Career Pathways: Karen Ramsey-Idem Reflects on Working Overseas

Karen Ramsey-Idem, Ph.D., Cummins Inc., was interviewed in the Winter 2018 issue of SWE Magazine, for the article “Key Considerations for Working Internationally.”
Career Pathways: Karen Ramsey-Idem Reflects on Working Overseas

View SWE Magazine's 2018 Winter Issue on your mobile device by downloading our app on  iTunes or Google Play. In this issue, find our WE17 recap, awards highlights, and our WE17 By the Numbers infographic.

Part One of Three

By Sandra Guy, SWE Contributor

Karen-Ramsey Idem
Karen Ramsey-Idem, Ph.D.

One of SWE’s 2017 Global Leadership Award recipients, Dr. Ramsey-Idem lived in India for just over a year, as head of the design and analysis organization for Cummins Research and Technology India, located in Pune. Here, Dr. Ramsey-Idem shares some insights that might not come to mind when one is preparing to work overseas.

“There are 5,000 engineering graduates each year in Pune alone,” Dr. Ramsey-Idem noted. “Depending on the specific major, the number of women varied significantly. Computer science, computer science engineering, or electrical engineering graduates comprised about 50 percent women. Mechanical engineering had about 15 percent women graduates at that time.” Most parents wanted their children to become doctors, lawyers, or engineers, she added.

Managing expectations
According to Dr. Ramsey-Idem, managing your expectations when taking an overseas assignment is important. For one, it’s wise to consider that you won’t change a country’s thousands-years-old culture overnight, she pointed out. “You’re not going to make a [big] difference in the three or five years you are there — as much as you might want to,” she said.

Additionally, she counsels, “Don’t get sucked into the belief that going overseas, especially where English is the main language, isn’t that different from working in the United States.” She said she has seen friends assume that working in the U.K., for example, “will be easy, peasy. But the cultures are significantly enough different that you’ll notice,” said Dr. Ramsey-Idem.

Listen to our podcast with Dr. Ramsey-Idem below.

A similar principle applies to women engineers who are native to or have family origins in the country where they will be moving to work, but who have spent much of their careers in the United States.

“Their colleagues who have never left India, for example, may expect [the new ex-pats] to behave in the same way as women who have always worked and lived in India,” Dr. Ramsey-Idem said. “That can be disconcerting for your colleagues and add to the burden of your experience.”

Details of daily living
Dr. Ramsey-Idem advocates taking your employer’s recommendation of where to live. “If your employer isn’t going to do that, contact the U.S. Embassy nearest where you’re going to go and ask for their guidance and advice,” she said. Additionally, she encourages welcoming help in managing the household, even though that may not be something you would do back home.

Dr. Ramsey-Idem appreciated staying in an apartment where others spoke English, handled emergencies, and where the company had vetted the security service. “It was also a good thing for me in terms of having someone else there to manage the apartment, particularly if the gas or electric or cable [went] out,” she said.

As Dr. Ramsey-Idem emphasized in the article appearing in the SWE Magazine Winter 2018 issue, one must be “all in,” which includes eliminating any doubts before taking the assignment and doing your research. A trustworthy “culture coach” who can provide feedback in a professional setting is extremely helpful.

Read the other two parts of our series:

In Part Two of our series, Career Pathways: When Family Follows You Overseas, SWE Fellow Jan Williams talks about bringing her then-14-year-old son with her overseas and other aspects of family life in the United Kingdom.

In Part Three of our series, Career Pathways: Reflections on Working Overseas with a Trailing Spouse, Elizabeth Ruetsch of Keysight Technologies, a 2017 recipient of SWE’s Global Leadership Award, shares her thoughts on being accompanied by a “trailing spouse.” 

The theme of the 2018 Winter Issue is "envisioning possibilities," read more about it in this blog post.