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UX Writers as "The Foreigner"

Plenty of UX Writers stay in their home culture. But with the rise of remote work and globalization, more and more are becoming part of teams that are primarily based abroad.

I've worked on teams with Ukrainians, Israelis, Bulgarians, Brits, and Americans. There's always a learning curve (navigating the directness from Ukrainians and the roundabout ways of we Americans, for example) but what about when you're the foreigner on the team?

Because many companies want to hire a native speaker as their UX Writer (though this shouldn't always be the case), you may find yourself in this position. Being aware of the challenges, benefits, and different hats you'll wear beforehand can help you navigate new waters.

The Editor

When I interviewed for my last position, I wanted to make sure that I wasn't being hired as the editor: someone who looks over text and is only good for making sure it sounds native and grammatically correct. UX Writers do a lot more than make sure words are spelled correctly. During the interview process, make sure that they actually want someone who can contribute with their professional specialisation.

That said: there's nothing wrong with being used as the editor every now and then, too. I often edit emails or announcements when someone wants to make sure the copy is clear and correct, and that's okay! I don't mind it and never will, because I want to contribute to the team in any way I can. And let's be honest: making sure the copy is right is part of the job.

The Odd One Out

Yeah, it happens. No matter how long I live in Ukraine or Bulgaria or some third country, I'll always be American. Even if I manage to become fluent in the primary language of the team, I won't know the same idioms or share the same experiences.

I'm lucky enough to work on a team that 1) is patient with the fact that I don't speak Bulgarian, and 2) makes clear effort to include me. It means the world to me, especially as someone who came here not knowing anyone.

But it goes both ways. I've learned not to mind when other languages pop up in conversation: after all, it's not my country. I shouldn't demand English 100% of the time; I want comfortable and natural conversation, even if I won't understand all of it. As long as the relevant things are communicated to me in a way I understand, I'm happy.

💡 Pro tip: if you're helping your company with the localization process, use this experience to your advantage. You know what it's like to read inaccessible copy, and you've learned how people from different cultures often think differently. Apply this to the process.

The Repeater

Foreigners are just cool. I love learning Bulgarian phrases, understanding Ukrainian jokes, and teasing someone from the UK about how they pronounce water. We all have something to learn from each other.

Even if you're technically the only foreigner on your team, remember that it's all relative. The people you work with are foreigners to you, and they have a lot to share and teach. Ask questions and learn about their way of seeing the world.

That said, you'll soon find yourself repeating stock answers to a few questions. The ones that crops up for me a lot are "What do you think about Trump?" and "Illinois? Where's that?" I used to sigh at these sorts of questions, but a genuine answer usually leads to interesting conversations, and I appreciate the interest. Sure, it can get a little repetitive, but no two people share identical opinions. It's fun once you get into it, and it goes both ways (I'm still not sure where Pernik is or how to properly pronounce kazunak).

This doesn't mean you should jump head-first into topics like politics and religion with your coworkers. But be willing to laugh at yourself and your own culture every once in awhile. Ask questions, even if you have to ask them several times to truly understand. Having a good relationship with the people on your team will make the process of working together than much smoother.

The Offender

Miscommunication happens. Bit ironic when your whole job is communication, but there it is.

I have the habit (as do most Americans) of asking "How are you?" without really meaning it. It doesn't mean I don't care; it's just a standard greeting. But my coworkers would give genuine answers, and I'd be left with having to say "Oh...okay, well, today's agenda..."

I'm also not very direct. This has been sanded down a bit from my time in Ukraine; I now know the value of providing clear feedback in a kind way. But I've had to learn that saying "It's great!" when I actually don't like something causes more harm than good. Circling around what I'm trying to say only leads to confusion.

Luckily, we UX Writers usually know how to communicate clearly. Take the basic principles of good copy, like conciseness and clarity, and apply it to the way you communicate with your team.

The Lucky One

I love living abroad. I feel so lucky that I get to do a job I love in a place that's unfamiliar and exciting.

If you're considering moving or accepting a remote position based elsewhere, I recommend it wholeheartedly. Go in humble so you don't make the same mistakes I did; be patient with yourself and others; and, enjoy the experience.


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