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American Outbound: Karen-Eileen Gordon's Experience Working at Société Générale in Paris
Chapter News | April 11, 2019
The American Outbound program is an exceptional program, the only one of its kind, sponsored by the French-American Chamber of Commerce. Thanks to our international agreements with French authorities, we sponsor work visas for Americans for CDD contracts for a duration of 3-18 months. Through this sponsorship, at absolutely no cost to the candidate or their future company, Americans can gain valuable work experience and fluency while living and working in France.
Recently, we had the pleasure of speaking with a past program participant, Karen-Eileen Gordon. She shared with us some tips on securing a job offer in France as an American, adapting to French business culture and working abroad. Keep reading to learn more about her experience.
FACC: How did you find your job offer in France, what resources did you use?
KEG: First of all--thank you for what you do with this program. My experience in France was life-changing, and I am grateful for it still. I was a Harvard undergraduate (studying French and Economics), and there was a wonderful Career Resource Center on campus. The place was filled with binders containing possible opportunities to work outside the United States. Since I knew I wanted to work in France, I found the FACCNY program and was smitten immediately…it was a perfect fit, and the idea of putting my skills to work for an organization in Paris was a dream-come-true.
FACC: You worked in the Currency Exchange Division of Societe Generale on the Champs Elysees. Before your experience, what was your level of familiarity and expertise with the job functions you were tasked with?
KEG: Before my experience, my only familiarity with Currency Exchange job functions and tasks was on the “other side of the counter,” as a traveler exchanging currency myself. I remember the first time I was asked to call a financial company and verify a series of transaction numbers; I had an out-of-body experience, because part of me couldn’t believe I was actually in Paris, speaking on the phone with a French lender, verifying French transactions—in French! Both the moment and my gratitude for it were enormous…my American-born mind was temporarily (happily) blown.
Karen Eileen Gordon
Former American Outbound Participant
FACC: Were you surprised by any part of the French business culture?
KEG: Yes! Three things: First, even though the majority of my coworkers were either strong or fluent in the English language, very few of them desired to use that skill unless it was absolutely necessary for an interaction (preferring instead that a native-born English speaker step in). I related fully…I only developed confidence in my French fluency during this job while being required to speak constantly, and that allowed me to leave my reluctance behind. Next, I was surprised that for some of my coworkers, I was the first American they had ever talked with live-and-in-person; I did my best to keep that responsibility in mind as I interacted with them and answered questions. Finally, I loved that French business culture made ample room for the idea of “food as required, elevated nourishment,” something that was a vital part of the business day rather than an afterthought. Biggest surprise during my first week on the job? About an hour after the doors opened, my entire section closed down for 30 minutes. We all, as a group, walked up the street to a cafe...and had coffee and croissants together. It profoundly impacted the feeling of cohesiveness, and launched us into a productive day.
FACC: Is there anything you had to work to adapt to?
KEG: At the time, smoking was a normal part of workplace culture, and that took a moment of adjustment for me.
Before traveling to Paris, I lived in places where cars were the main form of transport; learning to navigate the Metro took some study, and a willingness to get lost during several trial runs.
FACC: How do you believe this experience shaped you as an individual and as a professional?
KEG: By immersing completely in Parisian business culture for a time, I got a crash-course in adapting quickly, thinking on my feet and using as much grace as possible. It sharpened my personal sensitivity to others’ points of view—and that serves me well today in both my personal and work lives. As a professional, it definitely strengthened my ability to see the bigger picture much more quickly.
FACC: When returning to the States, did you feel you had an advantage or newfound cultural awareness?
KEG: Absolutely. After working at SocGen, I had a vastly expanded sense of patience/compassion for cross-cultural business interactions—which carried over into everything. As a result, I was able to bring a high level of calmness-under-pressure and rapid problem solving to future employment—huge advantage.
FACC: Do you have any advice to share with future participants of the American Outbound program?
KEG: Yes! Diving into a different culture is both magical and challenging, and a sense of humor and improvisation are real treasures in the toolkit. Give yourself the gift of remembering to leave room for the delightfully unexpected. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your AO program contacts for questions/support, and definitely bring something with you that connects you to “home” as you create your new adventure. Bon chance!
Karen-Eileen Gordon is now an Actress living in Los Angeles. Her film credits include Meet the Fockers, Bad News Bears and Legally Blonde 2 among many others. Connect with her and follow her adventures on Linkedin and Twitter.
Are you an American citizen, francophile, recent graduate or experienced professional under 35 years of age? Learn more about the FACC American Outbound Program, consult FAQs for candidates and download our resource guide. Have questions about applying? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.