As an energy professional, it’s likely that your next career move means taking your search overseas in order to access the best international engineering job. The idea of moving thousands of miles away from home to an unknown land can be an intimidating barrier for some, and an exciting prospect for others.
NES has over 50 offices in all corners of the globe and aside from supporting thousands of contractors in making an international move to benefit their engineering career, our own oil and gas recruiters are examples of personnel who’ve had the very same challenge; we have tons of expatriates located across our offices and know what it takes to integrate our engineers into the local community, so we wanted to share our insight.
Here we interview one of our own talent acquisition staff members, who swapped the northern hub of Manchester, UK, to the broad Texan plains of Houston, USA. They share some great insights into what you can expect to experience for daily Houston living.
FROM WEST TO WEST
Why would a professional in the Recruitment and Energy industry move to Houston?
“I was offered the opportunity for an internal transfer and saw it as an exciting challenge which probably wouldn’t come up that often. Our staff work on oil and gas assignments across the globe but Houston is one of our biggest offices with many fellow Brits who’ve made this move before me. The recruiters and assignment support teams there know exactly which struggles you’re up against when relocating for a job, so I knew I’d be supported. I’d never worked abroad before or done a gap year or anything like that, so I thought why not!?”
Did you experience an element of culture shock when moving to Texas?
“Absolutely. After being here for a few months I would say that Texas definitely has its own culture and distinct way of life! As a Brit it did take me a while to get used to the tipping system – tipping is an expectation in lots of jobs in Houston which is totally different to back home.
I had also never come across the idea of ‘valet trash’ where you can get people to empty your bins. I thought it seemed unnecessary at first but I’ve quickly found it to be quite convenient…
I think convenience is a big part of life here, even with things like drive through ATMs and pharmacies, stuff that just doesn’t exist in Manchester.
Driving proved to be a new experience too – I’ve driven for years but here the cars and roads are so much bigger and the drivers tend to be a lot more vocal if they disapprove of someone’s actions.
However Texans are incrediblt friendly - literally everyone will tell you to have a nice day. I found this completely bizarre when a guy getting out of a lift said this to me after being in there for all of 20 seconds, but now I make sure that I say it too."
Both countries speak English… but have you come across a ‘language barrier’?
“This has really been eye-opening because I come across little bits of terminology and new words all the time. I really struggled to track down some chickpeas in the local supermarket, so after explaining quite extensively to a member of staff what I was looking for they said “oh! You mean garbanzo beans” – they looked fairly similar so I just went along with that but I’m still not entirely sure they’re the same thing.
Sorting out my monthly ‘direct debit’ payments also caused something of an issue in the beginning. It turns out the US translation of ‘direct debit’ is ‘auto-pay’, so when I was talking about direct debits they thought I wanted some kind of deposit, but we got there in the end.
It did take me a while to work out what ‘they got rear-ended’ meant…
(for anyone not in the know, this means someone has driven into the back of your car…)
In a professional sense, I think oil and gas terminology is pretty consistent in both geographies, so it’s really just in my personal life that I’ve noticed a difference.”
How have you found integrating into the Houston expat community?
Going to our office made things a lot easier as we’ve got a lot of Brits there already who have already been through the expat experience and could advise about what’s what, giving lots of tips and advice to help me settle in. However I didn’t know anyone in a ‘social’ circle. I joined a few Facebook groups and an expat site called Internations - they organise social events and recommend activities they think you might enjoy based on your profile. You definitely need to make a proactive and conscious effort to get integrated but there are loads of resources out there to help.”
What was the hardest aspect of a career move to Texas?
“Aside from missing friends and family, it was the practical stuff that could be a bit of a struggle, especially transporting and moving the bigger items. I bought a TV for my apartment and then realised that I couldn’t fit it into the back of my car. After doing mental Tetris for 25 minutes a store worker kindly help me to get it sorted.”
Is there anything you wish you had known prior to the move? Or anywhere you could have done with more support?
“I found picking an apartment and a place to live especially daunting, almost a job in itself. Houston is huge and all the neighbourhoods have their own factors to consider. I initially tried to organise everything myself but eventually enlisted a realtor who knew the area, but wish I did this sooner. I spent hours trawling the web and everything just started to blur into one.”
So what tips would you give to expats moving for a Houston-based job?
“Definitely use a realtor! I think the most important thing is don’t be afraid to ask for advice. I was really shy I felt like I was bothering people, but that just simply wasn’t true. Everyone I spoke to – recruiter / support colleagues and friends – were all encouraging and willing to share their insights as much as possible.
I’d make a checklist of all the things you need to ask / check / do, things like sorting out your utilities and notifying your bank of your change of address etc. Having it written down can help clear the mind and ensure you keep on top of life admin.
Embrace the chaos – as much as you be organised the chances are that something will inevitably go wrong – but it’s OK, you’ll get there in the end.
Do lots of research – things are often perspective based so online isn’t all that accurate.”
What does Houston offer outside of work?
“I’m a real foodie and Houston absolutely offers a full spectrum of dining options – it’s great! There’s so much choice from food trucks to fine dining – it’s really diverse. There’s also a thriving arts scene – not just sport, but theatres and ballet too which I was completely unaware of before I got here.
Houston is really close to loads of other places too, like New Orleans.
Whatever your interest you will find something here and I’m confident that expats such as myself can have a rewarding lifestyle.”
Our engineering contractors trust our local knowledge and are confident that we will help them relocate to Houston hassle-free, taking care of all their logistical needs and leaving them to concentrate on their new job – check out our latest jobs in Houston, or learn more about how we support you when relocating for on your assignment.