a year, I’d reached the point where I could call someone on the phone and they wouldn’t know I wasn’t Korean. I could read newspaper articles on economics and politics, and even understand the evening news bulletins without too much trouble.

That gave me a skill few other native English speakers in Korea had. And when I returned to Seoul a couple of years later, my Korean language skill was instrumental in landing me my first job in the brokerage industry.

Like everything in life, getting out of the situation you find yourself in, and finding ways of making ends meet in another country, is going to require some work.

The successful people that Simon and I come across in our travels around the globe didn’t get there simply by luck. They had to make a conscious decision: stop making excuses and start making things happen.

No one is entitled to anything in life, you have to work for it and earn it. The opportunities are there to take advantage of, and overseas, the opportunities abound… you just have to be willing to go after them and find your best fit.

About the Author

Tim Staermose is Sovereign Man’s Chief Investment officer, based in the Asia-Pacific region. Born to a Danish father and British mother in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, Tim has led an international life since the day he was born. He has lived and worked throughout Asia, primarily focusing on equity research and emerging market opportunities.